The top story in the Washington Post today alleges that a major factor in the White House debate about the size of upcoming troop withdrawals from Afghanistan will be the financial cost. In fact, the Post piece says it will be the “most influential number” in that discussion. Here is the basic thrust:
The U.S. military is on track to spend $113 billion on its operations in Afghanistan this fiscal year, and it is seeking $107 billion for the next. To many of the president’s civilian advisers, that price is too high, given a wide federal budget gap that will require further cuts to domestic programs and increased deficit spending.
What’s truly bizarre about the piece is that it might actually be true.
Nearly 1,600 U.S. troops have been killed in Afghanistan and more than 11,000 have been wounded, some egregiously. Those numbers actually reflect a small fraction of the suffering, much of which takes place inside the minds of hundreds of thousands of returning troops and their families.
The hard cold truth is that at some level, all that suffering does not matter. I’ve tried my best for years to show that one of the most important stories in the United States is, in fact, a non-story. Less than one percent of the U.S. population now serves in the armed services — the lowest percentage ever.
That means that a small sliver of the population is shouldering a tremendous burden for the rest of us. It also means that we send young men and women on 2, 3 or 4 combat tours without a thought as we stroll through the aisles at Wallmart. Many of us simply don’t care that much because we don’t have a personal connection to the suffering. The budget deficit is the closest we get.