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A Midwestern Girl's Approach To National Finance

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I practice some pretty simple economics: save money when possible, don't buy new stuff when the old stuff still works, and don't spend what you don't have.

If only we practiced a similar sort of economics as a nation. Unfortunately, the nimrods running our country spend taxpayer dollars like a spoiled teenager who has a rich daddy but who's never had a job. Ba-trillions in national debt? Let's spend, spend, spend attacking Iraq, a sovereign nation that had...absolutely nothing to do with 9/11. Of course, it won't just cost us bigtime in dollars -- but in whatever shreds of international trust and respect we still had. Yes, so, here's this enormous purchase we can't afford, and to this day, nobody's been able to give me an answer that makes sense as to why we're there -- well, that is, one that sounds like more than just speculation and justification in hindsight.

Now, in midwestern girl economic terms, it would seem prudent spending if you live in a dangerous neighborhood, to get an alarm system, or some sort of protection from the danger at hand. Yet, while George Bush is telling us how hard he's working to protect us, we're hearing more than a few stories about exactly how lax our national protection is. How lax? Well, kind of like living in a gang-infested neighborhood and leaving your doors and windows wide open and a plate of freshly-baked cookies and a pile of money on a table right inside the front door.

Meanwhile, what did we get for our trip to the Baghdad Barneys? Well, not the democracy we supposedly paid for...and keep paying for, plus outrageous interest on our national credit card.

Now, maybe my midwestern girl approach is too simplistic. Or...maybe it's just the simplistic we need.

Posted by aalkon at August 21, 2006 11:23 AM

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I'm no fan of pork barrel politics, but I don't think the problem is the money spent in Iraq. In 2006 the federal government spent 479 billion dollars on defense and homeland security, out of over 22 trillion in revenues. That's a little less than 20%. The city of Chicago spent about 1 billion on the police department out of 5 billion in revenues. Again, about 20%.

Now, if you don't see any reason for us being in Iraq, then you'd see any money spent as wasteful. If, like me, you see success in Iraq as the best way to prevent a repeat of WWII, then spending $110 billion a year, less than 5% of tax receipts and less than 1% of GDP, is a bargain.

Posted by: JeanE at August 21, 2006 8:53 AM

History has been branching, y'know? There's no way to look at the Middle East today and imagine what it would be like if we hadn't invaded. But the antiwar crowd never even tries.

More to the point, they never had an plan for Iraq *before* the invasion, either.

Never in history have so many very 'compassionate' people taken such pleasure in being so cynical.

Amy, just for shits 'n' grins: If we hadn't invaded, would you have wanted the No-Fly zones sustained until 2006? They defended the democracy of millions, and the safety of millions more. But France had long since dropped out of the effort, and Britain might have by now as well. How 'bout it?

Posted by: Crid at August 21, 2006 11:07 AM

With respect to Iraq, it seems like we're now in the situation of throwing good money after bad. Now, I'm in the camp that didn't think that going to Iraq was an imperative at the time that we chose to do it. I think a more effective policy would have been to proceed at a more deliberate pace: take more time to solidify the success in Afghanistan and truly wipe out the Taliban, develop our intelligence networks to allow us to better utilize our resources to combat the Islamicists at the source.

I was not at the time, nor have I read anything since to convince me that Saddam's regime was the iminent threat the Bush administration believed it to be. That said, I think that a case still could have been made to remove him (IMO, Poppy should've taken care of that in the first Gulf War) for his fundamental awfulness.

It seems there was no need to do it when we did, and we sure seem to have mucked up the post-war period (except for, e.g., Kurdistan, which was much better positioned for the end of the Baath regime than the rest of Iraq). And now, I'm not sure if there's anything we would be willing to do that will stop the bloodshed in Iraq (e.g., we won't/can't put an overwhelming number of troops there to really get control of things), given the relish with which the different factions are killing each other (and American soldiers). Iraq's become a money pit, a human lives pit, and shows no signs of becoming otherwise. I wish that I had faith in our country's military and State apparatus to fix this, but I don't see anything but more of the same wasteful, unsuccesful policies.

