Foreign Policy Blogs

Money, Money, Money!

The latest Afghanistan and Iraq cost analysis by the Congressional Research Service (CRS) will not sit well with many Americans living on a tight budget. Though the war in Iraq is costing less and less, the US military is basically transferring these saved funds to the Afghan conflict.

Between 2009 and 2010, the average monthly cost of the Iraq war fell $1.8 billion to $5.4 billion, a 25% drop. But increased spending in Afghanistan ate up that savings–and a bit more. Monthly costs rose $2.2 billion to $5.7, billion, a 63% increase.

The average cost per service member is $694,000 per year, much less than the Obama administration’s stated $1 billion, but when you times this by the approximately 100,000 American soldiers in the country right now, the costs are unsurprisingly substantial. The American public is already facing the emotional and moral toll of a large spike in US casualties, as the nightly news usually features a report about another soldier or two falling and August saw 56 American soldiers killed in action. The American public has a history of being willing to shoulder a tremendous burden when the costs seem appropriate with the mission’s national security implications, but the Afghan war is putting an awful lot of pressure on America’s strong back.

A new cog in this wheel, is the rising emphasis on excessive government spending from our nation’s voters. Only 24% of polled Americans wanted a more active government that provided more services and levied more taxes and this trend has been palpably felt across the country for some time now. This matters because when the Iraq war was in disarray in the mid-2000s there were many pronouncements about the costs of the war with marginal political impact, but if these were made today it would have more political meaning. For the first time that I can remember, many in the American public will vote with the national debt and spending as key drivers of their decision.

The Obama administration is definitely aware of this trend and continues to voice that the Afghan war is not ‘an open-ended’ conflict (Iraq withdrawal speech) and just recently stated that American troops will be coming home starting July 2011 (same speech). Unfortunately, in my opinion, it is the administration’s two-way street (trying to bring stability and victory in Afghanistan while telling the American public we are coming home soon=July 2011 deadline) is making everyone unhappy and is likely making the military’s job that much more difficult.

The costs of the Afghan war, both material and human, are substantial and are only increasing. The American public’s stomach for these costs will be a trend worth following. And this will be an issue for quite some time, as a NATO training mission document stated that it will cost about $6 billion dollars every year until 2015  (further?) to maintain the Afghanistan military and police. Ka-ching, ka-ching, Ka…….