Empire at War: The Effects of the War on Terrorism on the American Middle Class

Editor's Note: While soldiers sometimes believe that military programs and military operations should be held in some rarefied atmosphere protected from domestic politics, there is no such world. Hard choices always have to be made and it is worth considering how different people view these choices.

As the United States prepares to wind down operations in Afghanistan, the last high profile conflict in the War on Terrorism, and seeks a so-called strategic pivot towards Asia, it is important to assess the impacts of the war at home and the prospects for engaging future national security issues. While the War on Terrorism (hereafter referred to as GWoT) did not produce the 2008 recession in the United States, it greatly exasperated the severe economic crisis already faced by the American middle class that has been brewing since the middle of the 20th century. This has led to the current financial emergency in government where radicalized ideologies harden political positions and make progress difficult on economic and national security reform.

Estimates vary about the financial costs of the War on Terrorism. One assessment suggests approximately three trillion dollars. However, if one includes the annual defense budgets, homeland security expenditures since 2001, veteran programs, and the interest on the principal borrowed for military spending, the cost balloons to an astronomical eight trillion dollars. Using 2010 census figures about the number of households in the United States, this equates to about $70,000 owed by every American family.  This is nearly double the size of the national average income. Combined with the stagnation of middle class incomes, the inflation of health, education, food, and fuel prices, and record low tax revenue from upper income families and corporations, the middle class now bears the heaviest burden of financing the war and its consequences. It is no wonder that American families are buried in debt.

Compounding the problem is the increasingly expensive and incapable military establishment. As the defense budget continues to grow, the military is less able to deliver desirable political outcomes in America’s conflicts. The high spending of the GWoT did not produce a correlating increase in American security; instead, it hastened the coming crisis facing the military. Increasingly expensive and complex weapon systems reduce the availability of military forces, and restrict their flexibility by requiring them to operate equipment and execute doctrines ill-suited for the demands of war. Last year, the Department of Defense announced that the Army alone will lose 50,000 personnel in an effort to reduce costs. Predictably, just last week, it was announced that the cost of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter will increase by 20 billion dollars and that it’s lifetime cost is expected to be at least 1.45 trillion dollars. As the military continues to break its own suicide records and maintain higher-than-average domestic violence, divorce, and sexual assault rates, it decides to decrease the number of personnel available for worldwide military operations in favor of over-priced military platforms incapable of performing basic military tasks like surviving contact with the enemy.

But this problem is disingenuously framed as class warfare and therefore receives little attention. Instead, the political leadership focuses on diminishing, eliminating, or privatizing key middle class programs in order to preserve the regressive tax code and the inefficient defense budget. The high costs of the GWoT are to be paid by sacrificing middle class benefits instead of balancing the obligations of all American taxpayers. Just last week, the Republican-controlled House passed in a partisan vote Paul Ryan’s budget that effectively privatizes Medicaid, and reduces federal retirement programs, food stamps, and college tuition aid, among other programs, while increasing defense spending and expanding tax cuts for upper income-earners. At the same time, the House also rejected a two-year Senate proposal to fund transportation spending, and instead passed, in another partisan vote, a 90-day extension of current spending. This was done despite America’s failing infrastructure, which has had notable failures in New Orleans and Minnesota. The classic debate about guns vs. butter rages on, and currently the guns are winning at the expense of the American Dream.

The cost of the War on Terrorism, or even the annual defense budget, could provide all of the funding necessary for repairing America’s infrastructure, reforming its failing education system, or even providing health-care to every American citizen. Instead, the costs of the war has forced America into political deadlock, where popular and essential public programs alike are being discarded in favor of retaining decaying institutions. Now, Americans are being asked once again to pay up for expensive military programs in pursuit of confrontational policies in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia. We have already toppled the regime in Libya, Syria and Iran may be next, and we are posturing for a future conflict with China. The American public should be informed by its experiences in the GWoT. War is expensive, and it has long-term consequences beyond its immediate outcomes. One of those consequences should be the realization that nation-building at home must precede nation-building or -destroying abroad.  

