The War Not Worth the Cost

Congress will soon consider another $100 billion for this year in additional war spending requested by the Bush administration. If it acquiesces, the total tab for the Iraq War will hit nearly half a trillion dollars.

Half a trillion dollars. This sum gets more real when we think about it at the state, city or household level: For Pennsylvania taxpayers, it means $17.4 billion. For taxpayers in Kansas, it’s $3.6 billion. Every household would face an average bill of $4,100. With spending running at a rate of $11 million per hour comes another question: Is the Iraq War worth it?

The war’s cost is more than just a dollar figure. It represents lost opportunities. Every dollar spent on destruction can’t be invested in our future. Just imagine: For what the government has spent so far, we could have provided health care coverage for all uninsured children since the War began four years ago this month; and granted four-year scholarships (tuition and fees) to a public university for all of this year’s graduating seniors; and built half a million affordable housing units; and fully funded the amount the Coast Guard estimated is needed for port security; and tripled the federal commitment to renewable energy and energy conservation. There still would be enough money left over to cut this year’s budget deficit in half.

These numbers are as astounding as they are incomplete.

For one, the Iraq War is essentially deficit-financed. Depending on the assumption made about how long it will take to pay back the money and what happens to interest rates, payments on the debt could pile on at least another $100 billion to the total, and possibly hundreds of billions of dollars. Health care and disability payments for veterans who have been seriously wounded in the war will also run into the hundreds of billions of dollars.

Our children, and possibly their children, will end up paying for all of this.

Aside from the financial costs, the human costs are immense. More than 3,200 U.S. soldiers have been killed so far. And the Bush administration wants to put more troops in harm’s way. As it is, the average monthly number of soldiers dying in combat is much higher than when the war began. Another 23,000 U.S. soldiers have been wounded in action with yet another 25,000 suffering from diseases and accidents that all too often co-exist with war.

The Iraqis have fared much worse. A study published in the respected medical journal, “The Lancet,” estimated that hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have died. Plus, there are around two million Iraqis who are now refugees, driven from their homes due to conflict, many of whom are residing in Syria and Jordan. And hundreds of thousands of displaced Iraqis have fled their homes and towns for other areas of Iraq.

If only we could claim the cause of national security. Yet, the most ironic cost of the War is national security. It has alienated enemies and allies alike. To have true security in this globalized world, we must work hand in hand with our allies to fight our enemies. Instead, we have strained most of those relationships. Worse still is that we have encouraged backlash against our country. The ranks of those willing to commit violence against us and our allies has surely grown.

Luckily, there is an alternative. Security experts are about to release the 4th annual Unified Security Budget for the United States which shows the best of all worlds: less spending on war, more spending on prevention and security at home, and with dollars still left over to address other priorities. These are real answers to real problems. Our leaders just need the political will to use them.

We have arrived at a critical juncture. Regardless of whether we supported the war before it started or we thought it a bad idea, we all must work together to bring it to a swift end and work for a peaceful tomorrow.

And we haven’t even mentioned what the administration wants for next year: another $142 billion for more war.

Anita Dancs is research director for the National Priorities Project a member of the Security Policy Working Group, the Task Force for a Unified Security Budget, and a Foreign Policy In Focus analyst.