Thursday, January 06, 2005

Well If a Tsunami is a WMD....

Sometimes the juxtaposition of two ideas in my mind causes the circuitry to fry. Or at least, to become very angry. This figure on the amount of aid we have pledged to the tsunami victims, for example. We started at $15 million and then bumped it up to $350 million. Very generous! That is from our official government and does not even count what individuals are sending. Actress Sandra Bullock has pledged $1 million of her own money, so the U.S. has no shortage of people willing to help. But I sort of blanch when I look at how much money we are spending in Iraq. That $350 million figure above represents the spending for 1.5 DAYS in Iraq. Yes, we are spending so many billions over there that it completely dwarfs what we are planning to spend on the tidal wave victims. My point is not that we are responsible for natural disasters on the other side of the world. I am wondering about the expense of the war. Is it worth it? You can alleviate a lot of human suffering with $350 million. You can alleviate even MORE with $148 BILLION. Which is the approximate amount we have spent so far in Iraq. But what, exactly, are we accomplishing there? The only reason I can read the news with any sense of equanimity is that I don't have a personal relative over there. Let's see, we have spent $148 billion in cash, 1,200-plus in lives, and probably 10,000-plus in injuries. Public relations cost? I won't even calculate that, but let's just say the war is less popular than fried dough at an Atkins Diet Retreat. And for what? To make the world safer for SUVs? I personally don't feel any safer from terrorism now than I did on 9/12/2001. It is as though someone robbed our house, so we are spending exorbitant amounts of money to bomb housing projects that might be the home of certain criminals (managing to blow up plenty of innocent people along the way.) Meanwhile, we never even bothered to add a security alarm to our house. We're just gonna get rid of the world's criminals one by one so we never get robbed again! I understood the rationale for our incursion into Afghanistan, and completely supported that effort to root out the Al Qaeda terrorist network. You can debate its success, but it was the right thing to do. Iraq was considerably more dicey. It felt as though we had unfinished business with ruling despot Saddam Hussein rather than a logical step in our Anti-Terrorism Action Plan. The whole Weapons of Mass Destruction argument didn't seem terribly compelling, even if they were over there. Was Saddam gonna airmail them? Then Condoleeza Rice told us that the White House didn't want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud over one of America's cities. That imagery made an impression on me. I decided that the defense department must have some very disturbing information that they couldn't share with us yet that made it imperative that we go to war. Why else would we undertake such an effort? And why would we use such incendiary language to describe the threat? You know the rest of the story. But I supported our effort, at least mentally, until the Abu Ghraib scandals of last spring. Whatever moral authority we had I believe was lost at that moment. And I tend to think that type of thing is still going on, but it has been pushed underground so you don't get these awful pictures of it. I don't know what our legacy will be in Iraq, but we have leveled cities, killed civilians, permitted looting of archaeological treasures, left behind depleted uranium and demoralized our own troops. We've destroyed infrastructure, fanned the fires of hatred and crippled our sense of honor. We have shown the world what we look like when our intentions are self-serving, and how we react when we make a mistake. We pretend that we didn't. Is Iraq's oil worth all this? How else could we spend $148 billion and have something to show for it besides a wrecked country? Could we have spent it on developing alternative energy sources? Maybe providing health care to every kid in the U.S.A.? Trying to rid the world of poverty and disease? Because Economics 101 tells you that you need to spend your money on Guns or Butter. We have stocked that larder full of guns. Those bullets on our toast go down a little harder each day. Will it take an economic catastrophe to get us to stop consuming them?


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