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Americans Should Be Asked to Sacrifice for the War on Terrorism. But Sacrifice What?

The following query found its way into my in-box: Could you please tell me what "sacrifices" you think we should be making because we are at war? I told a friend about how I had seen you on TV saying that we are at war, but people aren't making sacrifices. So he asked me what sacrifices, and I couldn't give him an answer.

Glad to oblige.

Typically, this sort of question serves as a prelude to an appeal to restore the draft. Yet when it comes to sacrifice, there’s a more immediately available option. Hit Americans where it hurts: in their pocketbooks.

If Iraq (Bush’s War) and Afghanistan (Obama’s War) are so all-fired important, then we ought to be funding those conflicts on a pay-as-you-go basis. After September 11, the Bush administration employed tax cuts to purchase popular acquiescence in its plan for open-ended war. Using borrowed money to underwrite the global war on terrorism has freed the present generation from any obligation to cover the financial costs incurred. It’s not our problem. (Similarly, the Pentagon’s reliance on an all-volunteer military force insulates most Americans from the human costs.)

By saddling future generations with debt that we ourselves incur, this arrangement perpetrates a grave injustice. The never-ending flood of red ink is also putting the long-term health of the economy at risk. Liberals ought to find this arrangement intolerable for moral reasons. Conservatives–having suddenly rediscovered the importance of living within one’s means–should find it intolerable for fiscal reasons.

Fixing the problem really shouldn’t prove all that difficult and doesn’t require that we send unwilling conscripts off to police the backwaters of the greater Middle East.

Here are some back-of-the-envelope calculations: Since September 11, the Pentagon budget has more than doubled to approximately $700 billion per year. So let’s peg current war costs at $400 billion annually (almost certainly a low-ball estimate). There are approximately 150 million single and joint-filing taxpayers in this country. Reduce that number by the 30 million veterans–they’ve already given at the office, as it were–and the per capita cost of ongoing U.S. wars comes to $3,300 per annum. Add that as a surcharge to every citizen’s tax bill (or subtract that amount from the annual pay-out to Social Security recipients) and there won’t be any need to ask what it means to sacrifice.

Doing so will also cause public willingness to indulge Washington’s appetite for military adventurism to evaporate, of course. I wonder if any leaders, Democratic or Republican, will make this cause their own. Don’t count on it.