The Iraq war and climate change mitigation: National security and cost of action

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An American Enterprise Institute “scholar” says that, if you think national security is helped by continuing the Iraq war, “the question of focusing on how much money we are spending there is irrelevant”—even if the price tag is an estimated $720 million a day in immediate and ongoing costs. A study by a blue-ribbon panel of retired admirals and generals concluded that projected climate change poses a serious threat to national security. If so, then how to weigh the cost and value of mitigating climate change? 

On September 22 the Washington Post reported on an analysis that suggests that the Iraq war is costing the U.S. $720 million a day. The cost estimate, made by the anti-war American Friends Service Committee based on the work of Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph E. Stiglitz and Harvard public finance lecturer Linda J. Bilmes, includes not only the immediate costs of war but also ongoing factors such as long-term health care for veterans, interest on debt, and replacement of military hardware. The $720 million figure breaks down into $280 million a day from Iraq war supplementary funding bills passed by Congress, plus $440 million daily in incurred, but unpaid, long-term costs. The analysis of the war’s unpaid long-term costs does not include “macro-economic consequences” described by Bilmes and Stiglitz, including higher oil prices, loss of trade because of anti-American sentiments, and lost productivity of killed or injured U.S. soldiers.

We haven’t studied this cost analysis and won’t debate it. But we were struck by this comment, reported by the Post: 

But some supporters of the Bush administration’s policy in Iraq say that even if the war is costly, that fact is essentially immaterial.

“Either you think the war in Iraq supports America’s national security, or not,” said Frederick W. Kagan, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. “If you think national security won’t be harmed by withdrawing from Iraq, of course you would want to see that money spent elsewhere. I myself think that belief, on a certain level, is absurd, so the question of focusing on how much money we are spending there is irrelevant.”

Well, how about this?—

Global climate change presents a serious national security threat which could impact Americans at home, impact United States military operations and heighten global tensions, according to a study released in the spring of 2007 by a blue-ribbon panel of retired admirals and generals from all branches of the armed services. The study, National Security and the Threat of Climate Change, explores ways that projected climate change is a threat multiplier in already fragile regions, exacerbating conditions that lead to failed states, ­ the breeding grounds for extremism and terrorism.

The CNA Corporation, a nonprofit independent research organization, brought together eleven retired three-star and four-star admirals and generals to provide advice, expertise and perspective on the impact of climate change. CNAC writers and researchers compiled the report under the board’s direction and review. The report includes several formal findings:

o Projected climate change poses a serious threat to America’s national security.
o Climate change acts as a threat multiplier for instability in some of the most volatile regions of the world.
o Projected climate change will add to tensions even in stable regions of the world.
o Climate change, national security and energy dependence are a related set of global challenges.

The report also made several specific recommendations:

o The national security consequences of climate change should be fully integrated into national security and national defense strategies.
o The U.S. should commit to a stronger national and international role to help stabilize climate changes at levels that will avoid significant disruption to global security and stability.
o The U.S. should commit to global partnerships that help less developed nations build the capacity and resiliency to better manage climate impacts.
o The Department of Defense should enhance its operational capability by accelerating the adoption of improved business processes and innovative technologies that result in improved U.S. combat power through energy efficiency.
o DoD should conduct an assessment of the impact on US military installations worldwide of rising sea levels, extreme weather events, and other possible climate change impacts over the next thirty to forty years.

Do the scholars at the American Enterprise Institute accept the conclusion that failing to mitigate climate change would be harmful to national security? If so, would they use the same approach that Kagan takes in dismissing any criticism of the cost of the Iraq war as irrelevant, i.e., would they agree that we should not focus on the cost of mitigation, rather treating whatever the cost might be as necessary for national preparedness?

Not likely. When it comes to global climate change, AEI puts a contrarian face forward. AEI’s climate change maven is Steven Hayward (formerly with the Heritage Foundation). Hayward gained some notoriety a while back when he tried to undercut the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, in advance of the release of the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report this year, by seeking to recruit scientists to write a collection of papers calling the IPCC report into question—and indicating that their work would be used in connection with public events in Washington timed to coincide with the release of the IPCC report. Hayward is also the producer of the film An Inconvenient Truth . . . or Convenient Fiction?, purporting to rebut Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth.

Really, is this “scholarship” the best that AEI has to offer in thinking about the costs of the Iraq war and the challenge of global climate change?

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