As the buzz of election-year propaganda drones on around us, it seems that the focus has shifted away from Iraq and onto the domestic economy.
One might ask how it is possible to separate from the other.
It is not surprising that Americans are tired of thinking about Iraq. We have notoriously short attention spans, and it is difficult for us to focus on anything for five minutes, much less five years.
But, one doesn’t need to be an economist to understand that a little adventure like Iraq which, according to some estimates will cost American taxpayers something in the neighborhood of $3 trillion, has a very real effect on the economy.
Some might say this is a crippling effect, and one might be excused for daydreaming a bit about some of the other things we could do with this money.
When the subject of Iraq does come up, the discussion seems to be about whether or not it makes sense to plan for withdrawal. The White House is still going on about victory, whatever that means.
We are expending (I was going to use a different phrase there, but this is a family newspaper) about $12 billion per month in Iraq.
It would be nice to know what we are getting for our money, and what our goal is in being there.
The current cost is staggering, and in order to pay for this, Washington seems willing to continue to increase the deficit by leaps and bounds, which will handcuff future generations and saddle them with the debt for today’s decisions.
In addition to the monetary costs, there is the human cost in terms of the men and women whose lives are being turned upside down as they or their family members are called to serve overseas.
Some never make it home, and many of those who do will never be the same when they get back.
It seems that these people deserve some answers, too.
What is perhaps the most troubling in all of this is that we don’t seem to have learned anything from the experience.
With our military deployed in more than 100 countries worldwide, the troops are stretched thinner than the icing on an orphanage birthday cake. It is difficult so see how our military can continue to carry out its current mission, much less respond to any large-scale conflict that might arise.
And yet, the White House and the Pentagon continue to talk tough.
The recent Russian occupation of Georgia led to the usual saber rattling in Washington. One might question whether this is such a good idea.
It is easy to understand how the rest of the world might be confused about US foreign policy. One must admit, it can be a bit difficult to follow.
Is it defensive or offensive in nature? Washington has talked for decades about Mideast peace (an oxymoron if there ever was one), and yet, we seem to be over there helping to stir things up every time one turns around.
Our foreign policy, or lack thereof, has, in some parts of the world, made us about as popular as a temperance activist at Oktoberfest.
For five years, we have been mired in the mess in Iraq. Then, there is the situation in Afghanistan, which is costing us another $4 billion per month.
But, we can’t forget about the threat from Iran. And, what about North Korea?
There seems to be a distinct lack of focus in all of this.
Is there a plan here, or are we just trying to pick fights with everyone all at once?
When I was a lad, my friends and I used to play a board game called Risk. I don’t remember all of the rules, but I do remember that in order to be successful, one had to have a focus and consolidate one’s resources in the home territory before getting carried away with grand plans elsewhere.
Those who tried to fight battles all over the world were easily defeated, because they were spread too thin to conduct effective campaigns. They found themselves under attack from all directions, and they were unable to defend themselves.
Real life is a bit more complicated than board games, but there may be a lesson there somewhere.
If we are worried about fixing our economy, we may want to start by turning off the tap that is draining off immense resources to other parts of the world.
Until we sort ourselves out, we would do well to mind our own allotment and let other countries mind theirs.
If we continue to try to be the world’s police force and the world’s relief association, we may end up not being able to take care of ourselves, much less others.
And, if the worst happens and we do find ourselves down and out, one wonders which of our many “friends” around the world are going to line up to bail us out.