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Tags : Afghanistan, budget, defense spending, domestic politics, GWOT

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I am truly honored by this website's administrator to sound off in the comments section, and esp. by the very fine commentators here. Its a huge break from the usual name-calling one sees in the comments section in the mainstream media.

Some people are not American but they love the American spirit. You will ask this question to most of the noble and educated lot of the world, they will agree with me. Unfortunately, 9/11 put a FULL-STOP onto this and there started an endless war in every little corner of the world through extra-judicial killings and turning the local population against not only America but also their own western-backed dictators, kings or rulers. Wars bring change and usually it is a good and positive change. When the whole jungle burns, nothing is left. But when the new trees and plant-life emerges, it is far more full of life and beautiful than it was before. However, those trees which were burnt, they will never come back. In this example, if we killed a single human being in our effort to bring about change (for good or worse), we already killed the very good logic or reason itself to start the war or fire. As we all know, humans are NOT trees :)

Turning a huge North American continent into a scared and a feared little state of Switzerland will be actually a political suicide for the founding fathers who won the civil war, did not wanted it to become another state from where people will flee to other countries to seek a better life or prospects.

Not everything is lost for good (yet) and there can always be a new beginning. Provided, we stop choosing war-mongers as political leaders and start giving peace and global cooperation the due chance. It is another sad fact that Americans chose Obama on the premise of "no more wars" but he expanded wars to every nook and corner of this world. I'm wondering how will an American trust another Presidential candidate saying "no more wars"?

Salam! (peace be unto you)

I believe this is the time to reflect on what brought us to some of the costs of this conflict. Having "grown up" in the "peace dividend" Army of the 1990's and literally filling up HMMWV tires late on a Friday afternoon so that they won't be flat on Sunday (with a CSM pulling in a company worth of leadership to complain about it), the dismal state of Army readiness before 9/11 was all too apparent to me.

After 9/11, it seemed that 1) we had a real-world mission and 2) we were given a blank check in which to accomplish it. Looking back now, all the pent up anguish that mid-level leadership (in the 1990's), now upper-level leadership during GWOT, manifested itself into a spending spree to attempt to play catch up. Not a good example, but think of what happens to most low income people that win the lottery, more times then not they end up going bankrupt anyway begging the question of "what happened". I have many anecdotal stories of this from my few deployments.

Much of our "must haves" were good things (body armor, MRAPs, etc) but many others (NTV proliferation, marble unit identifiers, etc) clearly were not. My concern now is that those that are getting ready to retire, or just did, have ruined it for those up and coming young soldiers, NCO's, and officers that will have to deal with our hangover.

I guess this is my best AAR comment for these two conflicts when it comes to spending and how now seeing the direction our budget is going makes me believe it will be even worse next time. My two cents.

GWOT Cost
One reads and hears countless cost estimates for the price being paid due to the so-called Global War On Terror (GWOT) being conducted by the US Military and presumably Intelligence Agencies. However, no one ever provides a detailed cost breakdown enunciating specifically where these alleged sums were spent and for what cost category or item they were spent. How much was spent for the effort in Afghanistan, how much was spent for the effort in Iraq, how much for the effort in (name the) specific other countries or locations. Under these geographical categories how much was spent on salaries and benefits, ammunition expended, fuel by using vehicle type, aircraft type, or ship. Add to that how much was spent to maintain what Naval Forces in the Persian Gulf and other areas. How much was spent to upgrade the local roads and buildings, and so on.

Only when someone provides that level of detail can the true cost of the GWOT be determined. The reason is that much of the above costs would be so called “sunk costs,” therefore were not added due to the GWOT. Military salaries are paid regardless of where the men in a unit are located while combat pay can be a cost added due to the GWOT. Therefore, as an example, only salaries for force levels added specifically due to the GWOT could be considered costs resulting due to that specific conflict. Naval Task Groups operate regardless of where they are deployed and most of their operating costs do not result due to a specific mission. Only mission unique added costs incurred during an operation such as additional fuel consumed or ammunition expended in addition to normal training levels would be costs associated with an operation such as the GWOT. Medical costs for those recovering from wounds will include both sunk and new costs.

