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The Curse of Uncle Sam

Decisions are hard to make, especially under pressure, and hindsight can be an embarrassing thing.

Look at the 2007 budget proposal, which states that the cost of the second Lebanon war was NIS 12 billion. Of that, NIS 3.5 billion is the cost of compensating civilians, and NIS 8.2 billion is the military cost, meaning, weapons, armaments, munitions, calling up reserves, and so on.

The second Lebanon war lasted all of a month. That's all, and it was confined to a single front. The army didn't issue a blanket callup of reserves, it chose select units. No national emergency was declared. In fact, it was never officially defined as a war.

It was not an emergency situation of combat: the army faced a much smaller force.

Yet the cost ran to NIS 8.2 billion.

True, it is demeaning to judge a war in economic terms, and it is true that when blood is spilling, nobody stops to count beans. But to spend NIS 8.2 billion on such a conflict that small in scope demands that the army do some soul-searching.

It must think whether it wasted resources lavishly in this war. The battle was conducted from the air, costing thousands of enormously expensive flight hours, and using aerial armaments that cost millions upon millions of dollars, in trying to hunt down a handful of terrorists and missile launchers.

It was a war in which the Israeli artillery reportedly fired more than 200,000 shells, which mostly hit nothing but dirt. It was a war in which the army officers did no thinking, at least about their reserves of ammunition, let alone about what it cost.

We have to suspect that the management of the war was terrible from start to finish. But perhaps it is not only terrible management, but skewed norms, too, norms of people who don't stop to think when it comes to taxpayer money. Especially when the taxpayers are Americans.

It is hard to believe that the Israeli army of 1967 would have allowed itself to squander ammunition so freely. But the Israeli army of post-1973 does allow itself to do that, because it knows it can always find run to Uncle Sam for help.

American aid has become so taken for granted that we allow ourselves to manage ourselves badly. Even our wars. This is a habit that could be our ruination.