Ticker shock

The grim calculator keeps ticking. Up and up and up. The cost of our war in Iraq soars with mind-bending rapidity, helping to drive America deeper and deeper into debt with no end in sight, a tunnel with no light.

That’s the real message of the televised speech George Bush delivered last week. With jaw set and eyes fixed, our president made it clear that he intends to stay the bloody course he conned us into taking. Using logic that races in circles, Bush told us that we’re in a battle with “terrorists who want to attack our country and kill our citizens, and Iraq is where they are making their stand. So we will fight them there, we will fight them across the world, and we will stay in the fight until the fight is won.”

The con continues.

While it’s certainly true that some foreign fighters are entering Iraq, they are only a small part of the insurgent force staging dozens of attacks daily — 5 percent or fewer. The vast majority of those fighting to expel our troops aren’t disciples of Osama bin Laden. They are native Iraqis at war with an oil-thirsty superpower that has occupied their homeland. Despite Bush’s invocation of the specter of 9/11 a half-dozen times in his speech, there was never a connection between those jets crashing into the World Trade Center and Saddam Hussein. But in an administration that boasts of being able to create its own reality, we’ve created a new army of “terrorists,” perhaps 20,000 strong, that we are committed to fight. And to keep fighting.

No matter how long it takes, no matter what it costs.

How much will be spent? There have been some predictions the cost could reach a trillion dollars or more if this conflict drags on. But that’s just speculation. This is what we know for certain: By September, when the federal fiscal year ends, the bill for our Iraq adventure will top $200 billion.

Add in the Afghanistan war and other anti-terrorist activity around the globe and the price jumps to $350 billion.

That funding, according to a report released this month by Democrats on the House Appropriations Committee, has been made on an “installment plan,” with the administration repeatedly asking Congress for “emergency” appropriations to cover the cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

As The Washington Post noted in May: “For the third year in a row, the Bush administration has chosen to fund operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, along with a grab bag of other programs, outside the normal appropriations process. To call this emergency spending is farcical. Though the precise cost of military operations was not known, there was no reason, especially as the war continued, not to budget for most, if not all, of it in the ordinary course of business. After a single emergency supplemental, the war in Vietnam was financed through regular appropriations.”

The result, contends the report, is a budget process that avoids making “tradeoffs, such as spending cuts or revenue increases that offset the costs.”

In sharp contrast to the administration’s stealth is costofwar.com, a Web site that graphically depicts the Iraq war’s mounting costs, with the dollars spent flashing higher by the millisecond.

It is a tab we were never prepared for. Whether gross miscalculation or calculated deception, the cost of invading and occupying Iraq publicly proffered by the administration during the run-up to the war missed the mark by a staggering amount.

In January 2003, when Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld appeared on the television program This Week, host George Stephanopoulos asked the defense secretary what the war would cost.

“The Office of Management and Budget estimated it would be something under $50 billion,” Rumsfeld said.

When Stephanopoulos pointed out that some were predicting the real figure could be as high as $300 billion, Rumsfeld snapped, “Baloney.”

Indeed. The low-balling of costs was accompanied by assurances that the conquest of Iraq would be a cakewalk. But instead of the flower bouquets Bush and his fellow war hawks prophesied, occupation forces have faced mortar shells and suicide bombers for more than two years. As of last week, the death toll for U.S. military personnel had risen to 1,743. More than 90 percent of those deaths occurred after Bush landed on the deck of the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln in May 2003 and declared an end to major combat operations in Iraq. In addition to the fatalities, more than 13,000 U.S. troops have been wounded. No one knows how many of the people we’re liberating have died. But by some estimates as many as 25,000 Iraqi civilians have been killed since the war began. The grief and suffering are beyond tabulation. What can be totaled are the price tags affixed to the more mundane implements of war, the bullets and bombs and ballistic missiles.

And for each of those bullets, bombs and missiles, there is a corresponding loss. It is a point made more than 50 years ago by the general who led the Allies to victory in Europe during World War II.

“Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed,” President Eisenhower said in a 1953 speech to the American Society of Newspaper Editors. Eisenhower went on to list some of the tradeoffs in the perpetual struggle between guns and butter. Back then, he said, “We pay for a single destroyer with new homes that could have housed more than 8,000 people.”

