As I write this, the Taliban have assumed full political control — to the extent that such a thing can exist — of Afghanistan. They’ve taken Kabul. They’ve put the US occupation’s puppet president, and many Afghans who served the occupation presence, to flight. They’ve declared the restoration of their “Islamic Emirate.”
Despite the sometimes ugly particulars, that’s good news for America. A war that should never have happened, and that once it happened should have lasted more like 20 weeks than 20 years, is finally ending.
So, let’s get down to serious discussion about the coming “peace dividend.”
As of last month, according to Brown University’s Watson Institute, the US government had spent more than $2.2 trillion — an average of about $110 billion, or more than $300 per American, per year — losing in Afghanistan.
Some of those costs — for example, more than $500 billion ($25 billion per year) in interest on war borrowing, and nearly $300 billion ($15 billion per year) in medical and disability costs for the US armed forces’ wounded — will unfortunately continue to nickel-and-dime American taxpayers far into the future.
But items like the US Defense Department’s “Overseas Contingency Operations” budget ($933 billion, or $47 billion per year), the State Department’s OCO ($59 billion, or $3 billion per year), and DoD’s “base budget increases” for the war ($443 billion, or $22 billion per year) are fair game for cuts.
At a conservative (VERY conservative) estimate, let’s call it $70 billion a year in savings. I’d be surprised if the real number is less than $100 billion, and un-surprised to learn that there’s more than $500 billion in Afghanistan-related fat in the US government’s annual spending. But let’s bend over backward to be fair to the big spenders and pretend it’s just $70 billion.
The big problem, of course, is getting politicians to resist the wheedling of “defense” contractors and armed forces bureaucrats. They want that money rolled over into exciting new (or old), and invariably bad, ideas for US military adventurism (e.g. “confronting China” or “countering Russia”), rather than simply removed from the Bad Idea General Fund.
That’s a difficult problem, but it’s also an incredibly important problem. If the people who keep getting us into expensive fiascoes like Afghanistan are allowed to just roll old money over into new scams when the old ones finally collapse, those scams will keep coming and keep getting more expensive. The US “defense” budget must be cut by at least $70 billion per year going forward.
As to what should be done with that savings, lots of people have lots of ideas. Mine would be to leave $70 billion per year more in ordinary Americans’ pockets through some kind of bottom-bracket tax cut. But before we can do anything with it, we have to pry it out of the military-industrial complex’s grasp.
Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.