Podcast of the week: Robert Hormats speaking to the Carnegie Council about his book, The Price of Liberty: Paying for America's Wars. Hormats thesis is that how America pays for war matters.
Past conflicts were funded by bond drives, higher taxes or cuts in entitlement spending. Either way, civilians were forced to engage or sacrifice for the war. This morale element is as important as the actual finances. When an income tax targeting the wealthy was imposed in the Union during the Civil War it was not expected to provide significant revenue. It was expected to ameliorate strife between the lower classes which provided the bulk of soldiers and the upper classes which did not. In a long and painful conflict morale can be the difference between success and failure.
To date American civilians have not contributed in a meaningful way to the war in Iraq. Instead of belt tightening Bush sent everyone a check for $300 and told us to go shopping. Five years into the war it is still being funded through slap-dash emergency measures. They are not part of the regular budget, making it impossible to compare or prioritize spending much less balance the budget. The emergency war funding is a testament to Bush's unwillingness or inability to think long term.
Beyond Bush, the question of war funding is useful in assessing the 2008 presidential candidates. It's a simple question that says a lot about how seriously candidates will handle responsibility.