This article originally appeared on TomDispatch.com.
Here’s the latest news from Congress, in case you’ve been in Afghanistan for the last couple of weeks. A debate about slashing the federal budget is now upon us, while fears of a possible government shutdown as spring approaches are on the rise. The Republican leadership of the House of Representatives originally picked $40 billion as its target figure for cuts to the as-yet-not-enacted 2011 budget. That was the gauntlet it threw down to the Obama administration, only to find its own proposal slashed to bits by the freshman class of that body’s conservative majority.
They insisted on adhering to a Republican Pledge to America vow to cut $100 billion from the budget. With that figure back on the table, Democrats are gasping, while pundits are predicting widespread pain in the land, including the possible loss of at least 70,000 jobs “as government aid to cops, teachers, and research is slashed.”
In the meantime, the Obama administration has hustled its own entry in the cut-and-burn sweepstakes into place, leaving Democrats again gasping. Its plan calls for ending or trimming more than 200 federal programs next year. It also reportedly offers cuts adding up to $1.1 trillion over a decade and puts in place a “five-year freeze on domestic programs [that] would reduce spending in that category to the lowest level, measured against the economy, since President Dwight D. Eisenhower left office in 1961.”
It all sounds daunting, and the muttering is only beginning about “entitlement” programs—Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid—that have yet to be touched.
Which reminds me: Didn’t I mention Afghanistan?
If so, how fortunate, because there’s a perfectly obvious path toward that Republican goal of $100 billion. If we were to embark on it, there would be even more cuts to follow and—believe it or not—they wouldn’t be all that painful, provided we did one small thing: change our thinking about making war.
After all, according to the Pentagon, the cost of the Afghan War in 2012 will be almost $300 million a day or, for all 365 of them, $107.3 billion. Like anything having to do with American war-fighting, however, such figures regularly turn out to be undercounts. Other estimates for our yearly war costs there go as high as $120–160 billion.
And let’s face it, it’s a war worth ending fast. Almost a decade after the Bush administration invaded Afghanistan, the US military is still fruitlessly engaged in possibly the stupidest frontier war in our history, thousands of miles from home in the backlands of the planet. It’s just the sort of dumb conflict that has, historically, tended to drive declining imperial powers around the bend, just the sort—in the very same country—that helped do in the Soviet Union. And though news from that war remains remarkably grim, were we by some miracle to win, for hundreds of billions of dollars we would have gained tenuous control over the fifth-poorest, second-most corrupt, and premier narco-state on the planet. Al Qaeda, on the other hand, would undoubtedly still be happily ensconced in the Pakistani tribal border areas with a range of superbly failed states available elsewhere for exploitation.