It’s been a remarkable aspect of the foreign policy “debate” over the last month that I haven’t heard a single leading Republican express misgivings about a new Iraq war’s impact on fiscal policy. And yet, for a few years now, we have been subjected to endless drama about the mounting debt when it comes to anything the government wants to do. Cost was one (ludicrous) reason to oppose Obamacare; it’s behind cutting off 3 million long-term unemployed from any benefits; it has led to proposals to turn Medicare into a premium support system and for cutting social security. Some of this fiscal vigilance I find useful – if it weren’t so transparently a way to dodge GOP responsibility for the debt and to blame Obama for all of it and if it weren’t raised as a matter of urgency when the world economy was deeply depressed (the one time when fiscal lenience is warranted). But it is hard to resist the conclusion, after the last few weeks, that it’s all a self-serving charade.
I mean: where are the fiscal conservatives now? The ISIS campaign is utterly amorphous and open-ended at this point – exactly the kind of potentially crippling government program Republicans usually want to slash. It could last more than three years (and that’s what they’re saying at then outset); the cost is estimated by some to be around $15 billion a year, but no one really knows. The last phase of the same war cost, when all was said and done, something close to $1.5 trillion – and our current travails prove that this was one government program that clearly failed to achieve its core original objectives, and vastly exceeded its original projected costs.
If this were a massive $1.5 trillion infrastructure project for the homeland, we’d be having hearing after hearing on how ineffective and crony-ridden it is; there would be government reports on its cost-benefit balance; there would be calls to end it tout court. But a massive government program that can be seen as a form of welfare dependency for the actual countries – Turkey, Iran, Jordan, Kurdistan – facing the crisis gets almost no scrutiny at all. And what scrutiny it gets is entirely due to partisanship and the desire to portray this president as effectively useless.
Now take a look at the international disgrace that is the resilient torture and detention camp at Gitmo. It has been kept in operation – despite the huge damage it does in our campaign to restrain Jihadism – by the same people who have been hyper-ventilating about a British loser decapitating innocents in the deserts of Mesopotamia. Its cost? They don’t care. But ask yourself: if this were a domestic program, would there really be any debate? Some context:
At a cost of $2.8 million per prisoner per year, Guantánamo is the most expensive prison in the world. (The costliest prison in the U.S., the Colorado Supermax, at $78,000 per prisoner per year.) And the costs will continue to rise as facilities that were built to be temporary, like the Camp America Dining Facility, deteriorate. In addition to the dining facility repairs, the 2015 defense budget also calls for $11.8 million to upgrade a medical clinic that was never built to serve an aging population of prisoners. Congress earmarked another $69 million to renovate Camp 7, the top-secret facility that holds the 15-high value detainees who were tortured in CIA black sites prior to their transfer to Guantánamo. In March, The Miami Herald reported that the ground below the facility had shifted, causing the floors and walls of the building to crack.
Obama took office and proposed saving the US much of that $15 billion, by transferring the tortured detainees to super-max prisons in the mainland. The GOP blocked it – and continue to. Their only arguments are an appeal to irrational panic and fear of terrorists – which, come to think of it, is their only real response to the latest Sunni insurgency in Iraq as well. Some of us held out hope that the sheer fiscal drain of a perpetual, lose-lose war against a constantly replenishing Jihadism empowered by our intervention might temper some of this unreason. But we’ve just seen how a couple of videos can snap the GOP – and most of the country – into a fiscally reckless “do something whatever it costs” mindset, in which the debt is the last thing on any Republican’s mind.
They are frauds and hysterics. Anyone who cares about our fiscal future and believes the GOP is the part of our polity most able to address it is deluding herself. The past and the present definitively say otherwise.
(Photo: Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) coming off the Senate floor after votes is asked by reporters about the situation in Iraq and the capture of a suspect in the 2012 Benghazi attack, on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC Tuesday June 17, 2014. By Melina Mara/The Washington Post via Getty Images.)