$10 Million an Hour

February 23, 2007

That’s what we’re spending in Iraq. Regardless of whether you think the war is justified philosophically or politically, it’s really hard to imagine it is justifiable economically.

Think of all we could do with that money. Years and years of $10 million an hour. My god, it boggles the mind.

We could have paid the salary every military person who’s been deployed, then kept them home to grease the wheels of the economy or sent them off as peacekeepers to Darfur. Could have rebuilt New Orleans and environs, set some smartypants types to work on alternative fuels, and sent enough humanitarian aid to disgruntled teenagers in desperate places that we might have urged them toward hope rather than hate. But I digress.

The $10 million figure came from an interview I heard with Stephen Flynn, who has been all over the FM dial this week with the release of his book The Edge of Disaster. He appeared in short bits on consecutive days on Morning Edition. On Tuesday night, driving home from basketball, I caught a longer interview with him on the Diane Rehm Show—really interesting and inspiring, if you can stand listening to the Diane Rehm Show. (You have to be in a certain mood to bear with her slow and creaky delivery that sounds like she will probably expire at the end of every sentence.)

I like what Flynn has to say: We don’t need so much emphasis on the prevention of every twisted terrorist possibility, but rather need more resiliency. A greater ability to respond and to bounce back from whatever it is—acts of terrorists, acts of god, accidents. By removing known dangers (his example was unnecessarily hazardous chemicals for such things as oil refining stored near population centers) and preparing for reactions to any crisis, we are much safer than with each new restriction on airplane carry-ons or state police orders to look for illegal aliens. (Here’s where the $10 million figure came in: Retrofitting an oil refinery from some particularly lethal chemical to the undeniably-yucky-but-not-so-deadly sulphuric acid would cost about $20-30 million. A tolerable sum in light of oil companies’ recent record profits, and, literally, three hours of government spending.)

Especially by giving people, citizens, and communities the information and the resources to rally and rebuild, Flynn argues, we make the “homeland” stronger. These are often “unsexy” and even simple things that occur at a local level (he refers to the the placing of luminescent strips and handrails on the fire stairs at the World Trade Center towers after the 1993 attack, which helped save so many lives in 2001). He makes really great analogies, all of which I’ve conveniently forgotten just now, but which make me want to read the book.

He’s also critical in the right places, about the lack of national leadership for example, without being emotional or apparently partisan. He was an old Coast Guard guy himself.

And there’s something comforting in his theory, despite his examples involving Bhopal-like terrorist acts. Comforting because, for one thing, he reiterates that natural disasters are much more likely than terrorism to lay us low. The results may be as devastating but to me the absence of evil makes it seem less like the world is rotting from the inside out. The other thing is that, by being resilient we make terrorism less effective.

Stephen Flynn for president!


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