Monday, March 10, 2008

The $3 Trillion War (and that's a conservative estimate)

By Joel Wendland

Wonder why they just canceled music and art classes at your child's public school? Or why the state is trying to balance its budget by raising fees or cutting Medicaid benefits? Do you question why the potholes on your street haven't been fixed for a couple years, or the city transportation system is cutting bus lines? Have you questioned why there seems be no federal money for environmental clean-up, bridge repair, levee repair, or investment in green energy alternatives?

If you haven't asked these questions or others like them you are among a dwindling number of Americans.

The plain-as-the-nose-on-your-face answer to each of them is Bush's $3 trillion dollar war.

And according to a recent op-ed in the Washington Post by Harvard economist Linda J. Bilmes and former World Bank economic adviser Joseph Stiglitz, "The Iraq adventure has seriously weakened the U.S. economy, whose woes now go far beyond loose mortgage lending."

Bilmes and Stiglitz remind us that the Bush administration overcame some concerns about the war in 2002 and 2003 by pretending it would cost as little as $50 or $60 billion, going so far as to fire one adviser who let it slip that it might cost the astronomical sum of $100-$200 billion. The administration even claimed that Iraqi oil would pay the bill, winning votes from even a minority of congressional Democrats along the way.

Bilmes and Stiglitz prove, however, that the cost of war far exceeds the up-front costs allocated by spending resolutions and supplementals, which alone total close to $600 billion.

The total cost of war includes the massive amounts added to the federal debt under the Bush administration, which adds up to an additional $1 trillion. The Bush people refused to ask that the war be paid for and promoted tax cuts instead. Therefore, the war, in true American fashion, has simply been put on the credit card, to be paid for by the next generation.

Write Bilmes and Stiglitz:
Our vast and growing indebtedness inevitably makes it harder to afford new health-care plans, make large-scale repairs to crumbling roads and bridges, or build better-equipped schools. Already, the escalating cost of the wars has crowded out spending on virtually all other discretionary federal programs, including the National Institutes of Health, the Food and Drug Administration, the Environmental Protection Agency, and federal aid to states and cities, all of which have been scaled back significantly since the invasion of Iraq.
In addition to this the necessary costs for caring for returning veterans from their health care, job retraining and education, and disability benefits will add to the price tag in direct costs and additional debt financing.

In the process, mired in recession and a desperate credit crunch, Wall Street is rapidly selling itself to the highest, even sometimes any bidder overseas.

Bilmes and Stiglitz further state:

While Washington has been spending well beyond its means, others have been saving -- including the oil-rich countries that, like the oil companies, have been among the few winners of this war. No wonder, then, that China, Singapore and many Persian Gulf emirates have become lenders of last resort for troubled Wall Street banks, plowing in billions of dollars to shore up Citigroup, Merrill Lynch and other firms that burned their fingers on subprime mortgages. How long will it be before the huge sovereign wealth funds controlled by these countries begin buying up large shares of other U.S. assets?
The economic downturn and the costs to recover from it will add another $1 trillion to US debt.

Bush recklessly entered the Iraq war in an imperialist drive for geopolitical gain and resource control. While the harm this policy has inflicted on the people of Iraq is visible in the loss of hundreds of thousands of lives and a destroyed country racked by a civil war provoked by a foreign military presence, the damage to our own is just becoming clearer.

Bilmes and Stiglitz, in their closing, make a crucial point:
As we head toward November, opinion polls say that voters' main worry is now the economy, not the war. But there's no way to disentangle the two. The United States will be paying the price of Iraq for decades to come. The price tag will be all the greater because we tried to ignore the laws of economics – and the cost will grow the longer we remain.

Bush has bequeathed is policy of endless war funded by a credit card to John McCain who has promised to carry on without changing course.

Other presidential candidates have promised to begin to think about the process of ending the war on day one. But in a time of economic crisis and with big plans for universal health care and boosting public education there can be no waffling on ending Bush's $3 trillion war.

Having solid national security credentials isn't just about how many earmarks you gave arms maker Northrop Grumman or how many threats you can make toward Iran, Cuba, or any other members of Bush's "axis of evil."

One hopes that the economic security and social health of our communities would be first on the list of national security concerns. We know that Bush doesn't prioritize our communities. The Democratic candidates need to clarify that they will not follow his game plan but will demand real change.

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