Would You Buy a Used War From This Man?

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Suppose
you're a fan of classic cars and you find a 1957 Chevrolet Impala
in pristine condition that you want to buy. The problem, however,
is that the asking price for the car is $50,000, and you don't have
that kind of money to spend. Fortunately, you have a friend –
we'll call him Bob – who is very well off, so you take Bob
to see the car and rave about its every detail. After you get done
raving about the car, you ask Bob to buy it for you. Bob, not being
a car fan, declines, thinking it a bad investment.

"But,
Bob," you plead, "look at this beauty. Isn't this the
most wonderful car you've ever seen? Come on. You can afford to
spend the 50 grand. Believe me; it's worth it."

Bob
replies, "It may be worth it to you, but it's not worth it
to me. No dice, pal."

Who
can argue with Bob's logic? After all, it's his money, and
thus he is the one to make the judgment about its worth relative
to the car. Your opinion is irrelevant. If Bob thinks it's not worth
it, then it's not worth it.

On
the other hand, suppose you're the president of the United States
and you've found a foreign country you want to invade. The problem,
however, is that the invasion is going to require thousands of soldiers
and billions of dollars.

Furthermore,
two years after you've invaded this country – we'll call it
Iraq – you find your troops bogged down in fighting against
an insurgency that, despite your vice
president's characterization
of it as in its "last throes,"
seems to be growing, or at least not diminishing, in strength. "Insurgent
attacks in the last six months," in fact, "have killed
more than 8,000 Iraqi civilians, police, and troops, according to
Iraq's interior minister," reports
CNN
. Even the head honcho of your military in the Persian Gulf
region, General John Abizaid, says
that the insurgency's strength hasn't changed in the past half a
year, and your secretary of defense admits
that it could last up to 12 more years.

As
public opinion starts to turn against your foreign adventure, what
are you to do?

If
you're George W. Bush, you make
a speech
in which you tell the public: "Like most Americans,
I see the images of violence and bloodshed. Every picture is horrifying,
and the suffering is real. Amid all this violence, I know Americans
ask the question: Is the sacrifice worth it? It is worth it . .
. ."

Now
doesn't that sound just like you telling your friend Bob why he
should buy you that '57 Chevy? Bob doesn't care for it, and it's
his money, but you tell him he should go ahead and buy it anyway
because "it's worth it."

The
problem for Bush is similar: He wants to continue to spend taxpayers'
money and citizens' lives (not to mention Iraqi lives) to prosecute
a cause which he believes is "worth it" whether or not
the people whose money and lives are on the line agree with him.
A further problem is that his opinion of the worth of the occupation
of Iraq is just as irrelevant to those actually footing the bill
– both taxpayers and soldiers – as was your opinion to
Bob. Unless the president is going to foot the bill for the war
personally and then strap on some inferior, Pentagon-supplied body
armor and go over to Iraq and fight, his valuation of the war effort
doesn't amount to a hill of MRE's.

The
only people whose opinions should matter in this situation are (a)
the taxpayers who are shelling out their hard-earned cash to the
tune of $5
billion a month
and (b) the soldiers who are risking their lives
daily to end the threat of Saddam Hussein's stockpiles of weapons
of mass – er, to cut off the close collaboration between Hussein
and al-Qae – er, to bring freedom and democracy to the Middle
East. The ruminations of the president, whose job is funded by the
taxpayers and consists largely of spending other people's money
and sending certain others out to potential death
or wounding
, are almost entirely irrelevant.

What
of the fact that Bush thinks he is spending Americans' money and
lives on a worthwhile venture that will benefit others? Shouldn't
that count for something? Well, you thought you were spending
Bob's money on a worthwhile venture that would benefit another,
but that didn't count for anything in the final analysis, and neither
do the president's allegedly altruistic motives. As William
Norman Grigg put it
when critiquing both Bush's and the Iraqi
prime minister's characterizations of Americans' sacrifices:

"Altruism"
of the sort extolled by Prime Minister al-Jaafari – a president
squandering money earned by taxpayers, and sacrificing the lives
of their sons and daughters, on behalf of foreign strangers –
is a moral abomination and a crime against constitutional republicanism.
Nearly two centuries ago, Congressman
Davy Crockett learned a critical lesson when a constituent rebuked
him for supporting a "compassionate" welfare measure
not authorized by the Constitution
.

Our money,
the angry voter reminded Crockett, was not yours to give. The
same is emphatically true regarding the lives of the young Americans
that Bush and his cronies have wasted in their war of supposed
liberation in Iraq.

The
problem of politicians' giving away what isn't theirs is not, of
course, confined to war or welfare but is inherent in the nature
of government. After all, government does not produce anything,
so even to do the things most people would agree it should
do (providing, e.g., police protection, a court system, and
a military) it must supply to those performing those services that
which is not the government's to give. Therefore, Bush cannot be
said to be uniquely evil in this sense, for he is only doing what
all government officials do. However, that he is spending not just
our money but our very lives (and, again, the lives of tens
of thousands of Iraqis
, even less his to give than those of
Americans) is deserving of the utmost contempt.

There
are only two possible ways to put an end to the disconnect between
what the president considers "worth it" and what the people
actually paying the bill consider "worth it." The first
is to end the occupation and bring all the troops home as soon as
possible. This might disconcert those who do believe the occupation
is worth it, but they would still be free to volunteer their money
or their lives to the Iraqi government to help quell the insurgency.
The second is to ask each taxpayer how much he wishes to contribute
to the war effort and each soldier whether or not he wants to serve
in Iraq. Then accept each one's answer and abide by it. While we're
at it, how about surveying all the Iraqis and asking which ones
want to continue to die in the fighting between foreign forces occupying
their country and people trying to drive those forces out?

Of
course, neither of these suggestions will be implemented. Instead,
Americans will continue to expend blood and treasure on a fruitless
quest to pacify Iraq – fruitless, that is, unless one's name
is Osama bin Laden, in which case it's the best recruiting tool
a few box cutters can buy.

Politicians
and used-car salesmen routinely rank near the bottom of polls of
the most trusted people in America. The reason is that both frequently
try to sell us broken-down jalopies at exorbitant prices, all the
while telling us that we're getting Cadillacs. George W. Bush is
trying to sell us a jalopy we've driven for over two years and found
an absolute wreck with little hope of repair. Let's not be fooled
into believing he's selling us a Cadillac, or even a Yugo in good
working order. Let's take our money and our lives and go buy from
a reputable salesman – namely, anyone who isn't a government
employee.

July
5, 2005

Michael
Tennant [send him
mail
] is a software developer in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

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