Ricochet member Harlech submits this provoking question:
Republicans oppose giant omnibus spending bills because they're full of pork and because conservatives are skeptical of the ability of government to do anything right. Yet we support a war in Afghanistan and Iraq that costs as much as these spending plans, is likely laden with as much waste (contracting boondoggles, and so on), and is even more reliant on government (including the military) to essentially build up entire countries. Why does government intervention fail at home but work overseas?
I disagree with some of these premises, though support the general notion of pay as you go for both domestic and military spending. A few points:
A) The war in Afghanistan was predicated on the notion that in October 2001, there was a good possibility of more 9/11-like attacks originating from Taliban-held Afghanistan. We can argue over the merits of the long war, but the fact that there has been no repeat of 9/11, or even a European-style terrorist operation, suggests the rout of the Taliban from Kabul into the marginal lands has been very effective.
By 2003 in Iraq, we had 12 years of no-fly-zones, a 5-year-old Iraqi liberation act, and a vote from both houses of Congress to back the Bush-inspired 23 writs authorizing the war against Saddam, whose fall ultimately improved U.S. security and whose replacement by a consensual government offers hope for the region. We had all of this aside from the faulty intelligence about WMD.
Both wars account for about 1% of annual American GDP, and are not the causes of our crushing debt, the great majority of which is attributable to out of control entitlements--like Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security--interest, and general defense spending. Note that troops are leaving Iraq as planned, costs are being reduced, and in two years, there may be less than 10,000 American personnel of any type there.
B) "Government intervention" overseas was not the first but the last option that we considered over four administrations. In 1980-1990 we simply supplied radical Afghan and Arab insurgents against the Soviet Union, and then, naturally happy with the Soviet defeat and our own disengagement, ignored the consequences of the war.
Yet from 1990-2001, the combination of armed former insurgents, the confidence of Islamists after claiming sole credit (falsely) for defeating the Russians, Pakistan's duplicity, our detachment, etc., conspired to allow Osama bin Laden to operate freely against us from Taliban Afghanistan.
In Iraq, we tried the realist approach after 1990, and left Saddam alone after we got him out of Kuwait. But then there was the Kurdish genocide and bloodletting of the Shiites. (It should be noted that the international critics who damned us for our cynical hands-off-approach then, would a decade later damn us for our difficult intervention to establish the now thriving Kurdish and Shia communities.) The situation with the Kurds and the Shiites led to the No-fly-zones and a decade and more of UN sanctions, all of which were reduced to caricature by 2001. Staying on in 2003, after the removal of Saddam, was an imperfect reaction to all of this
In short, there are no easy choices, and each has its drawbacks. But the present two wars must be seen in the context of prior perceived failed policies that had only passed on the problems, rather than addressed them.
Note that despite all the threats of endless neo-con preemption, we did not intervene elsewhere and have been careful not to get too involved in Pakistan or Iran, both of which could, in the future, become very scary.
Bottom line: I don't think the distrust of intrusive government at home contradicts the idea of supporting consensual governments abroad, or even fostering those governments—especially when there is little alternative and past remedies have failed. The U.S. has a long record in the Balkans, Germany, Italy, Japan, Panama, and South Korea of staying on and spending a lot in the hopes of not having to come back and spend even more at a later date.