In addition, the costs for operations in Iraq are not by any stretch of the imagination part of the cost of the GWOT, regardless as to whether Al Qaeda operatives entered that country to contest American troops in that country. The non-sunk costs for that conflict need to be listed under a separate category.

Add to the above, many of the costs incurred by the US in Iraq and Afghanistan should not be considered expenses associated with the Department of Defense Budget. The costs of the ridiculous fortified embassy in those countries and the costs for building roads, buildings, power supply facilities, etc should also be placed in separate non-DOD category.

Until some Budgetary agency provides the appropriate level of properly categorized and detailed cost data, estimates promulgated for expenses associated with the GWOT are purely Wild Ass Guesses not worth the paper on which they appear. I do realize that paper is probably not an operative term in these modern days and reflects my generation’s views of the world.

No one, no, not anyone, in America is as screwed over as the veteran. And no one is more criminally betrayed than the wounded veteran. I recall the howls when Viet vets were put by service-points at the head of the line. The howls were deafening. Yet that was a time when the vets were the sons of the voters all. Now the vets, being a lot older than the Viet vets, are the sons of parents on pensions, so already there's someone in the family, "eating my lunch" per the proverbial American. As the Afghan war wraps up, the issue is: why give anything to the guys who we gave everything to and they couldn't win? That was the question in 1975 and you can bet it is the question of today. Invariably, Americans do not want to fund those who made them seem like dumb monkeys; and with Bush gone, the only people left to take the heat are the Joint Chiefs.

Americans never thought of themselves as a great power the way the French and English did. So politicians had to weave American power projection into notions of the good life for those who don't go to serve. Our only comfort is that Chinese think the same. But to say: I didn't know is to betray blindness by assumption. The Ryan plan is self defeating. But in its defeat it causes a Newtonian counter=push in the other direction. I can still hear people talking of Obama's second term as "End of Cold War Payoff-- deferred but finally here." When the defense $ are spent on equipment, defeats are attributed to "we didn't make enough" (eg. JFK's missile gap myth) but when the defeats are attributed to men, then it's f--- them all!

It's not fair, but Americans in discomfort never were.

Eugnid, you need to read this:

http://battleland.blogs.time.com/2012/04/25/a-marine-two-star-why-afghan...

The part near the bottom near the second picture is particularly critical where the Singapore minister said that Vietnam was responsible for much of the success in the far east today.

The same thing applies to containment (and the future) of Pakistan and Islamic extremism into other areas of Central Asia and southern Russia. After reading "Outlaw Platoon" and about many other OEF battles, you gotta consider that each Taliban, foreign fighter, and rogue Pakistani military or Frontier Guard, and madrassa student who is killed in Afghanistan, is one less to blow up an airliner or a nightclub in Europe or the U.S.

Your point may be that Americans ARE spoiled today. Imagine the casualties of the Civil War, WWI, WWII, the Korean War, and Vietnam War...heck even OIF...to OEF with under 2000 dead Americans. That is losing?? It is still less than a few hours of lives lost to terrorism on 9/11. The Greatest Generation came home to live in small "little pink houses for you and me." Today's coasters feel the need to have 3,000 square feet of overpriced house.

The tech costs are high, yes, to include the MRAPs/M-ATVs and other attack the network tools. But imagine the OIF/OEF casualties without these tools and body armor. We would have a lot more tragedy to worry about than what we experience now where at least our best are returning alive to look for jobs.

I think the biggest problem with this essay is that it confines itself to domestic budget battles and lacks any larger, much less strategic, context. I didn't learn anything from it other than the author's preferred domestic spending priorities and the author's view on wasteful defense spending. I think that's why it appears so partisan/ideological, because that's exactly the lane that our domestic ideologues prefer to confine themselves to. Even on this score the essay is weak - we're simply given a laundry list of problems and issues and all the things we could be spending money on besides defense. It's mostly tautology.

The attempt to cram so much into this essay left little room for discussion of bigger issues. We don't know the author's strategic vision or worldview, much less how a reduction in defense spending would affect US strategy or foreign policy. We are left to make assumptions on that score. As a result, the essay does read like a rant and it lacks focus.

