Leon Panetta: Wars Will Go On Forever

At a speech that Defense Secretary Leon Panetta gave at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey yesterday, I posed the following question:

Good morning, Mr. Secretary. I’m David Henderson, an economics professor here in the Graduate School of Business and Public Policy.

Ohio State University professor John Mueller stated in a recent article in Foreign Affairs:

an al Qaeda computer seized in Afghanistan in 2001 indicated that the group’s budget for research on weapons of mass destruction (almost all of it focused on primitive chemical weapons work) was some $2,000 to $4,000.

In your previous job [I made a mistake here: he was already Defense Secretary when he said it but it seemed clear that these data were ones he got as CIA Director], you yourself pointed out that there are fewer than two dozen key operatives left in al Qaeda. Given our huge budget deficit, when do you say, “Enough is enough. Let’s end those wars because the costs are so much higher than the hypothetical gains.”

Here’s his answer from Larry Parsons’ report in the Monterey County Herald, which agrees with the one I remember hearing:

Responding to an NPS faculty member’s question about winding down the costly wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, Panetta responded sternly.

“Those wars will end when the individuals who have threatened this country are no longer there to threaten our country,” he said.

The goal is to leave Iraq and Afghanistan stable, secure and “in a position to build on the sacrifices that have been made,” he said.

We could do some parsing here, taking him literally, and say that Panetta is saying the wars will end when those who threatened the United States in the past are no longer there. That’s a plausible, though expensive, goal. But does anyone believe that if people in that part of the world threaten the United States in the future, he and his boss will say, “No problem: we got rid of all the past threats.” It seems clear from context that Panetta means that as long as there are threats there, the wars will continue. Which means that he is arguing for carrying on the wars forever. Although 2024 is not forever, last week, the Telegraph in the United Kingdom reported that the Afghan and U.S. governments are close to signing a deal to keep U.S. troops in Afghanistan through the end of 2024.

By the way, it was gratifying to have a number of my past students from my Cost/Benefit Analysis class stop me in the hallway or e-mail me afterward to comment that they got my point immediately because of the class I had taught them.

Cross-posted at the Library of Economics and Liberty blog.

25 thoughts on “Leon Panetta: Wars Will Go On Forever”

  1. Slaughtering people is bad because it's expensive?
    Of course! Silly me! Why go through the trouble advocating for peace on ethical grounds when the greedy sons of bitches could've been told they would've been a lot richer now if they hadn't spent all that money butchering millions.
    Go you. Stand up to the man!

    1. "Slaughtering people is bad because it's expensive?"–This is correct. It is expensive for those who die on both sides. It is expensive for the destuction of property and infrastructure. It is expensive for those that have to pay for these wars. So, why do we have wars? PROFIT. Not everyone losses. When the profits stop, wars will stop.

  2. Thanks for asking that question. I'd like to ask him how much money he received from defense (sic) contractors during his time in the house of representatives. Also what he expects his salary and stock options will amount to after his stint as sec def (and deaf he is) when he waddles through the revolving door.

    The real threat to America, of course, is men like Panetta and policies like BushObama's. We should take that threat very seriously.

  3. That "revolving door" Panetta has some nerve. Here is a guy who makes in one week what Al-Qaedas TOTAL R&D budget was for 2001 and he promises more debt and death.

  4. How convenient for him and his acolytes in the Death, Deficit, and Destruction mafia that we continue to make enemies in Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine, Libya, Somalia, Yemen, etc. etc. That way there'll be no end to to the wars. And exactly how are any of those folks threatening this country?

  5. Hey, Panetta, you're probably too f–kin' stupid to understand this, but I'll try: The U.S. Government's imperialistic warmongering breeds hatred and "blowback" against us.

    Now get back to your Goddamn wars.

  6. The USG's adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan will not last forever. Mr. Reality is about to pay the USG a visit. The credit rating of the US government has already been downgraded by Standards and Poors, and the status of the dollar as the reserve currency of the world is bleak with QE3, QE4, QE5,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,> looming in the future. An inflationary depression is the bleak economic outlook for the people of the United States. The wars will end because of internal economic rot in the United States. It is the one silver lining in what is otherwise a very bleak future for the people of the United States.

  7. Standard and Poors and the others downgraded Japan's debt repeatedly and its 10-year bonds are selling at 1% interest. I therefore would not hold out too much hope in the war-mongering ending because of a shortage of money.

  8. First need to correctly understand the meaning of bond credit rating. "Some people said that the U.S. bond rating lowered, because the quantitative easing of U.S. monetary policy-induced devaluation of bonds due this view is erroneous. Credit rating lowered or raised, not to consider monetary policy impact on the value of the bonds, not the bond when the time will not shrink, but worth the money, it is considered related to the contract established to honor these commitments and willingness to honor, in short, is the 'ability and willingness to' overall assessment
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  9. Penetta is the kind of people that don't belong in any government job were lives are put in danger.With his train of thought America would be fighting wars 1000 years from now if humans don't destroy and killeach other off before hand.Ican't see use hear in 100 years the way things are going.Does he not realize every person America kills they make 10 more people that are willing to fight.The world is going to get sick of it they already are but will get worse.America will not have any money soon to fight wars they are broak thank GOD.The Military Indusrial Complex and many rich people are making money off killing poor people in other countrys baised on lies like the 9/11 fauls flag.It seems they just keep getting more evil and the poor suffer .The middel class is disapearing in the US America and the world need to wake up.Soon there will only be rich and poor.

  10. We are too quick to demand of our leaders what we cannot do ourselves. Spiritual growth comes from moral necessity and we will not learn our lessons until the defining characteristics of mankind equal strength in spirit as well as physical. If we neglect to feed the spirit, we cannot possibly do much in the physical. Our job is not to be offended but rather to be strengthened. Nothing will change until we, the people, have changed. I see parents honoring their dead children killed in action. Yet we keep demanding more gasoline, electricity, entertainment, food and other expensive resources instead of waging war on the demands. Soft and arrogant, we pretend not to know.

  11. What do you expect from the government of a country whose principle exports are death, destruction and financial scams?

  12. So…if there is a limit in physical capacity to print currency AND one industry creates credit-based derivative contracts not founded on that capacity but exceeding it by many thousands of percent AND the government agrees to bail out or pay on those contracts to avoid economic seizure or collapse THEN every dollar printed from now on will go solely to honor imaginary paper contracts created by the finance industry. So the "new normal" is no recovery possible- EVER. I like this scam how do I sign up as I am very creative and could easily imagine losing scenarios/bets that taxpayers should be forced to honor in the event I have no money to pay them?

  13. Recolonization is not good for children or other living things. A murderous streetgang controls the government. Work on these premises.

  14. As a substitute of blindly scouring web pages on the lookout for essentially the most eye catching cases, consider expending a while pondering your life style and consider the message you want to convey to other people.

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