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December 20, 2009

New Tomdispatch


"They’re Wasted"
The Price of Pushing Our Troops Too Far

By William Astore

When I was on active duty in the military, an Army friend used to remind me: “Any day you’re not being shot at is a good Army day.” Today’s troops, especially if they’re “boots on the ground” in Iraq and Afghanistan, don’t have enough good Army days. Many of them are on their fourth or fifth deployments to a combat zone. They’re stressed out and tired; they miss their spouses and families. And often they’ve seen things they wish they’d never seen.

But you’d hardly have known this listening to the debate over President Obama’s decision to escalate yet again in Afghanistan. Its tone was remarkably antiseptic. I can’t help recalling old wargames I played as a kid in which deploying infantry brigades to faraway places was as simple as picking up a few cardboard counters, tossing the dice, and pinning my troops to a new spot on the map. No gore splattered on my face when I rolled snake eyes after pushing my grunts too far into the Fulda Gap while playing MechWar ‘77.

As we roll the dice again in Central Asia, it’s clear that we’re pushing our Army and Marines too far. Naturally, our troops, notably the brass, will deny this. For them, it’s “Army Strong” or “Semper Fi”; only losers whine or bellyache. Well, we Americans need to recognize the limits on our troops, even if they refuse to do so.


Surging by the Minute

By Jo Comerford

$57,077.60. That’s what we’re paying per minute. Keep that in mind -- just for a minute or so.

After all, the surge is already on. By the end of December, the first 1,500 U.S. troops will have landed in Afghanistan, a nation roughly the size of Texas, ranked by the United Nations as second worst in the world in terms of human development.

Women and men from Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, will be among the first to head out. It takes an estimated $1 million to send each of them surging into Afghanistan for one year. So a 30,000-person surge will be at least $30 billion, which brings us to that $57,077.60. That’s how much it will cost you, the taxpayer, for one minute of that surge.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at December 20, 2009 12:03 AM

It's important to keep these things in perspective. The cost of this necessary surge for the necessary war is still only about five percent of the necessary $663bn Pentagon welfare budget which was passed recently by the Congress* with hardly a murmur. That's well over a million dollars a minute! So 57 grand is nothing.
*current disapproval rate 66%

And how are we pushing the troops too far? Military casualties are relatively low. Heck, more soldiers committed suicide last year than were killed in combat -- that's how low they are.

I say give TomDispatch a big lump of coal, in the true spirit of Christmas.

Posted by: Don Bacon at December 20, 2009 12:48 AM

"It's important to keep these things in perspective."

Now those are words to live by, but there is more to perspective than arithmetic. When you write that this is a "necessary surge for [a] necessary war," I can only wonder whether your intent is irony. Necessity depends on purpose, and no proper purpose requires our military presence in South and Central Asia, let alone an increased presence sufficient to engage in the 'counter-insurgency' about to be undertaken. Necessity doesn't serve your argument as well as you think. What is truly necessary is not being done.

But all that aside, I'm most astonished by your invocation of the spirit of Christmas while simultaneously suggesting that casualties are low because suicides are higher. That makes me glad that we're not in the same place, because I'm too old to act on impulses like those you have stirred up in me. May the ghosts of Christmas Past and Christmas Future pay you a visit so that you don't again write so glibly about human suffering that makes people better acquainted with it wake in the night screaming until they get sick of the endless recurrence and splatter their brains on the wall.

Posted by: N E at December 20, 2009 01:24 AM

N E, well said, but rest assured that Don's comment is indeed ironic in intent. Click through on his home page link.

Posted by: Harold M at December 20, 2009 06:15 AM

oops, well then in honor of the best of ghosts, here's this instead:

Posted by: N E at December 20, 2009 09:50 AM

This has nothing to do with the troops. This is further trolling on the ACLU issue, which Don is now moving to other threads.

Posted by: go_aclu at December 20, 2009 10:45 AM

Has anyone, besides me, noticed how many so-called liberals are totally illiberal and impolite? If you ask me, it's scary that people claiming to be liberal can be so dogmatic, close-minded and rude. I've encountered it on other sites, and now here. It's an inability to discuss issues without rancor, name-calling and stereotyping.