So, I think the essay could be considerably improved by eliminating the laundry lists and adding strategic context. One could summarize the laundry list by simply stating: "defense spending and America's wars are crowding out more important domestic priorities and the US should shift focus to those domestic priorities." Similarly, summarize the catalog of wasteful defense spending into a sentence or two. Then you can spend your words supporting your core thesis and develop a deeper, more substantial argument. A side-benefit of this approach is that it would remove the ideological spin to the piece.

Ken White,

Typically, my initial reaction is to agree with you.

However, in this case, I think Peter is on track.

As Reinhold Niebuhr cautioned, “if we should perish, the ruthlessness of the foe would be only the secondary cause of the disaster. The primary cause would be that the strength of a giant nation was directed by eyes too blind to see all the hazards of the struggle; and the blindness would be induced not by some accident of nature or history but by hatred and vainglory."

Erk... Most unwise, do not adhere to an old cynics views on much of anything... ;)

I agree with Peter. And Thee -- even with Reinhold. I even mostly agree with Chris Davis. I did not and do not question discussing the issues, I merely suggest that important issues that fall prey to arguable ideological factors can deflect proper discussion and this forum has generally avoided that -- I would hope it continues to do so. I'll also note that such deflections are very much an individual issue and that it is better to publish than to suppress.

However, once published, comments pro and con are certain to ensue and that should be okay. In this case, some of those ideological factors also need to be discussed -- and I would argue that they do -- but to me there's a question of appropriateness of venue. Here, generally ideologies have been generally parked at the door to be donned when departing. I was -- probably clumsily -- merely trying to instill that thought...

You are all writing quite a bit above my head, but here is my perspective from a person who is actually in the middle class. Sort of. The middle class is not the same thing as it was 10 years ago, when I believe our income would have been defined in the lower class. My husband and I are not in debt at all. We don't use credit cards. We barely have a savings account or a retirement account. We both work, no children. We are in our mid 30s and few people our age can afford to own homes. We struggle monthly to pay bills.

We want our nation to be safe. We want our service members to have the best healthcare, the safest weapons and the best body armor. It also really bothers us to see people from other nations like Syria and Libya suffering from oppressive governments who have turned against them. My support is fully behind helping these other nations. I feel that I am lucky to live in the United States where I am free to speak out against political leaders I disagree with. I have enough food, a nice home and family. Others aren't so lucky. So on the foreign side, I support military spending. However as a contractor who works alongside military, I see government employees with benefits and spending capabilities that far outweigh their civilian counterparts. I see firsthand that military and government workers have been insulated by the Global War on Terror - some financially, others ideologically, because they don't realize how difficult the civilian job situation has become. Most are highly talented individuals that any company would be lucky to hire, but unfortunately American families are going broke paying for their services. The Department of Defense is not a charity.

Maybe that's why the debt crisis doesn't matter to me as much. To me, there is a greater human crisis. Perhaps I am a bit optimistic because I grew up having grandparents who survived the Great Depression and Dust Bowl in Kansas and they taught me that conservatism means you save for those times when people need it. And right now, they do. So if our nation is broke, that doesn't really bother me. I believe it will get better in the future, and there is no greater need to use all of our nation's financial resources than right now.

Google the Wall Street Journal editorial: "Joel Kotkin: The Great California Exodus." See the discussion about how California (10% or our population and dropping) could benefit the nation's economy if they would only drill for oil, free farmer water to exploit vast farm land, and bring down prices by getting housing costs under control, instead of having interest be a tax deduction that encourages big mortgages.

Compare the benefits of a desired $100 billion high speed train that only would serve California, to the F-35 providing jobs in 50 states and bases in 49 locations.

Which prevents war with China or a terrorist nuclear weapon going off in NYC? Which may assure drilling in the South China Sea and oil flow through the Straits of Hormuz? How much would it cost in lives and dollars given a major war compared to current "small" ones? Does the sole bastion of U.S. manufacturing and high dollar exports lie in the deterrence of the military and its defense industry or in entitlements offering something for nothing? Who will enlist and work to provide tax dollars if we give everyone freebies (entitlements have climbed 5000%) to gain their votes?

