COIN as Transfer of Wealth

I’ve mentioned the impact the financial crisis is likely to have on European resolve with regards to the Afghanistan mission. Here’s Charlie from Abu Muqawama on the potential impact Stateside:

But if you think the American public is fickle and short-sighted in the best of times, you ain’t seen nothing yet. It’s going to be increasingly hard to justifying long-term occupations overseas…not to mention Army and Marine plus-ups (that budget money is going to go to big ticket hardware items like ships and planes, the kinds of things that create jobs in congressional districts).

That touches on something that’s been buzzing around in my head for the past week or so. There’s a current of thought that argues that industrial production for World War II, more than any of Roosevelt’s fiscal policies, pulled America out of the Great Depression. So I’d been considering whether, counterintuitively, the financial crisis might actually lend support to the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars under the logic of economic stimulus. For the moment, I’d wondered whether the structural changes in the American economy from industrial production to information processing undermined that argument.

But Charlie’s point, namely that the kind of spending the financial crisis is likely to provoke is diametrically opposed to the needs of COIN operations, leads to another aspect of the current focus on stability and reconstruction operations in America’s defense posture that deserves mention. COIN and stability ops are boot heavy and, outside of drones and communications networks, tech-lite. Unlike the largescale industrial mobilizations required for past wars, they require, more than anything else, manpower and money. Quite a bit of the actual productive work (the building of infrastructure, for instance) takes place in the actual theater of operations, not on the homefront. Add to that the fact that COIN removes a disproportionate amount of young men and women from the productive workforce (some of them permanently), and returns a disproportionate amount of them disabled (due to improvements in force protection), and it becomes clear that COIN amounts to an enormous outflow of American wealth, with little in the way of productive stimulus to counterbalance it.

Joseph Steiglitz has already talked about the $3 trillion war. But I’d like to see some economists weigh in on this.