On this site I would call it Un-Schwarzian, to coin a word. Very Un-Schwarzian, from what I know about Jonathan Schwarz. Now there's an open mind, one which I occasionally have trouble tracking, it's so open. It's like . . .well, you know what I mean. Some of you do.

Posted by: Don Bacon at December 20, 2009 01:03 PM

Heaven forbid there be rancor.

In my experience, people who imply that they are more open-minded and non-dogmatic than others don't necessarily see themselves in such sharp focus. And the word 'polite' does not describe the practice of provoking reactions in order to comment smugly on them.

Posted by: N E at December 20, 2009 03:08 PM

From the excellent 'Disquiet Reservations,' we find that even the great Nat Henthoff is, shall we say, perturbed by Obama:

"In an interview conducted by John W. Whitehead, long-time newspaperman Nat Hentoff says "Obama is possibly the most dangerous and destructive president we have ever had." Hentoff, a champion of the constitution, and a free speech activist, is disturbed about the double-nature of Obama's politics and his self-serving personality, saying "Obama has little, if any, principles except to aggrandize and make himself more and more important." Much of Hentoff's criticism is shared by people across the political spectrum, who are coming together to form a new political partnership in American politics.

"Unlike earlier in the year, it is no longer politically easy for the democrats to dismiss negative remarks about Obama as conspiratorial jabber, or unfounded attacks from the republican losers, or silly complaints by backward liberals. The claims that Obama defrauded the American people, and is carrying out the same wicked policies that were put in place by the previous administration are grounded in fact after fact. Obama is his own worst example. And as more Americans begin to scratch the label off, the president's popularity will continue to drop. Even Obama's supporters are having second doubts about which side their game-changer is actually playing for."

Posted by: Oarwell at December 21, 2009 10:47 AM


It's not easy to figure out Nat Henthoff. What does one make of a First Amendment supporter who is pro life, defended the second war against Iraq, and has recently joined the Cato Institute, which is, he says, "where freedom rings." Gee, that's what I've always thought about the Koch brothers. "Freedom" from taxation has worked pretty well for the Kochs, though of course they make heavy use of all the infrastructure provided by taxes paid by others.

Hentoff is getting on in years, so his statement that Obama is "the most dangerous and destructive President we've ever had" may be a sign of dementia. It's hard for me to think of a kinder reason for him to make such a ridiculous statement.

Let me step back from the great American tendency to reduce everything to distracting issues of personality. The Chinese just opened a pipeline from Turkmenistan to Xiangjing (China's westernmost province).

And the Chinese seem to be trying to buy up southern Kazakhstan too.

I like the Chinesse strategy better than I like ours, which unfortunately seems likely to get nastier and nastier until we destroy the entire world in a giant militaristic temper tantrum.

Posted by: N E at December 21, 2009 12:22 PM

NE: "It's not easy to figure out Nat Henthoff." Maybe not Nat Henthoff,, but Nat Hentoff is easy enough to figure out. I did that when he made it clear that free speech was for him, but not for PC fanatics, usually of color, who pick on white liberals and make them feel guilty.

Posted by: Duncan at December 21, 2009 02:38 PM

Hey duncan, i got his name right the second time--that's pretty good for me.

Posted by: N E at December 21, 2009 03:53 PM

Well, evidently you contracted the misspelling from Oarwell, who also used it. But my point was not the misspelling, but that I don't find Hentoff that hard to figure out.

Posted by: Duncan at December 21, 2009 05:35 PM

You're ahead of me. But I don't even know what a "PC fanatic" is. Personal Computer? Political Correctness? whatever. to me hentoff is almost as interesting as christopher hitchens.

Posted by: N E at December 21, 2009 06:16 PM

Piling on, you mean Xinjiang 新疆.

Posted by: Save the Oocytes at December 21, 2009 08:23 PM


Good catch. My word processing program doesn't work in this little comment square, and obviously I need it.

Posted by: N E at December 21, 2009 09:09 PM

Those poor widdle babies, those poor widdle marines having to gun down those big bad mean nasty Afghan and Iraqi children.

Yeah it's so "antiseptic" to never even think about the blood of the soldiers and trigger-pullers.

Posted by: DavidByron at December 22, 2009 01:17 AM