States can pay for their own infrastructure and inflated pensions and prices with their own local tax dollars. However, our wealthiest DO NEED TO PAY MORE IN TAXES. When Ronald Reagan took office, the highest earners were paying 70+% and when Ike was President it was 90%.

Move Forward:

Responding to your last paragraph properly would require getting into a discussion of political philosophy, personal property rights, how people respond to economic incentives within the US, degrees of personal responsibility and other things not directly or even closely connected to fighting small wars. All important and interesting but not small war things. Your last paragraph is a perfect example of why articles like this do not belong on the blog. It provokes discussions better held in other places.

At USSOCOM in our little strategy shop, we postulate a handful of concepts that we believe are important to take into account as one looks at any range of problems emerging in the current environment. One of these strategic assertions is that "the cost of control is going up, while the cost of influence is decreasing." I believe it applies to the point this author is working to present.

"Empires" exercise control over others to the benefit of the empire. While many benfits often fall to those under such imperial control (advanced techology, improved infrastructure, advanced education, etc), much is lost as well (Respect, dignity, liberty, as well as the more tangible wealth and resources that typically flow to such Empires).

Enter the US. Certainly a reluctant empire at best. Perhaps more accurately an "accidental empire." An empire that pays retail for what it takes. An empire bringing democracy and rule of law rather than despotism and oppression. But an empire robbing others of respect, dignity, liberty all the same; and while retail prices are paid for the resources taken, that wealth typically flows to the benefit of the few who work to keep the empire in place, rather than to the many.

Empires fall for a variety of reasons, but in modern times it seems to me that the decline occurs when the cost of empire exceeds the benefits. When populaces stand up to the systems of controls placed over them the costs of empire skyrocket. Breakthroughs in information technology often preceed such expansions of popular resistance. Certainly Great Britain came to a point where the cost of control exceeded the benefit, so a less controlling (and less expensive) model was adopted. While US "occupation" and control is much more virtual, more a perception of the impact of our policies than our overt actions, they seem to be triggering the resistance response in many populaces all the same. As popular resistance increases the cost of control goes up. Simple math.

Reduce the degree of control to more acceptable levels of influence and the costs will decline to sustainable levels in a new equilibrium. This is not a failing of the military to operate in a cost efficient manner, this is a failing of US foreign policy makers to recognize and adjust appropriately to changes in the enviornment we operate within. Like many Empires, we fell too in love with our own narrative and could not hear the narratives of others. It is time to listen and adapt. This should not be seen as being forced to comply to the wishes of others, but simply as making the reasonable accomodations necessary to remain relevant in the world as it actually exists.

(With this edit, I have attemped to clean this comment up a bit and organize it, I hope, a little better.)

Our theory for reducing the cost of empire was/is to convince or compel different states and societies, to wit: those organized, oriented and configured along different political, economic and social lines, to abandon their present less-compatible way of life, and adopt, in its place, our western ways.

States and societies thus sufficiently "transformed," we believe, will offer the empire fewer problems (thus, providing cost savings) and offer the empire greater utility and usefulness (thus, providing increased revenues) instead.

Following our recent success in transforming the outlier great powers Russia and China somewhat along these lines, we determined to change/transform the lesser and remaining such "different" states and societies of the world.

This, however, proved more difficult (and, thus, more costly) than was originally imagined; this specifically because we failed to appreciate -- re: certain such outlier states and societies -- the degree with which the threat of fundamental transformation and significant way of life change would lead to the problems noted by COL Jones above (to wit: fear of or actual loss of respect, dignity, etc., and action taken in response thereto).

Thus, OUR empire's method for attempting to gain greater influence and control is to try to get all states and societies on the same sheet of music -- our sheet of music. This, so that these presently "different" states and societies -- much like most of the rest of the world today -- will come to find themselves ruled by a common discipline (for example: the discipline of the market).

As we continue to learn, however, this American method of exercising/expanding empire (to wit: via state and societal westernization) -- much as with methods used in the past by others (colonialism, etc.) -- comes with its own unique set of costly problems.

