Time to drop false expectations about Obama’s upcoming speech

Anyone who expects savings from the Afghan war to be used to build bridges in Baltimore and Kansas City, not Baghdad and Kandahar  (as per the plea from the U.S. Conference of Mayors this week) is dreaming.

For one thing, the big bucks being spent in Afghanistan are mainly going for war-fighting  expenses, not economic aid to Afghans.   We reportedly spend about $10 billion a month there for military expenditures and around $3-4 billion per year on economic aid. On my recent trip to Kandahar, I didn’t notice any U.S.-built bridges. Most of the USAID money spent there is on efforts to dissuade local farmers from planting poppy. Those efforts aren’t very successful, to be sure, but the tens of millions dispersed wouldn’t make a dent in renewing U.S. infrastructure.

Furthermore, even if all the US troops came home tomorrow (impossible, of course), the reduction in Pentagon spending wouldn’t transfer into a surge of American bridge-building.  The obstacles to renewing U.S. infrastructure (and thus creating jobs) are more ideological than financial.

Today’s Congress, with a Republican-led house, would regard a transfer of military funds to rebuilding failing U.S. infrastructure as – perish the thought – stimulus spending.

Moreover, the same congressional voices that backed the Iraq war (which has cost 2-3 times  our Afghan outlay), endorsed tax cuts for the rich, rather than asking Americans to pay for our wars as we fought them.  Were those tax cuts rescinded, there might be some money in the till for infrastructure. But it’s illusionary to expect that any savings from Afghanistan will save bridges in Baltimore from collapse.