U.S. Army Sgt. Johnny Hoyos watches a prisoner courtyard at the Zabul Provincial Prison in Qalat, Afghanistan, on May 11, 2011. Photographer: Brian Ferguson/ISAF Regional Command (South) via Getty Images
U.S. Army Sgt. Johnny Hoyos watches a prisoner courtyard at the Zabul Provincial Prison in Qalat, Afghanistan, on May 11, 2011. Photographer: Brian Ferguson/ISAF Regional Command (South) via Getty Images

A much-discussed May 30 story in The Washington Post reported, as if news, that “cost” (meaning financial cost) is now the limiting factor in the Afghanistan war. Or at least this is the view of “many of the president’s civilian advisors,” none of whom allowed themselves to be quoted by name.

We just can’t afford to keep it up at the current pace of $113 billion a year.(A total of about $420 billion so far, plus another $800 billion for Iraq).

Well, we know that wars are costly, in blood and treasure, and Americans decided that this one is worth it. During the 2008 campaign, candidate Barack Obama argued that Afghanistan was the right war and Iraq was the wrong one.

What’s disturbing (if these anonymous staffers can be believed) is that we -- for the administration in some measure represents us -- have apparently reached our limit in treasure before we reached our limit in blood. This is the blood of young Americans -- more than 1,600 so far -- not to mention thousands of dead Afghan civilians.

Economists like to talk about “revealed preferences”: what consumer behavior tells us about how much people value one thing over another, as opposed to what consumers may say in a survey. Have some of the people responsible for guiding our foreign policy now revealed a preference for money over lives? Freedom and democracy for Afghanistan are well and good, but not if they cost us any more than about half a trillion dollars. If there is a similar limit on how many lives these goals are worth, we seemingly haven’t yet hit it.

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