Opportunity Costs

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For the war opponents in the crowd, a bit of Times op-art I forgot to link earlier: Next time some glib jackass asks why you wish Saddam Hussein were still in power, ask him why he's glad we haven't done all these things that might've actually made the U.S. safer.

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  1. That’s great, but why not just ask why the money couldn’t be not spent at all and returned to the American taxpayers?

    Most of those domestic proposals would involve federal handouts of money to purchase equipment or hire people. Do we really want to start a new federal subsidy program for the security industry (the DHS notwithstanding)?

  2. I question the efficacy of targeting a tactic (terrorism), rather than a cause (partly, Muslim extremism).

    I agree with db — give us back the money, though doubling the size of Special Forces (if that much talent is available) is definitely a Good Idea: their maximal use of force multiplication techniques saves oodles of time and money over a number of missions.

  3. You mean we might have scratched up even more loot to shove down the rathole in Afghanistan? Have we completely run out of domestic farmers to bribe as well?

  4. Sanchez,

    Next are you going to come out with all the wonderful things we could have done if we didn’t fight the war on poverty, war on drugs, etc?

    If there are a thousand things we need to do, do we do all of them at once or none at all? “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a first step” – was it the good Chairman who said it?

    By the way, one of the other suggested uses was to build 2 extra divisions – for what?

  5. The same folks who cooked up this chart would also be first in line to protest spending on the very items they cite as alternatives to the war. They would leave us exactly where we are today … with inconvenience giving the illusion of better security.

  6. I note that most of the alternatives are purely defensive, passive activities that are, at bottom, bigger and more intrusive police activities that will take place right here in the US. I find it interesting that some libertarians support spending billions on measures that are aimed directly at reducing liberty and freedom here in the US, and all, ultimately for nothing. You cannot trade a freedom for security; ultimately you wind up with neither.

    You cannot completely secure a free society from within. You can only keep it free by eliminating the threats it faces, root and branch. We will not be safe from the Islamonutters until they are exterminated, and all the baggage checks and Coast Guard cutters in the world cannot change this fact.

  7. Sanchez,

    That has got to be the dumbest post I have ever seen. If there is anyone who is a glib jackass its you and that pains me to say because your are generally a decent writer. Is there a more tired or overused logical falicy than the old “this money was the expense of this” dodge. Why the hell can’t we do the war in Iraq and do all of those things too? The federal government spends about two trillion dollars a year and they couldn’t find the money for the Iraq war and this? For that matter isn’t social security, and AIDS research and every other dime the government spends also at the expense of those programs as well? All of that of course assumes that some pork barrell “security spending” dreamed up by some NYT hack would really stop terrorists, which is a dubious assumption as best. Sanchez, you owe yourself and Reason readers better than this.

  8. hey Julian!

    you’ve got older siblings, right? i admire your “younger brother technique” to get the usual suspects to come crawling out. 🙂

    glibly,
    drf

  9. Wait… I’m confused… are we fighting a war on terror or a war in Iraq… because I was under the impression they were two different things.

  10. Dean-how do you propose to eliminate all the Islamists? Can you tell them apart from moderate muslims at a glace? Perhaps we should just kill all the semites, eh?
    Of course, making martyrs seems to be an effective way to limit religous fervor. Doesn’t it?

  11. Julian,

    I supported the war but since we didn’t find large stockpiles of WMD I guess I have to admit that Saddam could have never pulled off a mass casualty terrorist attack.

    I mean to kill, say 10,000 people in a single attack, he’d need a huge WMD stockpile. Why, if he used sarin nerve gas he would need at least an ENTIRE liter. To be sure, he would probably had to use a whopping 10 liters.

    Okay, that’s not a lot, but to make Sarin from scratch he would need at least two dozen scientist and technicians who had knew how to make it because they had done so in the past.

