Sunday, January 22, 2006

The cost of war

The reasons against the war in Iraq sometimes seem as numerous as stars in the desert sky, and, at least to some, as compelling. The cost in American and Iraqi lives, those of the dead as well as those of the maimed, could well move one to tears.

In political terms, the costs could be, conceivably, even worse. The loss of US goodwill and crediblity with the international community is something that may take decades to repair, if it is even possible to do so. The costs of this loss, as well as the weakening of our armed forces, seem to be playing out in the showdown with Iran over nuclear weapons, and seem to be part of our continuing difficultie with North Korea as well.

It strikes me as incredibly ironic that the US' ill-advised attack on Iraq, designed by the neocons to bulk up US credibility, has instead managed to degrade it.

But since GOPers seem immune to any number of arguments against the war in Iraq, I thought it would be helpful to put it in terms the typical Republican can identify with: money.

According to a new analysis by Nobel Laureate Joseph E. Stiglitz and Harvard budget expert Linda Bilmes, the actual economic costs of the Iraqi war vastly overshadow both the administration's current requests, as well as their laughable pre-war estimates. Writing in the LA Times:

LAST WEEK, at the annual meeting of the American Economic Assn., we presented a new estimate for the likely cost of the war in Iraq. We suggested that the final bill will be much higher than previously reckoned — between $1 trillion and $2 trillion, depending primarily on how much longer our troops stay. Putting that into perspective, the highest-grossing movie of all time, "Titanic," earned $1.8 billion worldwide — about half the cost the U.S. incurs in Iraq every week.

Like the iceberg that hit the Titanic, the full costs of the war are still largely hidden below the surface. Our calculations include not just the money for combat operations but also the costs the government will have to pay for years to come. These include lifetime healthcare and disability benefits for returning veterans and special round-the-clock medical attention for many of the 16,300 Americans who already have been seriously wounded. We also count the increased cost of replacing military hardware because the war is using up equipment at three to five times the peacetime rate. In addition, the military must pay large reenlistment bonuses and offer higher benefits to reenlist reluctant soldiers. On top of this, because we finance the war by borrowing more money (mostly from abroad), there is a rising interest cost on the extra debt.

Our study also goes beyond the budget of the federal government to estimate the war's cost to the economy and our society. It includes, for instance, the true economic costs of injury and death. For example, if an individual is killed in an auto or work-related accident, his family will typically receive compensation for lost earnings. Standard government estimates of the lifetime economic cost of a death are about $6 million. But the military pays out far less — about $500,000. Another cost to the economy comes from the fact that 40% of our troops are taken from the National Guard and Reserve units. These troops often earn lower wages than in their civilian jobs. Finally, there are macro-economic costs such as the effect of higher oil prices — partly a result of the instability in Iraq.

To a liberal like myself, these numbers raise thoughts about how much of the US' badly degraded social safety net could've been shorn up by that money. How many improvements in healthcare and education could've been fully funded. How many lives could've been improved.

But for my Republican friends, in terms you can understand, just think of how many tax-cuts and faith-based programs might've been funded, how many fences raised along the border with Mexico, how many more FBI agents to analyze the President's illegal wiretaps.

You'd think it'd be enough to make Rush Limbaugh cry.


Anonymous said...

Are others going to share the cost this time

Citizen Kang said...

It doesn't seem likely, does it?