No End In Sight

While the nation mourns the 2,000th U.S. combat death in Iraq, instead of looking for ways to plan an exit strategy, Congress is finalizing another payment of $50 billion to continue fighting the war.

The dynamics of the fighting between the resistance and the U.S., and the horrific human costs that are being exacted, are unlikely to change in the near term as the Bush administration remains stubbornly committed to occupying Iraq. And both parts of the administration’s purported plan, democratization and putting Iraqis in charge of their own security, are failing because of the continued resistance to U.S. occupation.

It’s clear that the situation is only getting worse. Instead of helping make Iraq safer and more stable, U.S. troops add to the violence. As long as U.S. troops remain in Iraq, the resistance — and the violence — will flourish. Suicide attack rates have doubled since 2004, the number of resistance attacks per month have doubled in 2005 and the U.S. Army National Guard has been losing more soldiers per months than at any other time during the war.

The impact on the people of Iraq has also been staggering. Over 27,000 Iraqi civilians have died in the war and at least 3,000 Iraqi soldiers have been killed so far. And Iraqis still live today without adequate supplies of water or electricity, without sewage treatment plants or access to jobs.

On top of these human costs, the financial costs are soaring as well. Before the war started, administration officials argued that the total cost would be $50 billion. But the latest spending will lift the tab to $250 billion, bringing the average yearly spending to $86 billion. This amounts to every man, woman and child in the U.S. sending the government a check for $840 to pay for the bill so far.

Congress and the Pentagon have fallen down on the job of keeping tabs on the money being spent. In late September the Government Accountability Office issued a report concluding, “neither [the Department of Defense] nor Congress … can reliably know how much the war is costing and details on how appropriated funds are being spent.” At a time where our nation is running a deficit and money is urgently needed for emergency relief and reconstruction, we cannot afford to waste funds.

While Congress pressed the Federal Emergency Management Agency to re-open no-bid reconstruction contracts given during the first days after hurricane Katrina hit, such scrutiny has not been taken for reconstruction in Iraq even after a joint Senate-House report was released in June documenting an extra $1.4 billion in “questionable” and “unsupported” expenditures by Halliburton’s KBR subsidiary operating in Iraq.

With the latest $50 billion installment, Congress will have approved the fifth “emergency” spending package to date. This is the second package in 2005 alone. Labeling this money as “emergency” funds is convenient as these funds do not have to be offset by other programs in the regular budget. But with the Iraq war inching towards its third year the government should be able to plan for anticipated costs and stop pretending that the expense is unexpected.

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld told Fox News this past June, “Insurgencies tend to go on five, six, eight, 10, 12 years.” If that’s the case, the $250 billion spent to date is just a drop in the bucket. Based on a 10-year war, some experts predict the tab to total $700 billion. And those estimates don’t include the medical bill the Veteran’s Affairs office will be paying. Already 14,000 troops have been wounded, many requiring long-term care.

With the loss of 2,000 soldiers, a rising deficit, cuts threatened to domestic programs, and no end in sight to this war, adding $50 billion to “stay the course” in Iraq is an outrage. We must honor the sacrifices made so far by setting an exit strategy and bringing the troops home.

Erik Leaver is a research fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies and policy outreach director for FPIF. He is co-author of a new report, “The Iraq Quagmire: The Mounting Costs of War and the Case for Bringing Home the Troops.”