I agree with Peter’s prologue, “Hard choices always have to be made and it is worth considering how different people view these choices.” The author of the article presents one view, but to be frank it was hard to follow where he was going, since the author contradicted his own arguments throughout the article. In other cases his arguments weren’t clear.
The author claims the military is increasingly incapable. Incapable of doing what exactly? Just because the military has been asked to use military power to pursue ends that can’t be achieved with military power doesn’t mean the military is increasingly incapable. It may or not be, but the author offers no explanation.
The author then complained about investing in complex weapon systems, while simultaneously complaining about developing systems that can’t survive in combat? He criticizes the military for investing too much in military technology, because it undermines our ability to sustain a larger Army which would give us greater flexibility. I think an argument can be made that the right technology can also give us more flexibility. He rants about our doctrine being ineffective, but what doctrine, for what end? He may be right, but he simply rants with no justification for his claims.
The author then claims the military has higher than average domestic violence, divorce, sexual assault rates, etc., but doesn’t site his source for this. I think this claim is unsubstantiated. Just because incidents in the military make good media tales, that doesn’t mean they’re higher than the national average. Maybe they are, but I would like to see the source.
He writes, “The classic debate about guns vs. butter rages on, and currently the guns are winning at the expense of the American Dream.” Yet, he doesn’t address the risk of not investing the military, especially for fights against higher end peers, he just wants butter. He also fails to recognize that military spending equates to jobs, jobs, jobs also throughout our society, and doesn’t address the impact of a significant downsizing the economy.
This article is little more than a rant.

SWJ is an exceptional learning experience; people like Ken White and Chris Davis ensure this.

It's rare in our world to find passionate, articulate, educational, and yet polite discourse...lightening in a bottle...or perhaps a conversation and a Che' sticker purchased in a Baghdad market. ;) Soliders, and not just intel or civil affairs or psyop or sf or diplomat or other types meet interesting people in interesting places where topics such as these are discussed. I have learned much from 'the young turks' and value the educational power of the loyal opposition.

Things need to improve and we all need to actively and intelligently look for answers; or are we the apocryphal drunk looking for his keys under the streetlight knowing that he lost them elsewhere where it was hard to see?

Are there only certain books that we can read?

Ken is right, this is political polemic, and obviously partisan political polemic. It is a mistake to publish it here.

What is partisan about it?

I could answer that in detail and you would then respond in detail and on and on... All of that would entail talking about entitlement programs, tax %, definitions of this budget item but not that budget item, Red budgets vs. Blue budgets and on and on...

All those things, as Ken said, are important and worthy of discussion, but not here. The Council is a much better place.

The author complains of 'benefits' for the middle class being 'sacrificed.' Others may not see that as worthy of complaint...

This is primarily a political polemic with slight military overlap; I question whether its publication is beneficial to the role and goals of the Small Wars Journal.

While I agree that nation building here as opposed to destroying and then attempting to rebuild other nations is preferable sociologically and politically and that failure to do that has military ramifications, the "sacrifice" of "benefits" doesn't disturb me in the slightest and IMO has no place in discussions here.

Ken,
I agree in large part with your characterization of the blog post, however I chose to publish it not to turn SWJ into a political battleground, but to perhaps spark some thought. In the military, many think that strategy, budgets, et cetera should be exempt from the political fray, however guns will always compete with butter and this debate must at least be considered by military professionals and other supporting professionals. Perhaps this was ill-considered. I welcome other views on whether this strays too far from the SWJ charter.

The stated mission of SWJ says:

"Small Wars Journal facilitates the exchange of information among practitioners, thought leaders, and students of Small Wars, in order to advance knowledge and capabilities in the field. We hope this, in turn, advances the practice and effectiveness of those forces prosecuting Small Wars in the interest of self-determination, freedom, and prosperity for the population in the area of operations."

Discussing the financial and material costs of small wars is within the boundaries of "[advancing the] knowledge and capabilities in the field" and the "practice and effectiveness of those forces prosecuting small wars" since it endeavors to discuss the political and strategic contexts (and consequences) of small wars. So Ken may not care for middle class benefits and carl may label posts as "partisan" without any explanation, but that doesn't change the fact that small wars can have big consequences and even larger opportunity costs in realms beyond conflict, and these should be discussed as thoroughly as tactics and operations.

