Gooze Views

Peter Galuszka



The War Bill Comes Due

The hidden costs of the Iraq war are a bigger economic debacle than the sub-prime mess.


As a person who came of age during the turbulent Vietnam War years of the late 1960s, I am amazed at the lack of public concern and protest of George W. Bush’s handling of the war in Iraq. Besides the lives of nearly 4,000 U.S. servicemen and women that it has cost, not to mention the deaths of 90,000 or so Iraqi civilians, the war is believed to be the most expensive in history besides World War II.


One recent estimate by Nobel-winning economist Joseph E. Stiglitz and Harvard economist Linda J. Bilmes puts the total cost of the war at more than $3 trillion, approaching the cost of World War II as adjusted for inflation. This flies in the face of Bush Administration 2003 estimates that invading Iraq would cost a mere $50 billion, but that’s not the only terrible miscalculation “W’s” sleek neocons have made.


Trading on American shock of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, Bush pushed America into the Iraq War on misinterpretation, if not outright lies, regarding the Weapons of Mass Destruction that Saddam Hussein did not have. The dream of Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz was to unilaterally and pro-actively install a democracy in the place of Saddam. Peace in Israel, among Palestinians, and throughout the rest of the Middle East would quickly fall in place, or so they hoped.


Meanwhile, the fighting would be done on the cheap with no draft call up, heavy reliance on Reserves and the National Guard and a cheesy, el-cheapo Republican approach to providing the material to do the job. Six months after the war began, for instance, I was near Fayetteville, N.C. researching a magazine story and visited a small cut-and-sew shop in a former mill not far away from Ft. Bragg, home of the paratroopers, Green Berets and others. The owner was a retired Army parachute rigger who was selling upgraded body armor kits. One was going to his son serving overseas with the 82nd Airborne because the stuff the Army had given him was worthless crap, he said.


Oddly, although the Bushies sent the military into the field without needed gear, they created a bonanza for “privatization,” a term that warms the hearts of neocons everywhere. As Stiglitz and Bilmes note in their book, private contractors such as those from the infamous Blackwater firm in Moyock, N.C., charged about $1,000 a day per man to do work that enlisted men and women could do for at least five times less.


After more time than it took for the U.S. to help defeat Germany and Japan, the job in Iraq is far from over. The dream of turning Baghdad into a “Mini-Me” of Jeffersonian democracy is a bad joke. We are left picking up the pieces while men and women continue to die.


If anyone wonders about the origins of the current economic turmoil, they might well consider the extreme under-estimation of the costs of the war and its related future impacts. Money borrowed for the war has increased deficits and tanked the dollar’s value. Oil prices that were about $25 per barrel when the war began, now are above $100 per barrel. Stiglitz and Bilmes note that few people have teased out the long-term costs of the war, such as the cost of taking care of wounded veterans. For an idea of just how much the Bush people care about vets, look at the Army’s once-famous Walter Reed hospital in Washington that had been turned into an under-funded cesspool.


True, the current economic chaos has a lot to do with greedy financial outfits pushing home loans on people who could not afford them. Democrats, by the way, repeatedly tried to push anti-predatory lending laws, but “free market” Republicans throttled them. Now we have the Federal Reserve organizing the fire sale of marquee name brokerages such as Bear Stearns to prevent a 1930s-style run on banks.


Whether average taxpayers will be forced to pay for the bailouts remains to be seen, but it is a strong possibility. If you read Bacons Rebellion, however, you’ll find that much of the analysis of the economic problems is limited to the usual, tiresome land use issues and baffling and irrelevant “glossaries” of land use terms. This is a peanut vendor approach to issues that are much, much bigger than where local planning commissions allow new subdivisions. Because of this and the fact that the blog centers on state issues, it is probably not surprising that neither the Iraqi War nor the Bush Adminstration comes in for much discussion


But then, the public doesn’t ask too many questions, either, and they sure don’t get many answers. Not too long ago, former U.S. Treasury Secretary John Snow, a beloved Richmond corporate executive but an ineffective Bush cabinet member, was the chief speaker at a World Affairs Council dinner. I attended and asked Snow about the economic fallout from the Iraq spending. He brushed me off, telling me that it’s nothing that we can’t handle.


Stiglitz and Bilmes might disagree. As they say in their timely book, we’re going to be stuck with the huge bill for a long, long time.


-- March 24, 2008
















Peter Galuszka is a veteran journalist living in Chesterfield County. View his profile here.


(Photo credit: Maria Galuszka.)