Does Anyone Really Believe This?

James Pethokoukis argues that we might have spent a lot of the $1.3 trillion cost of the Iraq war on containment of Iraq had we fought the war.

I will admit I have not seen the studies, but I declare right now that there is NO WAY.  If we really would have spent $150 billion a year containing Iraq in absence of a war, we should be spending similar magnitudes today on other similar regimes on which we have chosen not to declare war, like Iran, North Korea, Venezuela, etc.  But demonstrably we are not.  One might argue that oil prices would be lower, I guess, but one could also argue that the post-9/11 recession would not have been as deep without a war.  I am sure there is a broken window fallacy in here somewhere.  This reminds me nothing so much as the tortured economic studies that purport to show a gullible populace that it makes sense to build a billion dollar stadium for the hapless Arizona Cardinals because the city will make it all back in future revenues.  Sure.

I am not going to argue the justifications for the Iraq war here.  What I will say is that folks who have enthusiastically supported the war should understand that the war is going to have the following consequences:

  1. In 2009 we will have a Democratic Congress and President for the first time since 1994.
  2. The next President will use the deficits from the $1.3 trillion in Iraq war spending to justify a lot of new taxes
  3. These new taxes, once the war spending is over, will not be used for deficit reduction but for new programs that, once established, will be nearly impossible to eliminate
  4. No matter what the next president promises to the electorate, they are not going to reverse precedents for presidential power and secrecy that GWB has established.  Politicians never give up power voluntarily.  [if the next president is Hillary, she is likely to push the envelope even further].  Republicans are not going to like these things as much when someone of the other party is using them.


  1. Craig:

    If we are perceived to have won the war by the election, then it's not at all clear to me that we will end up with Democrats in control of the presidency and Congress. Congress, almost certainly -- the presidency not so much. On the point of presidential power, you are absolutely correct. Any Democrat who wins will certainly maintain the privileges that George Bush has insisted on.

    One point that the Bushaters have refused to acknowledge is the extreme care the President has taken to refrain from any criticism of Bill Clinton, whether it be the release of his records or Willy's profligate pardoning record. George didn't want to tie his own hands and Hillary recognizes that (with unspoken gratitude). Even the likes of John Edwards has probably been informed by his wife about that bit.

  2. Max:

    You go ahead and say NO WAY. We can play Wayne and Garth because I'll say WAY.

  3. Jody:

    If we really would have spent $150 billion a year containing Iraq in absence of a war, we should be spending similar magnitudes today on other similar regimes on which we have chosen not to declare war

    We're not enforcing no-fly zones over Iran, NK, et al.

  4. John Dewey:


    I think we have already won the war in Iraq. Since 2003 we've been occupying Iraq, just as we occupied Japan from 1945 to 1952 and occupied Germany from 1944 to 1949. We're no longer at war with either Iraq or Afghanistan. We're conducting police action against terrorism. I don't think the U.S. will ever be able to declare victory in a war against terrorists.

  5. John Dewey:

    For 5 years after Japan's surrender, 350,000 U.S. soldiers occupied Japan.

    For 4 years after World War I, 250,000 U.S. soldiers occupied Germany.

    I haven't yet found figures for the allied troops who occupied Germany from 1944 to 1949, but I think the number was much larger than the 130,000 U.S. soldiers now in Iraq.

    The difference between then and now, IMO, is the will of the U.S. electorate.

  6. CT_Yankee:

    John Dewey "The difference between then and now, IMO, is the will of the U.S. electorate."

    Another difference is those were very long, drawn out wars that killed off the most enthusiastic warriers, leaving the exhaused remnants to try and pick up the pieces of a devastated homeland. The recent wars were over so quickly, the enemy never felt defeated, and large numbers of the extreamists survived. Many were left feeling "I'm ready to fight, I know where military supplies are still hidden, who will lead!"

    The Germans did not "feel" defeated after WWI. They felt "cheated of victory" by thier politicians. They believed they could have done better if given a chance under better leaders. WWII was all about doing it "right" this time.

    There is no humanitarian way to make enemies feel defeat. They have to come home wounded to find most of thier village is dead, and all of it needs rebuilding. They won't feel "I shouldn't fight", so they have to feel "I can't fight."

    While they wait and grit thier teeth and silently support those who do fight, we can not pick them out of the crowd. As they do decide to fight, we kill them. It's a slow process compared to normal warfare, but in the end, it is the same. Everyone who really wants to fight must eventually be killed in order to change thier mind.

  7. Mesa Econoguy:

    Sorry, Cardinals Stadium is an ok idea, for the simple reason that it is the site of not only regular season Cardinals games (which suck), but also the ongoing Fiesta Bowl, and we’ve got a Super Bowl next Feb, with possibly more to follow.

    Those are enormous revenue-generators, and most cities don’t have that. Too bad the Cardinals still suck.

    If Democrats do win both the Presidency and Congress in 2008, I guarantee Republicans will win back one or both houses of Congress in 2010.

    I also guarantee that new taxes will cause a recession.

  8. Greg:

    CT Yankee: Well said.

    Just my 2 cents worth:

    1) If by Nov '09 it looks like Iraq is a success then the chances that a Dem will be the next pres are much lower. Besides, exit pols from the '06 election revealed that Iraq with the 4th most important issue. Corruption was higher. If the R's, who desperately wanted to lose the last election, can keep their act together they have a good chance.

    2) If the next pres is a Dem, yes. Massive new taxes in addition to elimination of the Bush cuts (which will happen anyway, due to their expiration dates.) So a double increase. If the next Pres is an R, which I think is quite possible, then there's hope that those increases won't happen.

    3) True enough. Congress has little interest in cuts. Even cuts in the rate of increase are met with howls of pain and anguish.

    4) I seem to remember the Clinton Admin being preoccupied with secrecy, lying, abuse of the constitution, and all the other claims being made about Bush. Not to mention a few other scandals, other than the cigar related ones.

    Not to excuse Bush of anything (or Congress or the Courts,) but I don't see him being worse than Clinton, or what LBJ was rumored to be. Heck, there are even rumors of Reagan engaging in a secretive action or two. Actually, it's probably pretty darn difficult to do that job without a lot of attention to secrecy, especially when you're fighting a war.

    Yes, all presidents and politicians like to have their power. My point is just that one side accuses the other of "nasty dealings" while giving their guys a partial or total pass. The next pres, R or D, will likely be as abusive as any other. Maybe the new media can help keep their feet to the fire.