Thursday, 23 June 2011

Libya and Afghanistan: there's always money for war?

Tripoli - after a NATO air strike
The age of austerity is putting extra strain on US and UK governments' ability to rally public opinion behind their wars.

This applies to both the long occupation of Afghanistan and the current bombing of Libya, which increasingly looks like it may not be the swift victory the politicians promised.

The costs of war are exposing the myth that 'there's no money'. George Osborne's recurring mantra that public sector cuts are 'necessary', 'unavoidable' or 'inevitable' looks hollow when £260 million is spent on a military campaign with no agreed purpose or exit strategy, which is generating criticisms from countries (e.g. Italy) and alliances (e.g. Arab League) that initially lined up in support, and which is opposed by a large portion of the British public.

As the New Statesman puts it:

'The cost of the mission undermines Osborne's previous insistence that "the cupboard is bare". It is harder for ministers to defend library closures, Sure Start closures and the rest when the government is spending hundreds of millions of pounds on a war far from home.

The coalition has sought to present many of its decisions (the VAT rise, the tuition fees increase, the abolition of universal child benefit) as "unavoidable" but today's news is a reminder that it has choices too. Given that the government spent £694.4bn in 2010-11, £260m is, as Jock Stirrup, the former chief of the defence staff, said on The World At One, "very small beer". But it's the perception that counts. Public support for the mission, already at a record low, is likely to plummet further.'

We might add, of course, that Trident replacement is estimated to cost £70 billion - and that's not 'small beer' by any standards. The wars and occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan are thought to have cost this country at least £20 billion. The costs of attacking Libya are part of a pattern.

And, as we've seen in recent days, there can be the human cost of civilian casualties, including children, too. This is no flawlessly precise 'smart' bombing (who'd have thought it?).

The mounting costs of the 'war on terror' are also a huge factor in President Obama's announcement that a third of US troops in Afghanistan will be withdrawn by September 2012, before he faces re-election by an electorate which now has majority opposition to the occupation.

The Guardian reports:

'The withdrawal, which comes against a backdrop of rising US public weariness with the longest war in American history, could form part of Obama's pitch in the 2012 White House election campaign.

The president phoned leaders in Afghanistan, Pakistan, France, Germany and Britain to inform them of his decision. David Cameron is expected to make announcements on substantial UK troop withdrawals at the beginning of July. It is likely to represent the biggest troop withdrawal since British forces left Iraq but precise numbers have yet to be reached.'

We need to build the pressure on our own government to withdraw the troops from Afghanistan now and end the attacks on Libya. There are many reasons for opposing these military adventures. The obscene costs - and the accompanying hypocrisy - just add more.


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