    Okay, he had those people, but they would have needed really specialized equipment, stuff you couldn’t find outside of the most basic and small scale chemical facility. I mean, it’s not like the gear was highly generic dual use stuff he could buy or even make.

    Okay he could easily find or make it but the facility itself would have been huge and hard to hide from the outside world.

    Okay, the enitre thing would fit in the trailer of semi-truck, but to do all this he would have needed a lot money, $10 million or more!

    Okay, so he had that much in cushions of his couch but he still would have had to move the nerve gas around the world and he couldn’t do that unless he had access to a network of smugglers or the diplomatic pouches of a nation state.

    Okay, so he could have moved it but were would have found the suicidal maniacs willing to die in an attack just to kill thousands of civilians? I mean, in todays world, people like that are pretty rare.

    Okay, any number of loons could have carried out the attack but he couldn’t have thought he could carry off the attack and survive. He would have to have know we would trace it back to him because, after all, we figured out who was behind the anthrax attacks pretty quick didn’t we? He certainly showed good judgment in the past. I means, it not like he tried to assassinate a former US president or anything.

    Okay, maybe the war wasn’t such a waste based just on the WMD threat. Maybe some people never bothered to do their even the most basic research on WMD’s and their possible use by terrorist for themselves and ended up with the mistaken idea that if Saddam didn’t have the Manhattan project buried out in the desert he was as harmless as a fuzzy bunny.

    Okay?

  12. I don’t see why pointing out that it’s a good thing Saddam is gone makes you a glib jackass. Sounds kind of ad hominem to me.

  13. Damn strait Shannon. But of course, had Bush done nothing and an attack had happened and been traced to Saddam, the Reasonites would all be talking about what a gutless idiot he was because he couldn’t figure out that Saddam was a threat.

  14. Todd,

    Reducing a complicated, multi-variate question whose answer is still up the air to a single variable, because doing so makes it easier to win an argument, makes you both glib, and a jackass.

  15. What the heck are you trying to say, Shannon ?

  16. The only programs there that sound worthwhile are destroying/safeguarding stockpiles of nukes. that might actually decrease terrorism. The rest is almost as much a waste of money as invading Iraq. We should be shrinking the army, not expanding it.

  17. Give all the money back to the TAXPAYERS and let them buy the weapons of their choice.

  18. I’m just a simple caveman, but how would half of those things have made us more secure from terrorists?

    -$4B Expediting the Coast Guard upgrade would stop terrorism, how? You don’t need a newer boat to inspect containers.

    -$7B Those 100k policemen didn’t exactly put a stop to the 9/11 plot, did they? They’re not there for counter-terrorism. They’re there to stop domestic abuse, armed robbery, and all sorts of other things. That’s all nice and useful, but they wouldn’t do squat to stop terrorism.

    -$10B Development aid. Seriously, Jules, you can’t possibly believe that would help anti-terror initiatives, can you? Aid doesn’t correlate to development. It certainly doesn’t correlate to security.

    I still probably wouldn’t have gone to war in Iraq, but these arguments are pretty specious.

  19. It’s interesting to think what it COULD have been spent on, but what WOULD it have been spent on:

    PORK, PORK, and more PORK.

    I wonder if the NYT will publish a similar infographic from the CAGW website?

  20. “Give all the money back to the TAXPAYERS and let them buy the weapons of their choice.” I was thinking of posting something like this as a parody. How about converting your refund into pennies and building a suit of armor?

