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A far better bang for our billions

December 01, 2007|By JONATHAN R. BURRS

I recently read an online article about a Clarksville, Tenn., man who had committed suicide in front of the local city council, after the council voted 5-7 to deny his request to rezone his home as commercial. My first thoughts were, "What an expression of self pity and lack of acceptance of responsibility for the decisions one makes with regards to one's own life."

Ronald "Bo" Ward, owner of Bo's Barber Shop, had told the council his business would go under if he could not get his home rezoned as commercial. After the vote, Ward accused the council of being the reason his business went under, then took out a handgun and killed himself.

My thoughts quickly shifted to the fact that Ward managed to bring a dangerous weapon into the city council meeting, brandished the loaded gun and got off a fatal shot so quickly that no one knew what was going on, including the on-duty police, until after hearing the sound of gunfire. Ward could have very easily fired on the mayor and council members possibly resulting in multiple fatalities, with little anyone could have done to prevent him. Unless, of course, there had been better security!

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But all of this was a suicide and claimed the life of both perpetrator and victim. What this should do however, is force us to contemplate things that will make U.S. citizens safe and secure, versus some of what the government does that only allegedly makes citizens more safe and secure. It should also force us to consider what will help the U.S. economy, versus what has proven to be a strain on not only the U.S. economy, social services programs and a host of other governmental spending, but also an undermined cost to taxpayers for decades to come.

To help quantify the cost of the Iraq War, which is estimated at between $700 billion and $2 trillion dollars, I refer to an online article at the ABC news Web site, "How Iraq Trillion Could Have Been Spent," by John Allen Paulus. The article uses the conservative figure of $1 billion for the war cost and the following analogies to help put into perspective what the war is costing taxpayers and what $1 billion could mean to the U.S. economy.

The annual budget for the Department of Homeland Security is about $35 billion. This means that the cost of the war can be expressed as approximately 28 homeland security units. With the implementation of a few additional homeland security units, our government could really secure the ports and chemical plants and provide much-needed financial support for the military effort in Afghanistan, the true battleground for fighting Islamic fundamental extremists.

The second analogy and rather tiny governmental monetary unit functions almost as spare change in comparison to the war in Iraq - the annual budget of the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, which is approximately $670 million, or about two-thirds of $1 billion. The Iraq war has cost about 1,500 NHTSA's, several of which could probably have reduced the more than 40,000 Americans killed annually on our roads.

Taking a second look at the tragedy in Clarksville, Tenn., it would only make sense that our government focus on measures and efforts that have a direct and immediate impact on security for U.S. citizens.

These theories regarding taking the war to the terrorists on their land before they force us to fight them in our land are misguided and taken out of context.

The masterminds of such theories, even if taken at face value, have proven through their performance or lack thereof, that their resolutions for fighting terrorism are costly and have yielded little if any return.

The economic impact of realigning financial resources from Iraq and investing those resources into governmental projects will close current breaches in security similar to those exposed by the suicidal barber and also create thousands of new jobs to stimulate the U.S. economy.

Additionally, ending the war in Iraq would automatically create a better troop rotation in Afghanistan, where reliable intelligence indicates al Qaeda, as well as the Taliban, remain active.

Instead, our government and elected officials remain largely divided about the war efforts. And while presidential hopefuls, regardless of political affiliation, are quick to criticize the Bush administration for mismanaging the war, none of the true contenders will commit to bringing the troops home before 2013 if elected.

What this translates into is a possible financial commitment to the war in Iraq that doubles current estimated war costs. Using the analogies provided, where do you believe the U.S. should focus its attention?

Jonathan R. Burrs is a Hagerstown resident who writes for The Herald-Mail.

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