- By David RothkopfDavid Rothkopf is visiting professor at Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs and visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. His latest book is The Great Questions of Tomorrow. He has been a longtime contributor to Foreign Policy and was CEO and editor of the FP Group from 2012 to May 2017.
Apparently, next Tuesday President Obama is going to announce his policy on Afghanistan. According to reports, he will proceed with sending an additional thirty-something thousand more troops to that country. A recent analysis put the cost per soldier on the ground at $1 million. (The military disputes this saying it is more like half that.) That means, 30,000 troops is a cost of $30 billion.
On Sunday’s Meet the Press, Dianne Feinstein said that $1 billion invested in infrastructure produced 40,000 jobs. That means that if the $30 billion were invested in infrastructure, not only would it enhance American competitiveness — the quality of lives of Americans and the strength of our economy — it would also produce 1.2 million jobs. Oh, and of course, it would not be a cost item, it would be an investment item (even though our antiquated government accounting system still does not include a capital budget as it should). Say Feinstein is wrong about her math or the military number about the cost of each soldier is right, it still seems fair to conclude that the price of what we might spend escalating our involvement in Afghanistan would produce if invested in critical U.S. infrastructure as many jobs as the administration claims were created or saved by the stimulus package. And what if that infrastructure made America more energy efficient and less dependent on oil from our enemies in the Middle East?
That’s the choice Obama would be making with this troop commitment. In a nation … or any enterprise … with limited resources, everything is about asset allocation. And there is absolutely no credible argument that can be made that could conclude that spending $30 billion in Afghanistan is better for America … or enhances our national security more … than spending it in the United States.
Today’s Washington Post carries a story saying that 34.5 percent of young African American men are unemployed. That number, like all such numbers, almost certainly understates the problem. That is not an economic challenge. That is a failure of our system and a wound to our society that makes anything that terrorists could do to us pale by comparison. It is time we started to understand and address the real threats we face.
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