While listening to the speech by Mitt Romney on U.S. foreign policy I was dismayed to hear him call for a massive increase in the defence budget. I was more upset to hear him suggest that the U.S. send heavy weapons to the Syrian opposition. I wasn’t upset about this infantile mouthing of Bush’s cowboy neo-con policy; I was appalled by the costs he seems willing to bear for a policy of empty rhetoric.
In 1959 Peter Sellers starred in the film “The Mouse That Roared” where Sellers leads an impoverished backward nation which declares a war on the United States of America, hoping to lose. He reckons that, having lost, the U.S. will be obliged to save his Duchy of Grand Fenwick from bankruptcy and send money to make the country viable. Although meant as an ironic comment on U.S. policy it was grounded in fact.
Despite the fact that the U.S. spends massive amounts on defence every year this is a gross understatement of what the actual costs of this defence entail. When one considers the massive costs of the Marshall Plan, the reconstruction of Iraq, the rivers of money diverted to Afghanistan and Pakistan, inter alia, the picture is clearer. The cost of fixing what the U.S. military has broken doesn’t appear in full in the Pentagon’s budget. It appears as foreign aid, humanitarian programs, international welfare, etc. I have done some calculations of the costs of rebuilding the countries and institutions we have destroyed or damaged since 1945, replacing damaged equipment and infrastructure and enriching political leaders who support us and came up with the fairly constant figure that the equivalent of between 11% and 13% of the Pentagon’s annual budget is being spent annually by other agencies of the U.S. government fixing what the military broke.
I suspect that if we add heavy weapons to the Syrian rebel inventory then, whenever they decide there is a victory, the US will spend a small fortune rebuilding the destroyed cities of Hama, Homs, Aleppo and the like as part of the cost of our success; just as we are rebuilding Libya. God only knows what the bombing and rebuilding of Iran will cost the taxpayer if Romney and his friends decide on unilateral intervention.
In a time of austerity embarking on such an additional burden is self-destructive and ultimately self-defeating. Throughout U.S. post-war history pursuing military solutions to political problems has been costly. It was been costly to our treasury. It has been costly to our reputation through the embarrassment of joining forces in common endeavour with some of the most despotic and undemocratic villains walking the face of the globe; and costly to the lives of our sons and daughters who died or were wounded in foreign lands. War has not been a good investment; either of our property, our values or our children.
So, one can only hope in the final days of the Presidential campaign that someone will ask Romney and the neo-cons how they will pay for the rebuilding of Syria and Iran if that course is pursued. We shall be paying billions to Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan for the foreseeable future and we shall continue to pay for our proxy armies in Africa and Asia. Surely deciding to break something else we’ll have to pay to fix is not progress or a rational use of scarce funds. In the words of Will Rogers addressing the First Rule of Holes, “When you find yourself in a hole, stop digging”.