40,000 IOUs

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Clouded behind the health-insurance debate this week was the announcement by the country’s highest military officer that we need to send more troops to Afghanistan. Surprisingly, I didn’t hear a chorus of fiscal conservatives bemoaning the fact that we will need to borrow trillions more dollars to do so.

While Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, declined to specify how many more troops are needed, it is commonly thought that 40,000 will be added to the current contingent of 64,000. That’s an increase of around 60% in the continuing cost of the Afghan campaign. But, nary a peep from the Republicans about the increasing size of government! Of course, these military employees will be operating overseas so probably can’t be counted part of the ‘Economic Reinvestment’ stimulus program.

If Republicans were serious about ‘balancing the budget’, then at the same time we consider the wisdom of committing 40,000 of our neighbors to fight a war that few of us understand, we would be discussing which social programs will be cut. Do you think the American public would cut Medicare in order to protect the citizens of Afghanistan? Perhaps we could calculate how much our taxes will need to rise to win this fight? Representative Rehberg? Should you support this influx of troops, I will be waiting to hear how you pay for it.

Sadly, we will be subjected to a rhetoric of ‘a war we have to win’, presumably at whatever cost. Ironically, as Senator Evan Bayh (D – IN) recently pointed out, all this borrowing will diminish our global influence, because fiscal strength is essential to diplomatic leverage, military might, and national significance. Being dependent to foreign debtors is counter to our fiscal DNA, but you know we’re going to have to pay the piper someday. That’s a battle we’ll never quite win!