Posted by: justin case at August 21, 2006 2:20 PM

> take more time to solidify the
> success in Afghanistan

Iraq has oil to sell. Afghanistan is a dirt-poor country with nothing but dirt. It's the inner-city of planet Earth. The USA maintains order there as a primitive in civilization's hygiene; things are never really going to get better... Unless Buzkashi becomes a medal sport for the 2012 Olympics, which ain't likely.

http://tinyurl.com/kaalm

(That second photo may be my favorite depiction of American character. "What, you guys have a sport here? What are the rules?")

> develop our intelligence
> networks

They'd been developing ever since WWII. They brought us to the morning of 9/11. I am never, ever going to have any faith in them. They're peopled by intrusive, mundane careerists, people who'd readily trade my freedom (and safety) for a corner office.

> that Saddam's regime was
> the iminent threat the Bush
> administration believed it
> to be.

This sentence crystallizes one of the most insane, psychotic episodes of popular thought in the last fifty years: The notion that Bush had convinced people that Saddam was an imminent threat, rather than a problem due to be addressed. I never, ever met anyone who was personally afraid of Saddam Hussein.

> no need to do it when we did

Same with the moon shots... No time like the present.

> except for, e.g., Kurdistan

"e.g."? What, is that a trivial consideration?

> I don't see anything but
> more of the same wasteful,
> unsuccesful policies.

Grrrrr! UnnnnnhhHh! Arrgh!

What do you want for Iraq? Whose policies towards this nation did you like?

Posted by: Crid at August 21, 2006 3:00 PM

...primitive chore...

etc

Posted by: Crid at August 21, 2006 3:01 PM

OK Crid, I'll respond here. I apologize if I drove you to such frustration ("Grrrrr! UnnnnnhhHh! Arrgh!), but I think it's symptomatic of an important gulf between lots of people who would otherwise find the other reasonable. I think we'll probably not agree, but I want to make my position clear, and see if I can understand yours.

Iraq has oil to sell...
Sure, Iraq has oil to sell, but in terms of the war against the real enemy, Islamic fascism, I think it would have been a good idea to eradicate the enemy there first. Instead, the troops there now face a resurgent Taliban, the same m-f's who succored OBL and his training camps. They needed to be killed, the whole lot of 'em (or as close as we could get), and we didn't do that. The oil to me seems to be a side issue with regard to the war on terror (of course, not a side issue in other geopolitcal considerations). However, your response seems somewhat odd (if, in my opinion honest), given that the official line has always been that the oil was not a motivation for the war.

I am never ever going to have faith in (our intelligence networks)...
You've got a point there. I haven't been impressed with their many recent errors (then again, DoD loved Iran's buddy Chalabi), but they have been doing a better job of collaborating with people in countries such as Pakistan that have more access to the enemy.

The notion that Bush had convinced people that Saddam was an imminent threat

I think this speech is a pretty good example of why many people made the connection that Saddam was an imminent threat (do a quick search for threat in the text, it's all over the place). Even if the President never used those words in conjunction, phrases such as "gathering threat" are quite similar semantically.

What, is that a trivial consideration?
E.g., for example...doesn't imply triviality. In this case is the only example of stability that I'm aware of in a country that's a mess.

Lastly, What do you want for Iraq? Whose policies towards this nation did you like? I'd like to see Iraq be stabilized and not end up an Iranian puppet state. Realistically, I'm not sure that this can be done if Iraq is organized in its present form. I don't really know what could be done, but some sort of a Federal system along ethnic lines might be easier to manage than a single country. I have no idea whether this is practicable, but it seems that Sunni and Shia need to be separated from each other.

I don't think that anybody has gotten the policies there right: GHWB was too cautious in the first war, WJC had too much faith in Oil-for-food and the U.N., and didn't do enough when inspections were halted. With respect to GWB's policies, I think it boils down to two key problems: if we were going to go there, we needed a bunch more troops (I'm not sure, but Shinseki's estimate was probably the more reasonable - and I still think more troops are our only hope to pacify the country), and I think that not enough was done right after the end of hostilies to get get the country functioning again (Bremer was a disaster in this).


