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What Price War?


After more than two years, President Obama’s national security policy looks all too familiar: like President Bush’s policy.

You remember the Bush doctrine? Its most prominent tenet was the policy of preventive war—using the U.S. military to eliminate potentially dangerous enemies, rather than using military force only when the United States is clearly threatened.

Generally speaking, the Bush administration argued that deposing unfriendly regimes and promoting democracy both militarily and diplomatically were in America’s long-term best interests. President Obama not only has embraced this approach, stressing it again in his May 19 speech on the Middle East, he’s gone further: increasing military spending, expanding the war in Afghanistan, handing off more of the mission to contractors and mercenaries, and bombing Libya without anything resembling a threat to the United States or even a nod from Congress—in violation of the War Powers Act.

Consider the budget. President Obama’s first defense budget, for fiscal year 2010, was $685.1 billion, if we include the “supplemental” funds for the Afghanistan and Iraq wars (a budget gimmick he had promised not to use). This was 3 percent higher than in the previous year.

The Obama administration upped the ante again for FY 2011, requesting a base budget of $548.9 billion, plus $159.3 billion for Afghanistan and Iraq, for a total of $708.3 billion. That was before the bombing of Libya, which already has cost some $750 million, Defense Secretary Robert Gates revealed on May 12 at Camp Lejeune, N.C.

The president has requested “only” $670.9 billion for fiscal year 2012—but the Department of Defense baseline request was actually raised from $548.9 billion to $553.1 billion. The overall decrease comes from a projected cut in operational costs for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Yet, according to the Congressional Research Service, Afghanistan will still cost $113.7 billion compared to the $43.5 billion spent in 2008, President Bush’s last year. Iraq will be much cheaper than before, but this decline was already in the works. In late 2008, President Bush signed the Status of Forces Agreement setting the Iraq drawdown in motion. If anything, President Obama has slowed down the withdrawal, and is now petitioning Iraq to stay past 2011. Meanwhile, the stepped-up war in Afghanistan has offset much of the savings we could have expected in Iraq.

And this is just the financial cost. Last year 559 American troops died in Iraq and Afghanistan—significantly more than the 469 who died during Bush’s final year in office.

Moreover, a growing number of civilian contractors also have fallen. In the first half of 2010, for example, 250 contractors reportedly died in Iraq and Afghanistan—more than the 235 military personnel who fell during the same period.

As a senator and presidential candidate, Barack Obama criticized President Bush’s war policies. But instead of changing course, President Obama has tripled down in Afghanistan, widened the war into Pakistan, multiplied the drone attacks, bombed Yemen and Somalia, and started an undeclared NATO war in Libya.

On surveillance questions, presidential war powers, Guantanamo, detention policy and habeas corpus, he has similarly stayed the course, or even expanded Bush’s precedents.

Almost none of this had anything to do with killing Osama bin Laden.

Those who voted for Obama in 2008, expecting a shift in defense policy, must face a sad fact: The United States would have likely spent less money and spilled less American and foreign blood in its wars had the president simply continued on the path charted by President Bush. Instead, we now have Bush Plus.

Anthony Gregory is Research Fellow at The Independent Institute. His articles have appeared in the Christian Science Monitor, Bloomberg BusinessWeek, San Diego Union-Tribune, Portland Oregonian (AZ), Contra Costa Times, The Star (Chicago, IL), Washington Times, Salt Lake Tribune, Tallahassee Democrat, Albany (NY) Times Union, Raleigh News and Observer, Florida Today, and other newspapers.

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