I've been talking about the opportunity costs of war since way back in the early days of 2006. In this post, I considered what we could do with the $1 trillion Stiglitz and Bilmes estimated as the true cost of the war.
See, I've been saying for a while that it's not just that Bush lied us into a war and botched important parts of conducting that war. It's that Bush chose the least effective approach to respond to some threats to this country. And we'll be paying for that poor choice for quite some time.
And in this post, I reviewed Cass Sunstein making a very similar point.
For the price of the Iraq War, we could have implemented the Kyoto Protocol.
Now, a true expert on such issues returns as Cassandra--Richard Clarke describes how the Iraq Debacle has distracted the Administration's attention from seven equally pressing issues.
In the end, there are only 12 seats at the conference table in the White House Situation Room, and the key players' schedules mean that they can seldom meet there together in person or on secure video conference for more than about 10 hours each week. When issues don't receive first-tier consideration, they can slip by for months. I learned this firsthand: In the early days of the Bush administration, I called for an urgent meeting to discuss the threat al-Qaeda posed to the United States. The Cabinet-level meeting eventually took place -- but not until Sept. 4, 2001.
He, too, uses the term opportunity cost.
I don't necessarily agree with the issues Clarke chooses, which include:
- Global warming
- Russian revanchism
- Latin America's leftist lurch
- Africa at war
- Arms control freeze
- Transnational crime
- The Pakistani-Afghan border
I have a tough time begrudging the poor of Latin America some respite from the disastrous effects of neoliberalism, for example.
But I might phrase Clarke's issues in another way--most of them relate to a rising new order, the outcome of the globalizing policies of the last quarter of the 20th century and the consequences of decreasing US hegemony within that new order. We have no effective way to counter Chavez, not so long as oil prices remain high and he communicates to the masses of his supporters via means other than the opposition-owned mass media. We have little leverage in Darfur so long as China wants to prevent us from exerting any leverage. Likewise, we have little leverage with Russia so long as we remain a junkie for oil and Russia believes it can forgo the WTO. The old pressure points work with increasingly less effectiveness. But no one--not within the Administration, it seems--is looking for new pressure points.
Which always brings me back to global warming. It is, unlike any of the other issues, one that should place all countries on the same side of an issue and one that demands global cooperation. We can offer our declining hegemonic strength to assert leadership on this issue, or we can ignore it and cede the decisions about the regime that will respond to global warming. The Bush Administration, of course, is doing the latter. It remains to be seen whether a new year and a new Congress can change that--or whether the distraction of Iraq will distract all of us from the real task at hand--asserting some leadership on an issue that affects everyone in this world, which should be a means to overcome conflicting interests.
Iraq remains critically important. But perhaps the thing to do is to demand leadership--or exert leadership--on global warming, such that we force an end to the (as Clarke calls it) Iraqi sinkhole in order to deal with a more pressing issue.