A decade of war in Iraq leaves pain, billions spent, debt and neglected domestic needsBy Askia Muhammad -Senior Editor- | Last updated: Mar 28, 2013 - 12:24:41 PM
'It’s pretty clear the money was wasted'
Fifty-three percent of Americans believe their country “made a mistake sending troops to fight in Iraq” and 42 percent say it was not a mistake, according to a new poll by the Gallup organization.
The war in Iraq left more than 4,500 U.S. military personnel dead; tens and tens of thousands more wounded and permanently injured, U.S. military families torn apart; and another 100,000 Iraqi civilians dead, according to a conservative estimate by Iraq Body Count, though other estimates put that number higher, including a 2006 study from the Journal Lancet which estimated that more than 600,000 Iraqis were killed.
The war also drove many more Iraqis from their homes. There are more than a million internally displaced people in Iraq as of January, according to the UN refugee agency, and many more have fled to nearby countries.
A new “Costs of War” report by scholars at Brown University’s Watson Institute for International Studies put the price tag for the Iraq war at $2.2 trillion. The war, which caused the national debt to balloon because it was paid for entirely with borrowed money, redirected national priorities from the need for improvements in the lives of Americans at home, to a failed experiment in “nation building” in Iraq.
“The most economically costly decision post 9/11 was not whether to attack Iraq and Afghanistan, but how to pay for the ensuing conflicts and the related increases in defense and homeland security,” Harvard economist Linda Bilmes said, according to Politico. “The $1.6 trillion or so already spent has been financed wholly through borrowing. Add to this a further $800 billion in defense increases that are not directly war-related and hundreds of billions of dollars in new homeland security measures. The resulting debt accounts for well over one-quarter of the increase in the U.S. national debt since 2001,” she said.
“It’s easy to place a dollar value on weapons and supplies, but more difficult to calculate the actual cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan,” Rep. Bruce Braley (D-Iowa) wrote in an op-ed article for the Huffington Post Blog. “The reported cost is in the range of $1.5 trillion—which is a lot of money.
“Yet these ‘reported’ costs don’t even begin to account for so many of the future costs of these wars that are yet to come: lifetime care for injured veterans, long-term mental health treatment, prosthetics and maintenance, spousal benefits for families of the brave veterans who never return home, and damage to civilian populations,” he said.
“It’s pretty clear the money was wasted,” Dr. David Bositis, senior research fellow at the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies told The Final Call. “Did the United States get anything out of it? No. For those who are today, beating the drums about Iran, the war in Iraq was like Iran was Israel’s little brother. The people who waged that war took an enormous threat from Iran’s borders; changed the government of Iraq from a hostile government to a very, very sympathetic close government. The utter incompetence of the Bush administration was demonstrated very clearly,” he said.
“What the country really needs right now is to get more people back to work,” Dr. Bositis continued. “There’s no way the country is going to get into any kind of stable balance based upon cutting the budget.” Other experts agree.
“What is clear is that because (the Iraq war) did create a deficit, it does create a real problem right now,” Dr. William Spriggs, chief economist for the AFL-CIO told The Final Call. “Right now we need more fiscal space to talk about a recovery. So, the President is being squeezed that much more because of the war. If the deficit were smaller, then it would be easier to argue for a bigger stimulus.”
The president’s stimulus proposal to bring the country back from the brink of fiscal collapse which he inherited from the Bush administration, was too small and did not last long enough, according to Dr. Spriggs.
“Because right now, we’re still down 1 million government workers, half of who were teachers. So, if he had had this fiscal space it would have been easier to argue to get the 400,000 teachers who are out of work back to work. That’s the immediate problem.”
The shortage of so many teachers “means we are currently under-investing in the education of our students now, and there is no foreseeable let up on this because state revenues are not recovering and the federal government is letting the states continue to contract and cut teachers.
“The fact that these idiots are on The Hill talking about balancing the budget, instead of talking about how we’re going to get classrooms, it’s mind boggling. It’s stupid. It’s just that stupid,” said Dr. Spriggs.
“While the wars did not cause the financial crisis, they were certainly a significant factor in creating the conditions that led up to it,” said Ms. Bilmes. “First, the Iraq war and the resulting instability in the Gulf put upward pressure on oil prices, which rose from $25 a barrel in 2003 to $140 a barrel four years later.
“Second, these higher oil prices depressed U.S. economic activity, prompting the Federal Reserve to loosen monetary policy. Finally, this additional liquidity contributed to the housing bubble and the financial collapse that followed,” she said.
The political cost of the war was also enormous, untruths were told to the American people and to the United Nations to justify the invasion, reputations were tarnished, tarnished in the same manner war hawks frequently justify their ambitions. But there were those—a minority of those in Congress—who stood against the war.
“My hands tremble, but my heart still throbs,” the late Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W. Va.) said in the film “Body of War,” produced by former TV talk show host Phil Donahue. “I read this quote: ‘Naturally, the common people don’t want war. But after all, it is the leaders of a country who determine the policy, and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along whether it is a democracy or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament or a communist dictatorship. The people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in every country.’ Hermann Goering, president of Reichstag, Nazi Parliament, 1934,” said Sen. Byrd who was one of the few senators to vote against the Iraq invasion.
“This will be a blot on the Congress and the chief executive of the United States forever, for having cast a political vote to send our men and women to war and to possible death in a country that never attacked us, a country that never invaded us, a country that did not—I say did not—then and does not now constitute a threat to my country,” he continued in an excerpt of the film broadcast on “Democracy Now!”
“I’ve been in this Senate now—I’m in my 48th year. I have cast over 17,000 roll call votes—in this 48 years. And that was the most important vote I have ever cast. I stood, and 22 other senators stood with me: no, we will not turn this power to declare war, which the Constitution says Congress shall have the power to declare war, Article I, Section 8. So that was no problem to me. I stood by the Constitution. I’m proud of it. And there were 23 of us. The immortal 23, I often refer to it in that way.”
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