Thursday, July 22, 2004

Is the U.S. is Running on Empty?

Driving into work this morning, I heard a figure that kind of astounded me. According to a Morning Edition report, between Iraq and Afghanistan (primarily Iraq), the U.S. military / Coalition Provisional Authority has blown through $191 billion dollars in the past couple of years. And now they're asking for more. The estimated need for this year was apparently lowballed by almost a factor of three. And that's either really bad budgeting or a reflection of garden-variety bullshitting in the original funding request.

What's probably more depressing is that $191 billion is just what's reflected "on the books", and totally excludes money spent in Iraq out of the massive black budgets of various agencies.

(As an aside, I'm not quite sure how to reconcile these McDonald's-type numbers with reports that say "the allocated money isn't being spent".)

Now comes a report from the Washington Post that war funds are dwindling away...

The U.S. military has spent most of the $65 billion that Congress approved for fighting the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and is scrambling to find $12.3 billion more from within the Defense Department to finance the wars through the end of the fiscal year, federal investigators said yesterday...

The Army, which is overspending its budget by $10.2 billion for operations and maintenance, is asking the Marines and the Air Force to help cover the escalating costs of its logistics contract with Halliburton Co. But the Air Force is also exceeding its budget by $1.4 billion, while the Marines are coming up $500 million short. The Army is even having trouble paying the contractors guarding its garrisons outside the war zones, the report said.
And another WAPO report laments the Army "running low on ammo".

Many pundits, most of who are much more tuned in than myself, have compared U.S. involvement in Iraq to our Vietnam experience. However, I'm beginning to believe our involvement probably more closely mirrors the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the late 1970's:

It may seem a bit far-reaching that a country like Afghanistan had any bearing on the fall of the Soviet Union. Anthony Arnold, however, compares Soviet Union with a sick old man and Afghanistan as the pebble which this exhausted sick man stumbled on and fell. One could easily dismiss Arnold's argument if he had been the only expert, or at least among the few writers who had articulated this point. But surprisingly, there are quiet a number of authors who suggest Afghanistan as one of the considerable factors in the demise of the USSR...

Economic devastation, political suppression, despotic rule, and forced virtues were Stalinistic old-school policies, which held the chains surrounding a society that no longer could be held from change. Afghanistan was a major factor in breaking the myths which had surrounded the Soviet Empire for decades. Acknowledging the speedy implementation of Prestroika and Glasnost, coupled with a breakdown of the economics and changing Soviet ideology were elements breaking apart the Soviet Union.
Now, I'm not suggesting (or even hoping) that the U.S. is heading down the bankrupt russkie rat hole as a result of our involvement in Iraq. I believe hope that the national economic makeup of the U.S. is sufficiently different from that of the ex-Soviet Union to prevent any such similar scenario.

Here's a proposition that I want you to think about. Ronald Reagan didn't defeat the Russian Bear. The Russian Bear defeated the Russian Bear. When the state couldn't put enough bread on people's tables and vodka in their glasses because of economics and the basic flaws of collectivism that eventually caught up with the Bolshevik’s, the bloated Soviet Union had no economic recourse other than to shed it's geographic sphere of influence. The Soviet Union ship of state sunk in a hurry. And as a result, almost 30 years later, Russia is still struggling to find its way in the new world order.

Is there a lesson in the demise of the Soviet Union? I think so. Not to put too fine of a point on it, or steal the title of a current book, but imperial hubris (and using a stretched military to project that hubris) brought down an empire through economic devastation.

But then, historically, isn't that what usually brings down empires?