“IT IS worth it,” George W. Bush told the country last
June as he defended the cost--both human and financial--of the U.S. war on Iraq.
But according to a new study, the real cost in dollar terms doesn’t even
begin to come close to the Bush administration’s original projection.
Banking on a quick military victory, little resistance and the use of Iraq’s
oil revenues to finance the occupation, in January 2003, Mitchell Daniels Jr.,
director of the Office of Management and Budget, told the New York Times that
the cost of a war would be in the $50-60 billion range.
As the war and occupation dragged on, that number went up dramatically. In
addition to $251 billion in congressional appropriations through March 2006,
the Congressional Budget Office now says the war will also cost an additional
$230 billion over the next 10 years--for a total price tag of around $500 billion.
But in a shocking paper published in January, Nobel Prize-winning economist
Joseph Stiglitz and Harvard budget expert Linda Bilmes say that a “moderate”
estimate of the direct costs of the war in Iraq will likely be much higher--totaling
as much as $1.2 trillion, assuming that the U.S. begins to withdraw troops this
year and continues to every year until 2010. “Like the iceberg that hit
the Titanic, the full costs of the war are still largely hidden below the surface,”
they explained recently in the Los Angeles Times.
According to Stiglitz and Bilmes, the government’s official estimates
don’t take into account factors like the cost of long-term health care
and disability for veterans, the increased cost of replacing military hardware,
and re-enlistment bonuses and other enticements to keep the ranks full.
Furthermore, they say, if you add in other “non-direct”
costs, like the rise in the price of oil, a bigger U.S. deficit, and the loss
to the economy from injured veterans who can’t be as productive, the cost
of the war goes beyond the $2 trillion mark.
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AS SHOCKING as the estimated price tag for the U.S. may be, it doesn’t
compare to the horrors suffered by ordinary Iraqis.
No economic analysis can convey what farmer Ghadban Nahd Hassan experienced
last month, for example, when U.S. pilots bombed his home in the town of Baiji,
believing “insurgents” were hiding there. At least 12 of his family
members were killed in the attack, which reduced his home to rubble.
This trauma has been experienced many times over--for each of the over 100,000
Iraqi civilians estimated to be killed as a result of the U.S. war in Iraq.
Meanwhile, those who survived the U.S. bombs in Iraq have seen their standard
of living--once one of the highest in the Middle East--plummet. Rather than
make life better for ordinary Iraqis, electricity, food, clean water and sanitation
are all scarce commodities in U.S.-occupied Iraq.
Iraqis now have, on average, less than 12 hours of power each day, and at least
half of the population doesn’t have reliable access to clean water or
sanitation. As an October report from the U.S. government’s General Accounting
Office admitted, almost three years after the fall of Saddam, “it is unclear
how U.S. efforts are helping the Iraqi people obtain clean water, reliable electricity
or competent health care.”
Of the paltry $18.4 billion the U.S. allotted to rebuild Iraq, at least half
was eaten up, according to the Washington Post, by “the insurgency, a
buildup of Iraq's criminal justice system, and the investigation and trial of
Malnutrition among Iraqi children has nearly doubled since the U.S. invasion
and occupation, affecting one in every dozen children. And under the U.S. occupation,
nearly one-quarter of Iraqi children have no access to education, according
to the Center for Research on Globalization.
A 2004 report by UNICEF and the Iraqi Ministry of Education found that, since
the beginning of the U.S. war on Iraq, some 900 primary schools had been damaged
by bombing or burning, and thousands had been looted. As many as 3,700 schools
were without a safe water supply, and more than 7,000 lacked an adequate sewage
system--a legacy not only of the war, but of more than a decade of U.S.-backed
Initial reconstruction plans called for the U.S. to repair 3,000 schools in
the first six months after the invasion--and another 6,000 within a year. But
those numbers were lowered, as the opposition to the U.S. grew and reconstruction
money was diverted for “security” purposes.
So while the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) set a modest
goal of building 286 schools by the end of 2004, as of September 2005, just
45 new schools had been constructed.
Likewise, Bechtel Corp.--which received more than $1 billion to rebuild Iraq’s
infrastructure, including refurbishing 1,500 schools--reportedly used shoddy
subcontractors that left many schools with leaking roofs, broken sewage systems
and other problems that left them unusable.
The conclusion is simple, and terrible: The U.S. government is willing to spend
more than $1 trillion to crush Iraq, but can’t be bothered to spend even
a tiny fraction to keep Iraq’s 26 million citizens from going without
food, clean water, health care or education.
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IN GLOBAL terms, the incredible waste of resources because of the U.S.
plunder of Iraq is ever more clear.
According to the United Nations, providing universal access to basic social
services to everyone in the world who lacks them--including food, clean water
and sanitation, primary education, basic health care and reproductive health
care--would cost an additional $80 billion each year.
In other words, the “conservative” estimate of $1 trillion in direct
costs of the war could bridge the shortfall and meet the basic needs of every
person on the planet for more than 12 years.
The money spent to destroy Iraq could be put to good use in the U.S. More than
180 million young people could go to a public college for free for four years
for $1 trillion. Or, it could cover the average salaries of the 4.3 million
public school teachers in the U.S. for nearly five years.
Stiglitz and Bilmes make a further point in their report: “While we may
not know what causes terrorism, clearly the desperation and despair that comes
from the poverty that is rife in so much of the Third World has the potential
of providing a fertile feeding ground.”
“For sums less than the direct expenditures on the war,” they conclude,
the U.S. could have provided aid to poor countries “that could have made
an enormous difference, for the better, to the well-being of billions today
living in poverty.”