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Costliest government 'program' of all? Undeclared wars

Congress's habit of ignoring Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution has arguably cost taxpayers trillions. And now it seems to be happening again, with Obama's military action in Libya.

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In their zeal to cut government spending, Republicans in Congress have been quoting the Constitution and hacking away at funds for National Public Radio, which saved $5 million.

But if those same Republicans had seriously honored the Constitution 10 years ago, they might have saved $4-to-6 trillion.

That’s the total estimated cost of America’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan – wars that Congress putatively authorized but never formally declared. Article I, Section 8, is explicit: “The Congress shall have Power to ... declare War.” But to its discredit, Congress has failed the American people for more than half a century on this score.

And now it’s happening again, as the US began bombing Libya without a congressional declaration – or even a single hearing or debate.

It’s all well and good for tea party sloganeers and their Republican allies to gripe about budget deficits. But it smacks of political cowardice when they neglect to tell the American people that our habit of fighting undeclared wars may be our costliest government “program” of all.

The cost of wrongheaded wars

There is no more eloquent testimony that Iraq and Afghanistan were wrongheaded wars than Defense Secretary Robert Gates’s speech in February to the cadets at West Point. “In my opinion,” he said, “any future Defense secretary who advises the president to again send a big American land army into Asia or into the Middle East or Africa should ‘have his head examined,’ as General MacArthur so delicately put it.”

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