After watching Rick Perry launch his candidacy for the Republican presidential nomination, I was all set to sign up as a supporter and send him a campaign contribution. After all, what's not to like about him?
He's compiled an impressive record as the popular governor of a key state who kept taxes low, cut government spending and red tape, reined in greedy malpractice lawyers, encouraged business expansion, and showed the nation how to create jobs in a depressed economy. All that and Hollywood handsome too, a gifted politician and dynamic campaigner, and a God-fearing family man who might just make Michele Bachmann, the Eva Peron of the Tea Party, go away.
Still, there was something bothering me that made me pause just as I was about to write a check to the Perry campaign. Couldn't put my finger on it at first. Was it that he thinks Social Security is unconstitutional or that he doesn't believe in evolution or that Ben Bernanke's Federal Reserve policies are treasonous or that he comes across as a cocksure cowboy? Nah, it wasn't that. Nobody's perfect.
Then I remembered what is was and why I could never vote for him for president.
It's not because of who he is but where he's from. Consider this: three of the last nine presidents were from Texas and each of them led us into disastrous wars that have divided our nation, bankrupted our economy, undermined our world image, eroded our military might and worst of all, killed and maimed tens of thousands of our young men and women, many of whom will bear the terrible wounds of war for the rest of their lives.
Let's look at the bellicose record of the three presidents from the Lone Star State, starting with the one who was going to nail that coonskin to the wall in Vietnam, Lyndon Johnson.
LBJ inherited a little war from President Kennedy in 1963 and despite his promise never to send American boys to fight in an Asian war, made it into a very big one, the longest and most expensive since World War II -- until the present one in the Persian Gulf started by George W. Bush. The antiwar movement drove LBJ from office in 1969 and Richard Nixon finally ended it in 1975, but not until more than 58,000 American military personnel had been killed and more than 150,000 wounded, 21,000 of whom were permanently disabled. And don't forget that some two million Vietnamese lost their lives and at least a million fled the country when Ho Chi Minh took over.
That's the human cost. The financial cost was also enormous. The Congressional Research Service estimated in 2009 that the Vietnam war cost $686 billion in 2008 dollars, adjusted for inflation, and that didn't include expenses for veterans benefits and medical care, interest on war-related debts or assistance to our war allies. At the same time, LBJ, who insisted we could afford both guns and butter, refused to raise taxes to pay for the war, triggering a damaging cycle of inflation
There were huge political ramifications as well. Spooked by the thousands of young men who fled to Canada to escape being sent to Vietnam, Congress replaced the military draft with an all-volunteer force and enacted the War Powers Act that limited the president's ability to send American forces into combat without Congressional approval.
Then comes George H. W. Bush, compliments of Ronald Reagan and Bush's hapless Democratic opponent Michael Dukakis. When Bush, who had been a member of Congress, ambassador to the United Nations, director of the CIA, ambassador without portfolio to China and vice president before entering the Oval Office in 1989 two years later, was confronted by Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait, he sought and received Congressional authorization to use military force and rallied international support to stop Hussein.
But after more than 4,000 bombing runs by coalition aircraft and a brief ground invasion that pushed Hussein's forces back to Baghdad, Bush 41 ordered an end to the offensive, allowing Hussein to remain in power and thousands of Iraqi forces to escape. Bush explained that he did so to avoid "incalculable human and political costs." He added, "We would have been forced to occupy Baghdad and, in effect, rule Iraq."
Tragically, that's exactly what happened after Bush 43 stole -- er -- won the 2000 election, and in an overheated response to 9/11, set out to finish off Saddam Hussein and destroy his non-existent weapons of mass destruction by invading Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003. Now, as Washington struggles to cut the federal budget and reduce the record deficit, and President Obama tries to figure out how to end combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, let's look at the human costs alone.
According to the Associated Press, at least 4,474 U.S. military personnel have been killed in Iraq and at least 1,628 in Afghanistan as of Aug. 21, while other organizations estimate that nearly 32,000 American troops were wounded in Iraq and more than 13,000 in Afghanistan -- that's almost a third as many as Vietnam. And even though the U.S. ended combat operations in Iraq last August and is due to withdraw the 46,000 troops still there by the end of this year, 15 U.S. troops died in June, the deadliest single month since 2008.
As for the financial cost of both wars, nobody knows for sure, but there's little doubt that it's staggering. The Bush administration projected a $50-$60 billion cost in 2003, and Obama recently said the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts have cost $1 trillion. But a Brown University study in June concluded that the wars and their ripple effects have cost the U.S. $3.7 trillion, or more than $12,000 per American, according to Nancy Youssef of the McClatchy Newspapers.
Calculating the true cost of the war is made more difficult by determining what to include, Youssef wrote on Aug. 15.
Rising healthcare costs for veterans? The damage done to Iraqi and Afghan families, cities and institutions? Holding tends of thousands of detainees at U.S. military prisons... The massive interest on war-related debt, which some experts say could reach $1 trillion by 2020?
Meanwhile, the Iraqis continue to be more interested in killing each other than creating a viable country and Afghanistan sinks deeper into tribal conflict and chaos while we pour hundreds of billions of dollars in military and civilian aid into both countries.
So forget it, Gov. Perry. I don't think I want to take the chance of having yet another trigger-happy president from Texas get us into yet another ruinous war.
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