The Iraq Excuse

You should never talk politics with an extremely pregnant woman.  Let alone two of them.

I learned this the hard way a few months ago as I began talking with other moms at a play date I hosted for my two-year-old and her friends.  Of the four women there, three of us were just weeks from our due dates — myself included.  We were talking about maternity leave when one of the women voiced her outrage over the fact that America doesn’t have paid maternity leave like other countries.   Another mom eagerly offered up an example, pointing to European nations, where she said moms can get up to a year of paid leave after having their babies.   

The three other moms fantasized about such coverage for the next few minutes.  And then I innocently asked a simple question.   "But how will we pay for it?"

The room went silent. And then it came. The Iraq excuse.

"Well, if we can afford to go to war in Iraq or bomb Iran, we can afford maternity coverage," one of them retorted.  The two other moms nodded wildly in agreement.  It was at that point that we heard toys crashing in the next room — saving us from a political debate that none of us — at least in our logical non-pregnant minds — would want to have.
The Iraq War presents a tough predicament for anyone insisting on fiscal discipline in the United States.  It has become the sounding cry for all activists who want money for any program not currently funded.

I hear the Iraq excuse from teachers: "Why can’t we have more money for schools when we’re buying new school books for Iraqi children?"   From Hillary Clinton’s supporters:  "Why rebuild Iraqi hospitals when we need universal health care for Americans?" And from newspaper editorial boards: "What’s a few billion in increased taxes when we’re spending millions every day in the Middle East?"  

Coming nearly four years after American troops found then-Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein hiding in a tiny hole, the rhetoric reflects exasperated public fatigue with the war.   This week marks one year since Hussein was executed, and according to news reports, hundreds of Iraqis marked the anniversary and mourned his loss by tossing flowers onto his tomb as they chanted in unison.   

We’re frustrated, conflicted and confused after glimmers of hope in Iraq are continuously and quickly doused by increased bouts of violence.  Most recently, we have regained optimism as a recent troop surge appears to be working.  We’re hopeful that this time the stability will last.

Today’s great minds disagree about Iraq.  They disagree about whether we should have gone there in the first place, about what we are doing there now, and what our exit strategy should look like.   We cannot afford to oversimplify the situation and we cannot blame Iraq alone for the predicament we find ourselves in.  According to the Congressional Budget Office, Americans have shelled out nearly $483 billion on the war.   That’s nearly $275 million per day, for total of more than $4,100 per household.  These are alarming numbers, but they are nothing compared to our total federal deficit of more than $9 trillion.   

Mini-van driving moms have always covered their back bumpers with stickers fantasizing about the Air Force being forced to host bake sales to buy bombers and schools having all the money they need.    These moms seem not to understand that without a strong military, we might lose the ability to have schools, or books, or children.  Without a strong military, America might cease to exist altogether.

As a nation, we should have a vibrant debate over whether our current war is justified, working, or even in America’s best interest.  We must remain united, however, in refusing to let it became an excuse for spending ourselves into a certain demise.  The first step–we must stop fantasizing about European socialism.  In Ireland, where mothers get paid not only for 22 weeks maternity leave but can also get incentive payments for additional children, income tax rates top 40 percent for every worker earning more than 34,000 euro.  

Instead of using Iraq as an excuse for out-of-control spending, we must see it as an inspiration for why we should regain control of our domestic fiscal policy.  Would I love the government to fund my maternity leave? Sure.  But not at the risk of forcing my daughters to fund an ever-ballooning federal deficit.   I’ll work a few extra hours after they head to sleep to leave them a future as bright as possible.