  21. If the United States opts to develop a Seige Mentality (TM Frank Herbert), then we have already lost. We can put all the safeguards we want in place, and rightly so, but their effectiveness counts on us being able to catch any terrorist plots over and over and over. Meanwhile, are the nations that help encourage and support these individuals to be allowed to operate unimpeded in the hope that we will discover and be able to deflect anything they come up with? Is it not better that they should be confronted in the middle east, fighting in a more traditional style of combat where we have a massive upper hand? Otherwise, we are just waiting for the next big attack that will sooner or later get through. If we find NOTHING else, the Iraq war was completely worth it for the fact that it got Gadhaffi to reveal his nuclear weapons program and give it up (unless of course you want to tell yourself that it was total coincidence this happened right after we pulled Saddam out of the ground). Why is this not a bigger deal? LIBYA was going to have NUKES. Does anybody out there honestly think some more port inspectors would have been an adequate deterrent to an Al-qaeda cell getting ahold of those nukes and flying them over Manhattan? Or perhaps putting them on a small pleasure boat and pulling into NY harbor? But, you say, Libya would never let those fall into terrorist hands because then we’d retaliate against them. But why would we? The UN inspectors said Libya didn’t have a nuclear weapons program, so who would have suspected them? And if we were to discount what the UN said in favor of our own intel, look at the big bad imperialist America attacking a country for no reason. If the Libyan nukes were not being created to threaten America, please let me know what they were for.
    There is one other reason why we are better off spending that money in Iraq. Imagine an alternate universe where we fight the terror war 90’s style, ie crusie missiles and stern warnings. Our forces only engage confirmed terrorist training camps, attack only when there is no doubt about anything, and leave the old middle east regimes untouched. For the next 30 years, we witness those regimes creating more and more hatred for the US. Saddam dies in 20XX and his sons take over. They know that Americans are not interested in removing them while we are so busy trying to stop the ever increasing number of attempts on the US homeland, fueled by an endless stream of young men, many of whom are buried in the sands of Iraq in our universe. Ditto for Iran, who threw out the UN long ago and openly developed their nuclear arsenal, knowing that as long as we couldn’t find a “Made in Iran” sticker on the
    9/11 blueprints, America would do nothing. And Europe… well the would sell them almost anything they wanted. Libya is no different. They built their own nuclear arsenal right under Europe’s nose, and nobody stopped them because the UN said nothing was going on. Iraq wasn’t about to be left out of this, and now they have nukes too. All they had to do was lock the doors when the inspectors showed up, as they ‘ve always done, and the French would continue to veto any action in the UN. After all, the inspectors haven’t technically seen anything yet, and we’ll just pretend nothing is being hidden. The Middle East is now about 1000 times more dangerous than it was in 2001, and terror attempts on US soil are virutally a daily occurance. Iraq is now financing suicide bombers in LA, Chicago, and Manhattan, just as they did in Jerusalem. But of course this is all done unofficially with no paper trail, so the warmongering Americans can do nothing. In 2032, Al Qaeda, now a government-strength yet stateless power, raids a Libyan nuke arsenal with help from high level sympathizers and steals some warheads. Before anybody knows this has happened, there are several unsuspecting airliners flying over the US with nuclear bombs in their cargo holds. These are detonated as they fly over their destination cities. The worst case scenario has happened.
    Well what do we do now? We could just go off and destroy the Middle East and everything in it, but that’s just not going to happen so no need to discuss it. No, what we will finally realize is that the fundamental culture of the region needs to change, or this will go on forever. We decide that one of the countries in the Middle East needs to be transformed into a democracy, a place where people can prosper and be happy instead of blowing themselves up so that their families can get some blood money. We must hope that others will follow as their people rise up. And we must somehow do this in a region that is far worse than anything we’ve yet to see in 2004. In fact, pundits will say “If only George Bush had had the foresight to do something constructive like this instead of just dropping bombs and cruise missiles back after 9/11, none of this would have ever happened”. But by then it will be too late for millions of people.

  22. Are we discussing the Marshall doctrine?
    Namely that if a US bomb destroys it, a US engineer in the employ of the US government must build it back?

    Was that the correct doctrine in the first place?

  23. Arguing with those who still support the war in Iraq as a Good Idea is a Bad Idea. It’s a waste of time better spent sleeping.

  24. Sanchez

    We could be doing a lot of things but the war on terrorism is a multi-front endevor. We need to fight terror wherever we can get to it and defend ourselves at home. So doing one without the other just sets us up for another 9/11.