Peter J. Munson:

I understand and I do not disagree with your decision to publish, I am certainly aware that the impingement of politics and beliefs on military matters is profound and must be be discussed and absorbed so that proper action can hopefully ensue. I do not object to disagreement or to alternative positions to those I hold -- but I have no problem letting people know when I think a line has been crossed. As is true of any such lines, there's a lot of subjectivity involved. That's as it should be; humans operate on subjective and not objective criteria.

My comment was aimed specifically at the Author for what I consider a "political polemic." That, incidentally, was a bad choice of words on my part; I should have written an ideological treatise. It is not overtly political but the ideological slant is quite marked in my view and it is not vituperative or cogent enough to be labeled a polemic. My apologies for the mis-labeling.

American Pride:

See my last paragraph just above. My apologies for the mis-labeling. I still believe your essay crosses a line of excessive ideological content in the presentation of a subject that certainly merits discussion and some of that here. My perception, of course...

You write:

"Discussing the financial and material costs of small wars is within the boundaries of "[advancing the] knowledge and capabilities in the field" and the "practice and effectiveness of those forces prosecuting small wars" since it endeavors to discuss the political and strategic contexts (and consequences) of small wars."

I totally agree. However, I suggest that minor elements of military cost subsumed by a strong emphasis on social costs and specific sociological alternatives to be pursued can easily cross into a more politically or ideologically oriented discussion and thus create a situation where the truly important factors are not discussed because everyone's too busy defending ideologies and pet rock.

You used the word "partisan" as I did not -- I suspect that's telling but no matter -- and I also suspect much of that revolves around your citing of middle class benefits. It's not that I do not care about the or a middle class, as a long time member thereof, I certainly do care. Where we differ is on the benefit angle. I suspect that many of the things you call a benefit I call 'Vote buying mis-spending of tax dollars.'

We can agree the Defense budget is too large and bears reduction, we can agree that the so called GWOT was and is a mistake. We can agree that the US Army is in a poor state. We may disagree on the reasons for those things but we can agree they need to be changed. We can discuss those changes and we can do so without bringing ideology to the fore in those discussions. We all have our ideologies, nothing wrong with that and I have no heartburn with those who differ, I just think there's a time and place for strident ideological discussion and IMO, this forum is not such a place. Carl is correct, we don't want this place to become like the comment section of the local paper (hopefully yours is better than our here...).

Ken has much practical expertise in small wars. Mike in Hilo has also, as does Gian and Bill M. and many others. All those guys are genuine experts in at least some aspects of small wars and hearing what they have to say can improve everybody's thinking and improve the American's ability to deal with small wars. But the key is having a critical mass of people with that genuine expertise. That is what makes the discussions here more valuable than the local radio call in talk show.

If we were to talk about national budgets in detailed terms, what this policy does to Medicaid, distribution of tax burdens, etc. we would lose that critical mass of people with genuine expertise. There wouldn't be any difference between this site and the letters to the editor section in the local paper or the comments section of some pundits blog.

The article does not discuss "national budgets in detailed terms", etc but raises questions about the big impacts of small wars. How and why small wars are fought have a direct effect on Americans, and not just their immediate physical security.

>>>>This is primarily a political polemic with slight military overlap; I question whether its publication is beneficial to the role and goals of the Small Wars Journal.

When so-called "small wars" cost anywhere between 3 and 8 trillion dollars and start crowding out other spending priorities to the detriment of national welfare, you better believe there is not only a place, but an imperative, to discuss the goals and methods of those conflicts and how they fit within the greater national security interests of the country. And when the breakdown in education, infrastructure, health-care, and technological development start undermining long-term military readiness, it raises questions about why embark upon such conflicts in the first place.

While all your laments are valid and while I certainly agree that discussion is warranted, we apparently disagree that this is a valid place for that discussion.

The discussion you want must take place at the Polls -- or prior to arriving at them...

This is the perfect place for discussion since conflict, especially in a democratic society, do not occur in a vacuum. And since there are clear costs to the American public not only about why and where wars are conducted, but how they are conducted, it is a valid point of discussion when considering "small wars", how they are fought, and why.