How would the U.S. government be spending money if it wasn’t fighting the Iraq War? Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., raised the question during Monday’s Democratic presidential debate in Myrtle Beach, S.C.

“We are spending $9 billion to $10 billion every month,” Obama said. “That’s money that could be going right here in South Carolina to lay broadband lines in rural communities, to put kids back to school.”

Is the war keeping federal money out of local communities? And if so, is the cost worth it?

By Joel Mathis

The fog of war obscures many things, including its own price tag. No one knows exactly how much the United States has spent in Iraq, but one estimate places the number at nearly $500 billion.

That money, as Obama said, could have been spent on building broadband lines or improving schools. In fact, there have been suggestions the feds could spark the country’s sagging economy by giving money to states to spend on infrastructure projects. Right now, though, that money is being spent in the Middle East.

If this seems crass to mention during wartime, remember: Iraq was a war of choice. Citizens of a democracy should weigh the costs — in blood and treasure — of such choices.

Instead, a presidential adviser was fired in 2002 for suggesting that the tab for Iraq might hit $200 billion. If only. And as the costs have mounted, so has the national debt. Your children will someday be paying the bills for our Mesopotamian misadventure.

If we’d at least spent that money at home, we might have something to show for it. Instead, the costs of war have bought us only more war. The fog thickens. It always does.

By Ben Boychuk

If the war is preventing the federal government from spending tax dollars in local communities, it isn’t at all evident in the $516 billion omnibus appropriations bill Congress sent to President Bush last month. Austerity is a tough line to take when legislators see fit to insert 11,000 earmarks topping $14.1 billion, according to Citizens Against Government Waste.

But there is an even more fundamental problem with Obama’s claim. Saying the money spent on the war would be money better spent on local infrastructure is a fallacy. It’s wrong. The federal government should not be in the business of building streets, schools, hospitals or telecommunications networks. That’s what state and local governments are for. That’s what private companies and charities do.

The fact that local and state governments, as well as charities and private firms, go to the federal government, hat in hand, for community-development grants, transportation funds, school subsidies, health-care reimbursements and the like is not an indictment of the war. It’s an indictment of a bloated government with bad priorities.

You don’t have to be a Ron Paul fan to believe that federal priorities should fall within the scope of the Constitution. Common defense? Constitutional. Filling potholes along Main Street? Beyond the scope.

Why not just eliminate the middleman, let that money stay at the state and local level, and fight the war?

(Ben Boychuk and Joel Mathis are moderators of

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