    We are trying to do both and much remains to be done.

  25. $144 Billion for the Iraq war….unbelievable.

    And of course that cost doesn’t count the nearly 1,000 Americans and the 10,000+ civilians who have died so far.

  26. Shannon,

    Okay…

    You’ve convinced me. Thank God we invaded Iraq with enough troops to cover the country like white on rice so we could find and secure all those highly mobile, hard to detect WMD and facilities before the Islamist terrorists can get their hands on them.

    Oops! We only invaded with enough troops to topple Saddam, not secure the WMD gems that presumably would have been guarded by “Baathist dead-enders” who would have found the prospect of a hard currency bribe from Islamist terrorists attractive once they saw their future with Saddam erased.

    Why aren’t there pro-war people howling for the heads of the Pentagon’s incompetent civilian leadership? No need for hindsight. Not only was their strategy seriously flawed compared to the mission as they defined it, they sacked/silenced the military leadership that pointed it out.

  27. Patri: (Hi, Patri! This is Kevin.) Agreed; reading the NYT list was like looking at the lineup of the usual suspects. Look, more pork. Look, more programs of highly dubious value. Look, more of the liberal notion that if you throw more money at a problem, the problem will go away — or at least be buried under a mound of cash.

    “Increase American development assistance”? “Public Diplomacy”? “Secure major roads” (with its evil stepchild, “improving surveillance”)?

    And the real howler, “crop conversion” — because lord knows, if there were some other major industry in Afghanistan, none of *that* money would end up in terrorist pockets. Them terrorists love their drug money. “What, this cash came from a legitimate industrial operation? HISS! Take it away, it burns us!”

  28. I find the “aren’t you glad Saddam’s gone” talking point particularly ironic, since some of the neocons at the Weekly Standard (who make such heavy use of that talking point) have a history of being in bed with Islam Karimov–a dictator easily as brutal

    A case can be made for assisting a brutal dictator if that dictator can, in turn, assist the United States. There’s nothing “ironic” about that.

    What I find curious is the number of Americans who leapt to Saddam’s defense once he changed from being “a brutal dictator loosely allied with the United States” to “a brutal dictator who is a sworn enemy of the United States”.

    So, sure, one could claim that “neo-cons” are more interested in supporting U.S. allies than they are in establishing democracies. The problem is that the “evidence” for this claim also “proves” that the anti-war crowd is more interested in supporting U.S. enemies than it is in establishing democracies. And I’m not sure that that’s the conclusion you’re looking for.

  29. “A case can be made for assisting a brutal dictator if that dictator can, in turn, assist the United States.”

    Yes, as long as you don’t believe the presence of dictators, and the absence of liberal democracy, in the Muslim world produces threats to the United States. Seems to me I’ve heard one or two war supporters say something along those lines, but I might have been drunk.

    Please find me an example of an American who “leapt to Saddam Hussein’s defense.” I hear this charge all the time, but no one’s ever been able to back it up.

  30. “Wait… I’m confused… are we fighting a war on terror or a war in Iraq… because I was under the impression they were two different things.”

    Don’t worry, Will, the nurse will be along in just a minute with your meds…

  31. Please find me an example of an American who “leapt to Saddam Hussein’s defense.” Does Michael Moore, with his happy pre-war Iraqis, qualify?

    As for Julian’s original remark, he seems to be responding to a question designed to enrage him by suggesting that if he’s against the war, then he must wish Saddam Hussein were still in power–I’m guessing he doesn’t.

  32. hydroman writes: “Give all the money back to the TAXPAYERS and let them buy the weapons of their choice.”

    Good idea.

    What caliber has the best stopping power when confronted with an airborn anthrax spore? How about radioactive particles? Would full-auto be required to defend against groups of, say, several million spores? Or would a shotgun suffice?

