If people realized how much we were wasting in stupid wars that should never have been fought, there might be far more protests.
Please consider Among The Costs Of War: $20B A Year In Air Conditioning?
The amount the U.S. military spends annually on air conditioning in Iraq and Afghanistan: $20.2 billion, according to a former Pentagon official.
That’s more than NASA’s budget. It’s more than BP has paid so far for damage during the Gulf oil spill. It’s what the G-8 has pledged to help foster new democracies in Egypt and Tunisia.
“When you consider the cost to deliver the fuel to some of the most isolated places in the world — escorting, command and control, medevac support — when you throw all that infrastructure in, we’re talking over $20 billion,” Steven Anderson tells weekends on All Things Considered guest host Rachel Martin. Anderson is a retired brigadier general who served as Gen. David Patreaus’ chief logistician in Iraq. He’s now in the private sector, selling technologies branded as “energy-efficient” to the Department of Defense.
Why does it cost so much?
To power an air conditioner at a remote outpost in land-locked Afghanistan, a gallon of fuel has to be shipped into Karachi, Pakistan, then driven 800 miles over 18 days to Afghanistan on roads that are sometimes little more than “improved goat trails,” Anderson says. “And you’ve got risks that are associated with moving the fuel almost every mile of the way.”
Anderson calculates more than 1,000 troops have died in fuel convoys, which remain prime targets for attack. Free-standing tents equipped with air conditioners in 125-degree heat require a lot of fuel. Anderson says by making those structures more efficient, the military could save lives and dollars.
Still, his $20.2 billion figure raises stark questions about the ongoing war in Afghanistan. In the wake of President Obama’s announcement this week that 33,000 American troops will soon return home, how much money does the U.S. stand to save?
Dollars And Cents
The 33,000 troops who will return home by the end of next year match the numbers sent to Afghanistan in 2010, at a cost of about $30 billion. That comes out to about $1 million a soldier.
But the savings of withdrawing those troops won’t equal out, experts say.
“What history has told us is that you don’t see a proportional decrease in spending based on the number of troops when you draw them down,” Chris Hellman, a senior research analyst at the National Priorities Project, tells Martin.
“In Afghanistan that’s going to be particularly true because it’s a very difficult and austere environment in which to operate,” he says.
That means most war expenditures lie not in the troops themselves but in the infrastructure that supports them — infrastructure that in some cases will remain in place long after troops are gone.
“We’re building big bases,” American University professor Gordon Adams tells Martin. The costs of those bases are, in economic terms, “sunk” costs, he says.
“We’re seeing this in Iraq. We’re turning over to the Iraqis — mostly either for a small penny or for free — the infrastructure that we built in Iraq. But we won’t see back any money from that infrastructure.”
And more importantly, Hellman says, “[Afghan President Hamid] Karzai indicated a couple years back that [Afghanistan] wasn’t going to be a position to support their own military forces 15, 20 years out. I suspect we’re going to be called on to pay a substantial part of that bill going forward.”
One outspoken critic is Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV). He notes the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have cost hundreds of billions of dollars so far, and he argues a larger troop drawdown isn’t a national security risk.
“When you have this many people in a country that doesn’t want you there — that has no economy, no infrastructure and a corrupt government — and you’re trying to stabilize it and build them into a viable nation? I’m not sure we have enough time, and I definitely know we don’t have enough money,” Manchin says.
Do the Troops Deserve Air Conditioning?
Some may be asking if US troops deserve air conditioning? The question may sound reasonable, but it poses a false dichotomy. There are more important considerations.
First and foremost, US troops deserve to not be put in harm’s way for no reason. The simple fact of the matter is that there is no legitimate reason to be in Afghanistan, in Pakistan, in Iraq, or in 140 other countries at a cost to US taxpayers. Thus, the air conditioning question should never arise in the first place.
If other countries want us there, they should foot the bill. If they don’t want us there then we should leave.
The US could cut its military budget by 50% or more with no detriment to actual defense of the United States. In fact, there would probably be a huge improvement in the defense of the United States. The reason is simple – terrorist problems have arisen because we are meddling in countries where we have no business being in the first place.
Iraq vs. Vietnam
For an interesting perspective, please consider Iraq War Deaths Exceed Vietnam War Numbers
However, it is not fair to just look at US deaths. Wikipedia notes “the Vietnamese communist government in 1995 estimated that 2,000,000 Vietnamese civilians on both sides died in the war.”
The absurd war in Vietnam did not end until US citizens got fed up with it and demanded change. Unfortunately millions of lives were ruined before change came.
How much more will people put up with now before they demand change?
How long will the US remain in Iraq and Afghanistan?
Before answering that last question answer this one: How long has the US been in South Korea and Japan?
As with the Hotel California, the US may check out, it just never leaves.
Mike “Mish” Shedlock
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