By Robert Scheer
What can you get for a trillion bucks? Or make that $1.6 trillion, if you take the cost of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars as tallied by the majority staff of Congress’ Joint Economic Committee (JEC). Or is it the $3.5-trillion figure cited by Ron Paul, whose concern about the true cost of this war for ordinary Americans shames the leading Democrats, who prattle on about needed domestic programs that will never find funding because of future war-related government debt?
Given that the overall defense budget is now double what it was when President Bush’s father presided over the end of the Cold War—even though we don’t have a militarily sophisticated enemy in sight—you have to wonder how this president has managed to exceed Cold War spending levels. What has he gotten for the trillions wasted? Nothing, when it comes to capturing Osama bin Laden, bringing democracy to Iraq or preventing oil prices from tripling and enriching the ayatollahs of Iran while messing up the American economy.
That money could have paid for a lot of things we could have used here at home. As Rep. Paul points out, for what the Iraq war costs, we could present each family of four a check for $46,000—which exceeds the $43,000 median household income in his Texas district. He asks: “What about the impact of those costs on education, the very thing that so often helps to increase earnings? Forty-six thousand dollars would cover 90 percent of the tuition costs to attend a four-year public university in Texas for both children in that family of four. But, instead of sending kids to college, too often we’re sending them to Iraq, where the best news in a long time is they [the insurgents] aren’t killing our men and women as fast as they were last month.”
How damning that it takes a libertarian Republican to remind the leading Democratic candidates of the opportunity costs of a war that most Democrats in Congress voted for. But they don’t need to take Paul’s word for it; last week, the majority staff of the Joint Economic Committee in Congress came up with similarly startling estimates of the long-term costs of this war.
The White House has quibbled over the methods employed by the JEC to calculate the real costs of our two foreign wars, because the Democrats in the majority dared to include in their calculations the long-term care of wounded soldiers and the interest to be paid on the debt financing the war. Of course, you need to account for the additional debt run up by an administration that, instead of raising taxes to pay for the war, cut them by relying on the Chinese Communists and other foreigners who hold so much of our debt. As concluded by the JEC report, compiled by the committee’s professional staff, “almost 10 percent of total federal government interest payments in 2008 will consist of payments on the Iraq debt accumulated so far.”
However, even if you take the hard figure of the $804 billion the administration demanded for the past five years, and ignore all the long-run costs like debt service, we’re still not talking chump change here. For example, Bush has asked for an additional $196 billion in supplementary aid for his wars, which is $60 billion more than the total spent by the U.S. government last year on all of America’s infrastructure repairs, the National Institutes of Health, college tuition assistance and the SCHIP program to provide health insurance to kids who don’t have any.
On this matter of covering the uninsured, it should be pointed out to those who say we (alone among industrialized nations) can’t afford it that we could have covered all 47 million uninsured Americans over the past six years for what the Iraq war cost us. How come that choice—war in Iraq or full medical coverage for all Americans—was never presented to the American people by the Democrats and Republicans who voted for this war and continue to finance it?
Those now celebrating the supposed success of the surge might note that, as the JEC report points out, “[m]aintaining post-surge troop levels in Iraq over the next ten years would result in costs of $4.5 trillion.” Until the leading Democratic candidate faces up to the irreparable harm that will be done to needed social programs over the next decades by the red-ink spending she supported, I will be cheering for the libertarian Republican. At least he won’t throw more money down some foreign rat hole.
AP photo / Charles Dharapak