    Is a 9mm handgun adequate for defense against the shockwave of a truck bomb explosion, or is it better to use a rifle?

    This is an important point you raise.

    It’s important that US citizens be armed, in preparation for the inevitable wave of terrorist muggings and petty theft that are on the horizon.

    What use are inspections of shipping containers, and control of nuclear materials, when Al Qaeda breaks into your house to steal your DVD player and jewelry?

    No use at all, my friend. No use at all.

  33. Oh, and hydroman – I think you’re a genius.

    If everyone in New York City was carrying a firearm, then NYC wouldn’t have to worry about Al Qaeda detonating a nuke.

    See, if everyone in NYC fired their gun at the explosion, at the exact same moment, the combined force of all the bullets would counteract and neutralize the force of the nuke! The city would survive unscathed, without losing much more than a few far-left performance artists!

    And, of course, if Al Qaeda tried to crash another jet, it would never make it through the withering hail of anti-aircraft fire from several million small-caliber pistols fired in unison.

    Brilliant!

    Keep the government out of national security! Leave it up to the individual!

  34. db writes: “Most of those domestic proposals would involve federal handouts of money to purchase equipment or hire people. Do we really want to start a new federal subsidy program for the security industry (the DHS notwithstanding)?”

    The Iraq war is essentially a giant federal handout of money to purchase equipment and hire people (especially overpriced and dishonestly billed contractors). And who knows how long we’ll be paying a huge subsidy to private security contractors in Iraq.

    If we’re going to do that in the cause of making the US safer from terrorism, we might as well spend it in ways that actually do make the US safer from terrorism. The Iraq war has a really shitty ROI on that score.

  35. I’d take my money back, thank you. Joe, you can go volunteer all the money you wish. Enjoy the consequences as well.

    The solution is to give our government NO MORE MONEY. Period. Our foreign policy was the root cause of 9/11, and our continued foreign policy will be the cause of future attacks.

  36. I find the “aren’t you glad Saddam’s gone” talking point particularly ironic, since some of the neocons at the Weekly Standard (who make such heavy use of that talking point) have a history of being in bed with Islam Karimov–a dictator easily as brutal.

    As with most enemies of the week, Saddam’s atrocities didn’t matter until he stopped taking orders and became a loose cannon. Then the U.S. government suddenly “discovered” all those horrible things he’d been doing.

    If the U.S. had been giving weapons and money to Satan, and he stopped doing what he was told, you can be sure Scotty McClellan would be at the podium the next day announcing all the horrific things they’d “just discovered” going on in Hell. And of course, a picture would resurface of Rummy shaking hands with the Devil back in ’83.

  37. Jon H:

    If we’re going to do that in the cause of making the US safer from terrorism, we might as well spend it in ways that actually do make the US safer from terrorism. The Iraq war has a really shitty ROI on that score.

    I think you either misread my post or missed the first paragraph. I was not supporting the war in Iraq, I was suggesting that it would be more constructive to ask why the money’s being spent on anything, much less on any of those government-growing proposals, or the war.

  38. RC Dean is spot on here:

    “I note that most of the alternatives are purely defensive, passive activities that are, at bottom, bigger and more intrusive police activities that will take place right here in the US. I find it interesting that some libertarians support spending billions on measures that are aimed directly at reducing liberty and freedom here in the US, and all, ultimately for nothing.”

    We can enhance passive defence if you want, but the security you are buyin in most cases is completely illusory, while the loss in civil liberties tends not to be.

    Extra divisions that no one believes we will ever deploy add nothing to our security. Extra police add nothing to our security against terrorists. The police approach can only be after the fact, and, well, terrorists tend to kill themselves.

    The coast guard is insufficient to protect every mile of coast we have. You would not want to see the cost figure for the coast guard that would be up to that task.

    Efficient defence means fighting over there and not over here. I am much more sympathetic to the case that we should have divisions currently used in Iraq free as viable threats against North Korea.

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