Adjusting the cost/benefits of war

I'm not actually crazy enough to jump into the Iraq war debate on this

blog, both because I need to maintain some political neutrality to do my

job and also because some of the people in the TR community are a

little scary when it comes to the subject, and I want no part of that.

So, let's just agree that I have opinions about the hows and whys of

the Iraq War, you're just not going to get me to express them.

What I will do is point you to a quote from sci-fi author John Scalzi, who posits this question:

"If there had been a Constitutional amendment that said that any war

undertaken by the United States, in which the US was the aggressor, had

to be financed with current federal revenues (i.e., by taxes levied today, not

by borrowing), would the War in Iraq have been approved — or even

considered? Does your answer suggest to you that a Constitutional

amendment like this might be useful in the future?"

The basis of the question is the current Presidential administration's

predisposition to borrow from foreign investors (via treasury issues)

to pay for its various and sundry initiatives. That's how you cut taxes

without cutting spending, banking that the economic boost will generate

sufficient revenues to offset the interest incurred from the borrowing.

The gist of teh question being that

you can't start a war unless you can pay for it in

cash (requiring immediate tradeoffs in the current, not future

budgets), not on credit (which basically hogties future spending due to

interminable debt service). Wars of defense reacting to direct attack—a a Pearl

Harbor—would not be subject to the restriction, but the doctrine of

preemption would face a much tougher acid test, as you have be willing

to give up certain short-term luxuries in spending to pay for the wars

you initiate.

Interesting premise, and one which I'm fairly certain would have

allowed for the Afghanistan invasion after Sept. 11, but not the

invasion of Iraq. Of course, this all comes down to who would get to

decide what constitutes a war of agression versus reaction, as it could

very easily become a mere political exercise to manufacture a case for

the oppositional aggression, especially if the proposed Amendment

doesn't lay out a very clear standard. I'd be curious as to what

other people think.

About Jay Garmon

Jay Garmon has a vast and terrifying knowledge of all things obscure, obtuse, and irrelevant. One day, he hopes to write science fiction, but for now he'll settle for something stranger — amusing and abusing IT pros. Read his full profile. You can a...

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