How Much Would Escalation in Afghanistan Cost


For a while now I’ve been saying that the fastest way to end the war in Afghanistan would be to to ask General McChrystal’s staff to produce a plan to make it deficit neutral and find sixty votes in the senate for his financing plan. Today, Spencer Ackerman points out that an excellent LA Times piece by Christi Parsons and Julian E. Barnes that digs into the issue of how much going bigger in Afghanistan would cost seems to indicate that the Pentagon agrees with me. Thus, they’re fudging the numbers to make their preferred policies look cheaper than they really are:

The Pentagon cost includes higher combat wages, extra aircraft hours and other operations and maintenance costs, but omits such items as new weapons purchases — one-time costs that vary by year — and support equipment like spy satellites and anti-roadside-bomb technology.

The Pentagon also does not try to estimate costs of new bases for additional soldiers.

But in a memo early this month, obtained by The Times’ Washington bureau, the Pentagon’s own comptroller produced an estimate that broke with the customary Defense formula and did include construction and equipment.

Estimating weapons and equipment costs is clearly going to be difficult. But it’s equally clear that $0 is the wrong estimate. And as we see, the DOD has some way of doing this for internal consumption.

Meanwhile, I’d like to see Paul Krugman or other advocates of more stimulus weigh-in on whether debt-financed escalation of military effort would have a beneficial impact on the labor market situation. I think it’s deplorable that U.S. political culture tends to regard military-related appropriations as exempt from normal budgetary considerations, but it’s possible that that’s a loophole worth taking advantage of in this case. All those new weapons purchases the Pentagon doesn’t want to estimate are manufacturing jobs for someone, right? Obviously this shouldn’t the primary consideration in dictating military strategy, but I do think a comprehensive look at the macroeconomic impact of defense policy choices—both the costs and benefits of hugely expensively military undertakings—is a necessary element of the strategic consideration.