Billions Down the Drain

Something has got to give in the Mexican standoff between President Trump and the Democratic leadership in the House of Representatives.

Chances are that sooner or later, some money will be appropriated, a few billion dollars rather than the full amount that the president is trying to exact while he holds hundred of thousand of people at ransom. Among all the lies and false representations that Trump is constantly spewing out at least one statement is correct and worth reflecting on: the United States spends more in Afghanistan in one month than in a whole year on the wall to be erected on the southern border.

If the president truly envisages withdrawing troops from Afghanistan, a big savings would ensue. Since the 2001 decision by President George W. Bush to intervene in Afghanistan, over a trillion dollars have been consumed by that war. The most expensive years, from 2010 to 2012, when 100,000 troops were deployed there, burned something in the neighborhood of $100 billion per year.

At the present time, there are 16,000 Americans in Afghanistan, and the cost of the war averages $45 billion a year. The results of American intervention in that forsaken Asian country are downright miserable. It is well known that the Taliban control over 75 percent of the territory. There is a faint hope that the end of the conflict could be negotiated with the Taliban. We can surmise that they would be inclined to negotiate for the simple reason that they now control much more than they did in 2001 when the hostilities started. And yet, the president has set no time limit on the U.S. involvement in Afghanistan, saying that it would be based on the conditions on the ground. Such conditions are far from conducive to turning the tide in Afghanistan.

From the angle of dollars and cents, the U.S. can afford the 5.7 billion dollars for the wall that is the casus belli between the president and Speaker Pelosi. The reality is that the figure in question can hardly cover the whole length of the land border between the U.S. and Mexico, namely 1,933 miles. Given the fact that a large part of the border includes natural barriers, the real construction involves close to 1,200 miles for an estimated cost of $25 billion. That figure could be higher due to the increasing cost of land acquisition since 60 percent of the border is privately owned land. Previous purchases of segments of the border from 2006 to 2009 ran $300,000 per mile acquired.

The strident battle of wills over the financing of the wall has obscured a fact-based debate over the best methods to reduce illegal activities like human and drug trafficking. Americans are confused by the figures that are unabashedly thrown around, accompanied by exaggerated misrepresentations, particularly by an administration that is hell bent in creating a crisis, just like it did when it described the incoming caravan of central Americans migrants as a mortal danger to life in America. One example of the extreme misinformation being perpetrated is the cry of alarm for the smuggling of drugs at the border, while the reality is that 95 percent of such drugs enter the United States by ships and trucks through legal entry points.

The wall – whatever its format, possibly steel – will not be the panacea that solves a cynically concocted humanitarian and security crisis. Is the price tag of $5.7 billion justified as a sort of Maginot line that was built for reassurance but failed miserably in defending France? Truthfully, that much money could be appropriated if the outrageous military expenditures in the bottomless pit of Afghanistan were reduced (provided that the Pentagon were not to find another quick way to finance its unending global wars).

Clearly, the wall is not worthwhile if one keeps in mind the growing national debt of the U.S., $985 billion for the year 2019, already 18 percent higher than the previous year. A billion here a billion there, maybe the United States can afford another increase of the national debt by the profligate Trump administration. At least federal workers will be paid, and some of them will thank the Democrats for a face-saving solution. As for the Republicans, they will pay a price, for no other reason that after sticking for decades to the mantra of cutting the deficit, their president will boost it in a measure that will hurt everybody but the 1 percent.

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