War Bill Comes Due
hidden costs of the Iraq war are a bigger economic
debacle than the sub-prime mess.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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