And that’s not the price for renting those shipping containers; no, that $610 million is the cost in late fees for not returning them on time.

 

What use, I wonder, could we possibly make of the news that the pullout from Afghanistan is going to cost “billions of dollars?” Did anyone expect a free pass out of there?

In a recent post I talked about how unusual it is to hear about dollar amounts in the trillions. Maybe I should have included a caveat excluding war. A Reuters report put the cost of the Afghanistan conflict at $3.7 trillion and counting – and that report was from a year ago. Also around that time, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities estimated that the Bush tax cuts and the Iraq and Afghanistan wars combined “will account for $7 trillion in deficits in 2009 through 2019, including the associated debt-service costs.” So. Trillions, schmillions.

How trivial, then, to spend just a few billion to get all our people and stuff out of Afghanistan! The news that seems significant in the new report actually has to do with mere millions – specifically, $610 million the military has spent on boxes in which to carry in all the stuff they now have to carry out. And that’s not the price for renting those shipping containers; no, that $610 million is the cost in late fees for not returning them on time.

You might think that, knowing what a long and difficult haul it is moving things into and out of that country, the military might have negotiated better deals with the shipping companies, but I guess that’s all water under the blown-up bridges. Nonetheless, the Christian Science Monitor has jumped on the story and calculated that the military would actually have saved money buying the containers outright.

But hey, how often have you seen the words “military” and “saved money” in the same sentence without a “would have” or “could have” connecting them? Do a web search on the phrase “military saved money” and you will find the pickings awfully slim. Unless you count an investigation into doctors overturning soldiers’ post-traumatic stress disorder diagnoses so the government wouldn’t have to pay for their PTSD treatment, it’s hard to find much at all.

Come to think of it, all this suggests that our true-believer politicians on the right have it backwards. Instead of giving the federal government responsibility for the “national defense” and privatizing just about everything else, shouldn’t they want to privatize the military instead? Right-wing doctrine says you have to run the government like a business, after all. And if you run a business, do you tolerate late fees in the nine figures?