QUINN'S CORNER – A beast of burden

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There is an elephant that makes his home in the national tool shed. Most people pay no attention to him. For years, he has been fed in large part with provisions borrowed from neighbors. By means of bookkeeping legerdemain, they have been able to ignore these loans. Consequently, since his costs are largely hidden and few ever discuss him, he remains a typical indoor elephant – huge, but ignored.

Maybe he is a she. In many respects this guest resembles a trophy wife married by a rich hedge fund manager in the first excitement of a great body and skills in youthful calisthenics, but one who, as time goes on, demands expensive jewelry and designer clothing while finding reasons to avoid calisthenics. Today, the United States may be compared to a overspent husband with a midlife crisis trophy wife – a poor soul who is actually a middle-aged man facing bankruptcy.

The elephant’s name is War Costs.

Things have changed since this “elephant” was first brought on board. The market for local products has declined, some residents are unemployed, and the cost to maintain health and care for elder members has skyrocketed. Also, there has been gross mismanagement and fraud in national funds – failure that caused a great loss of working capital.

The time has come to give the cost of this beast some serious thought.

A recent government budget listed the total cost of Iraq and Afghanistan wars at $1.45 trillion – a figure drawn exclusively from congressional appropriations dedicated specifically to the conduct of those wars. In fact, it is far more. Not shown were billions in “black” spending for intelligence and covert operations, payments to allies for “efforts in combating terrorism,” paying thousands of Sunni mercenaries, as well as death benefits to American families and gratuities to victims of “collateral damage.” To gild the lily, fraud and waste have burned up still more billions – misapplied, stolen, or “missing (as in the case of $400 million in brand new Ben Franklins that, shortly after landing, simply disappeared from the Air Force C-141 Starlifter on which it was flown to Baghdad).

Neither were other, greater costs included in government budgets. Consider the eventual pension and medical cost for veterans. Then, take a long look at the humungous interest on the debt that will burden us for a lifetime.

A much more realistic cost than the announced “one and a half trillion” has been identified by the recent Eisenhower Study Group at Brown University, experts from more than a dozen universities and think tanks: “As the ten-year mark of the war approaches, it is appropriate to recall some of the costs we may have forgotten, and to assess what has not been counted.” Their results should spur the nation to realize that this is not an elephant at all, but an 800-pound gorilla that may damage the nation beyond repair.

The gorilla turns out to be $6 trillion. That’s an amount that would provide a complete university education for every young American for the next 50 years, and a refurbishing of interstate highways and bridges, with enough left over for every family to have a new (U.S. built) automobile.

Even if Congress is able to meet the announced goal of saving $1.5 trillion over the next 10 years, it is almost certain that new (additional) war costs will have eaten that figure up.

Six trillion – if we brought the kids home today.

Shock and awe, anyone?

Thought for the week:

Over the years, the U.S. has given Israel a total of 280 billion bucks.


Rodney Quinn, a retired U.S. Air Force lieutenant colonel and former university history and government instructor, lives in Westbrook. He can be reached at rquinn@maine.rr.com.

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