Poll: Americans Would Cut Middle East War Spending

On November 3, professor John Mearsheimer made a short and stunning presentation at "U.S. Foreign Policy in the Trump Era: Can Realism and Restraint Prevail?" conference held at George Washington University in Washington, DC. In the unipolar world after the collapse of the Soviet Union, he claimed, realists urged nonintervention and staying out of conflicts and countries that "really don’t matter much." Unfortunately, American “crusaders” prevailed and pushed the US into a series of unnecessary quagmires across the greater Middle East.

Americans appear to agree. When presented with a list of expenditure categories, and polled about which should be the single top priority for budgetary cuts by Congress, "US military actions in the Middle East" was far and away their top choice. But most Americans probably have little idea how enormous those costs truly are.

Question: Which expenditure category should Congress cut to make government more responsive to the American people and reduce the budget deficit?

The IRmep poll was fielded by Google surveys from November 13 to November 15 and has an RMSE score of 4.9% Demographic filtering is available online from Google.

A new study from Brown University estimates that the cost per individual US taxpayer for wars since 9/11 is at least $23,386. The true figure is far higher because, as the report notes, "the US went into deficit spending after 9/11, the cost of war per taxpayer will be higher as the US pays interest on borrowing for war." This accounting, notes the report, does not address the human toll, in terms of regional civilian death and displacement, physical and psychological wounds inflicted on US veterans, and the opportunity cost of "what we might have done differently with the money spent and obligated and how veterans’ and civilian lives could have been lived differently."

It is a reflection of the continuing entrenched power of America’s "crusaders" that cutting US military expenditures in the Middle East is not part of the debate in ongoing tax plan deliberations and assessments of their enormous budgetary impact. Foreign influences exert enormous demands for US intervention. In a fascinating exchange, Saudi dissident reporter Jamal Khashoggi asked Mearsheimer why the US wasn’t doing more in the Arab world, especially Syria, Libya and Yemen to stem the "chaos." Mearsheimer responded sharply:

"I think you have this all wrong. We helped create that chaos. You’re asking us to go stop it? This is crazy. This is crazy. Who tore Iraq apart? We’ve paid a key role, hardly reported in the mainstream media, in wrecking Syria. Libya? Yemen? We’re involved with the Saudis in Yemen. We’re refueling their aircraft, giving them bombs. Supporting them diplomatically. The United States has been the principal source of this murder and mayhem in the Middle East.”

The Saudi regime has many levers to exert influence over the US as a top buyer of US weapons systems, merchandise imports, treasury securities, willingness to trade petroleum in dollars, and swing OPEC producer status.

The Israeli government also expects the US can be compelled to continue supporting Israel’s military hegemony in the Middle East, and perhaps even attacking Iran to advance the strategic interests of both Israel and Saudi Arabia.

Unlike Saudi Arabia’s economic impact, Israel’s influence is entirely a product of its US lobby which is felt in every relevant US institution, most importantly in the offices of politicians tapping the lobby’s deep campaign contribution network. But Israel’s interests also drive key activities within federal government agencies, such as the US Treasury Department’s Office of Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, which functions as a quasi-Israeli office of boycott, divestment and sanctions.

Public opinion has little relevance to "crusaders" shaping US Middle East policy since 9/11 who are empowered by foreign interests. This should deeply trouble American taxpayers tapped to pay for all the "murder and mayhem" who would compel their representatives in Congress to reduce it all to zero, but lack the power to do so.

Grant F. Smith is the director of the Institute for Research: Middle Eastern Policy in Washington and the author of the 2016 book, Big Israel: How Israel’s Lobby moves America and as well as a series reports on the enormous state-level economic impact of Saudi-U.S. trade and investment appearing in the Saudi Arabia Investment, Trade Laws and Regulations Handbook, Volume 1.