Iraq: Five Years, And A Few Trillion Dollars


Posted: March 19, 2008

IT'S THE WAR, STUPID. We have been in Iraq for exactly five years today. Here's what our mission has accomplished: 3,988 American soldiers killed; 29,388 wounded in combat, and many more injured in accidents and illnesses.

Yet the war appears to be receding as an issue in the 2008 elections. Voters tell pollsters they're more worried about "the economy" and "health care." Democrats are dusting off that old slogan, "It's the Economy, Stupid."

But the Iraq war IS the economy. The money we have spent there and the lies we have told to ourselves to stay there have contributed significantly to the economic crisis. And we can't begin to fix it without getting out.

Just as the Bush administration was caught lying to us about WMDs and Saddam Hussein's fictional connection to 9/11, it's now been caught hiding the staggering true cost in dollars of this wholly unnecessary war. And that cost is - are you sitting down? - $3 trillion-$5 trillion. With a "T."

Joseph E. Stiglitz, who won the Nobel Prize in economics in 2001, and Linda Bilmes of the Kennedy School of Government, have set out these calculations in a new book, "The $3 Trillion War." Unlike the Bush sdministration, they add in the costs of taking care of wounded and disabled veterans, as well as hundreds of millions of dollars in interest payments for a war fought largely on credit. In fact, this is the first time since the Revolutionary War that we've gone to war on borrowed money; 40 percent of the money for this war was borrowed from China and Middle Eastern countries.

This accounting wasn't easy: the administration tried to hide many of the costs, both financial and human. The economists had to sue under the Freedom of Information Act to learn the number of American soldiers injured in accidents or illnesses. The administration set up barriers to returning veterans' getting the care they need to recover from their injuries in order to obfuscate the real toll the war is taking.

To put it in perspective, your family's share of the cost of the Iraq war is $30,000. Consider it a down payment on a 100-year mortgage you've acquired without signing on any dotted line.

And money spent on the war in Iraq is money not spent on other things, things we need desperately here at home: repairs to our highway bridges, for example; research into the causes of cancer and diabetes; development of renewable energy sources; education. These improvements to our lives would create jobs and stimulate the economy in a way that fighting a war never could.

At the same time, the Iraq war is a major factor in the economic crisis that is freaking out rich and poor alike in this country. The soaring cost of oil, to which the war has contributed, has reduced our ability to buy clothes and food and furniture, and that harms the rest of the economy.

The "charge it" mentality that has financed the war itself also was allowed to prevail in American markets, with the easing of credit; households responded in kind, by credit-fueled shopping sprees, often using money from home-equity loans.

If, as the political commercial suggests, our sleeping children are at risk, it's more from the debt we will bequeath to them than anything Saddam Hussein ever could have cooked up.

Five years into this war, we remember the words that began this nation's first military endeavor: ". . . We mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor."

In the criminal disaster that began five years today, the cost in American lives has not been shared mutually. Our fortunes have been squandered. And, except for that of our soldiers, there is no honor. *

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