That same thinking is now incorporated in the National Priorities Project’s Web site, which, along with giving a running total of the Iraq war’s cost, also calculates what that money could have purchased. Michigan taxpayers, for example, will pay $5.6 billion to fund the war through September.

What could that money have paid for?

Health care for 1.3 million people or 84,000 elementary school teachers or 44,000 affordable housing units or 141,000 cops.

Detroit taxpayers alone have financed the war to the tune of $353.8 million. Had those dollars stayed here instead of going to Iraq, our current municipal budget deficit would be eliminated, with another $50 million left over.

Instead, Detroit, like many urban areas across the country, is struggling to keep police on the streets and basic services intact as it deals with financial shortfalls of staggering proportions.

One of the greatest ironies of all this is that a war many believe was launched to guarantee this country a stable source of oil long into the future has helped send the price of crude oil soaring.

According to the government’s Energy Information Agency, Iraq was exporting 2.1 million barrels before the start of war in March 2003. That number is now about 1.3 million barrels a day. Hundreds of attacks by insurgents on the country’s oil-producing infrastructure have contributed to the decrease. How much that has added to the price of oil — which topped $60 a barrel in recent days, up from about $28 before the war — can’t be quantified. But the loss of nearly a million barrels a day on the world market and the uncertainty and regional instability abetted by the war are certainly contributing factors, says James Paul, executive director of the Global Policy Forum.

Likewise, the high prices at the pump are hitting this country hard at a time when it can least afford it.

As the economy founders and Bush’s federal tax cuts further fatten the wallets of the already-rich — and as the wars suck up hundreds of billions of dollars — our cities, with their large populations of the poor, the working class and minorities, are left hanging.

“The president has stood up and shown his commitment to rebuild Iraq by asking for another $20 billion for the country’s reconstruction,” Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick said in a national Democratic radio address last year. “Now he must make the same commitment to our nation’s cities — a commitment to build America.”

That’s not happening.

“Bush has no urban agenda,” says Peter Dreier, director of the Urban and Environmental Policy program at Occidental College in Los Angeles. “People in cities didn’t vote for him, and he’s paying them back.”

In the last presidential election, 93 percent of Detroiters going to the polls cast their votes for Democrat John Kerry.

So it’s not surprising that Bush demonstrates little concern for the cities that rejected him. Because of the decades-long population shift to the suburbs, these urban centers were seeing their political clout diminish long before Bush took the helm. But during the Clinton presidency, when the economy boomed and budget deficits were turned into surpluses that helped pay down the national debt, cities were lifted along with the rest of the country.

Those days are now just a distant memory. Instead, we’ve returned to the voodoo of Reaganomics. The Center for American Progress describes the president’s budget as one that “proposes to cut vital domestic investments and services for the middle class and poor, maintains unsustainable tax cuts for the wealthy, and continues to accumulate huge budget deficits.”

From a progressive viewpoint, it is the worst of all possible worlds, cutting programs most needed by the poor and middle class while entrenching deficit-increasing tax cuts for the rich and ratcheting up military spending.

The butter gets cut, the guns keep blasting, and deficit spending continues, leaving the national debt to grow even larger.

Again, it is instructive to heed the words of Eisenhower. As he was leaving office in 1961, the old general offered sharp warnings about the dangers of what he described as the military-industrial complex. He also provided a clear guide to fiscal policies. Read today, those words have an ominous ring, and raise the specter that George W. Bush, by staying the course he’s charted, risks losing the thing he proclaims most loudly to defend.

“As we peer into society’s future,” Eisenhower said, “we — you and I, and our government — must avoid the impulse to live only for today, plundering, for our own ease and convenience, the precious resources of tomorrow. We cannot mortgage the material assets of our grandchildren without asking the loss also of their political and spiritual heritage. We want democracy to survive for all generations to come, not to become the insolvent phantom of tomorrow.”

See Also:

The Iraq Index
By Metro Times news staff
Statistical snapshot offers numbers that numb.

Curt Guyette is Metro Times news editor. Contact him at 313-202-8004 or [email protected]
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