Posted by: justin case at August 21, 2006 5:49 PM

> it would have been a good
> idea to eradicate the
> enemy there first.

How much indiscriminate killing would you unleash to make that happen? I love the tinkly sound of a daisy cutter as much as the next guy, but still. Never forget that we won that war by paying off bad guys and mediocre ones. If I remember the showbiz numbers from Tony Pierce' Busblog correctly, more money was spent by Virgin Records to buy out Mariah Carey's contract in the same season. But it's never going to be a permanent victory. Like I said, it's become part civilization's hygiene, a chore like shaving or brushing your teeth. Or policing the oceans and tracking icebergs from Antarctica. It's fallen to the United States to do it, but many forces dropped that nation into ruin. (cough commies cough)

> a resurgent Taliban

Well, resurgent and recalcitrant warlordism. This isn't a country with crisply-uniformed State Troopers policing six-lane interstate highways with Stuckey's and rest stops. There was a report on NPR last week: Kabul has between 2.4 and four million people. That's twice as populous as the San Fernando Valley, but with no sewage system. The place is a primitive hellhole and is likely to be one for a long time. All we can do is make Afghanistan unattractive as a hideout for rich monsters. There are an awful lot of valleys to watch over.

> not a side issue in
> other geopolitcal
> considerations

I'll go farther than that. Oil is modernity's blood, and Iraq has as good a share as any nation in the world. Our takedown of Saddam had demonstrative power.

There's no "official line" that this was not about petroleum. People aren't being sophisticated, contrary and insightful by saying 'It's all about oiiiiilll.' Yes; oil is valuable. We shouldn't have mass murderers in charge of it.

> they have been doing
> a better job of
> collaborating

How could you possibly, possibly know this to be true? Why would you think so? How could you trust them?

> it's all over the place

Saddam was, in fact, a threat! Y'know, there's been no great shift in insight that's happened to the left since before the invasion. I think the continuing search for "smoking gun" phrases proves this implicitly; People in Nebraska's shopping malls were not scared of Saddam's WMDs.

But Iraq was undoubtedly turning to shit before the invasion. Every lefty and Democrat you can name was warning us before the Bush administration (and sometimes during) that confrontation was inevitable. To (now) argue otherwise because a Republican is in White House leading the effort --a Republican sufficiently popular to be re-elected-- is grotesque cowardice. Grotesque.

> I don't really know what could
> be done... I have no idea
> whether this is practicable...
> I don't think that anybody has
> gotten the policies there right...

When pressed, nobody wants to step up. Listen, Bush 43 is going down in history as a shitty president, and he deserves to. And this war can be lost, no matter how many good things come from it (and a lot of good things have).

But acknowledge the revolutionary nature of what's happened, and how improbable it was, and acknowledge the naked heartlessness of the critics who don't think Iraqis can handle democracy. Bush is the son of a man at the center of America's postwar manipulations of international affairs. Bush 41 was chairman of the CIA for Chrissake! A (successful) oilman! And ambassador to the UN! Maybe it's because he's Christian, maybe it's because he's a bitter alcoholic who had some (literal) fistfights with Dad. For whatever reason, Bush 43 decided this vendor nation had to operate with capitalist decency instead of paying off the mobsters. Has the boomer generation delivered a more prominent example of counterculture thinking?

Halliburton or no, Bush didn't launch this invasion out of cynicism.

Posted by: Crid at August 21, 2006 11:50 PM

Halliburton or no, Bush didn't launch this invasion out of cynicism.

Crid, I absolutely agree with this point. I think Bush is a believer in the possibility of great transformations (perhaps motivated by his own personal transormation from boozy ne'er-do-well scion of Texas oil money to born-again family man, governor and President). I think that some of the others in his administration were more cynical in their motivations, and this might have led them to not do what was necessary to make Iraq a more sucessful venture. Time will tell, and I hope things end up being better than suggested by current, pessimistic assessments.

Posted by: justin case at August 22, 2006 7:57 AM

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