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The War

By Matthew Yglesias  

"The War"

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It seems I should write my official What I Think About Obama’s Escalation in Afghanistan post.

Mostly the whole situation makes me want to sigh. I don’t think the kind of effort that as best I understand it we’re undertaking in Afghanistan meets any kind of plausible cost benefit test. At the same time, unlike conservatives who only invoke this principle opportunistically I do think it makes sense to pay attention to what military professionals have to say about operational aspects of defense policy. And in a major contrast to Bush’s Iraq policy, Obama’s Afghanistan policy seems to be firmly grounded in a real consensus among the relevant people about what is and isn’t workable. That’s good. It makes me think the odds of a disaster are low, and the odds of a policy that “works” are pretty good. And I think we have good reason to believe that if their operational approach doesn’t work, that everyone on the team is prepared to shift directions and try something better.

Now none of that actually makes any of this worth doing. I haven’t seen anyone even really attempt to persuade me that this policy makes sense in cost-benefit terms. And I think the reaction to David Obey’s “war tax” idea is telling—nobody seems to really think there are national interests at stake that are critical enough to be worth paying slightly higher taxes for. But if a war’s not worth paying for, how can it be worth fighting? And if we don’t pay for the war in the FY 2010 budget, we still need to pay back the loans.

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