A sad anniversary and big costs
By Troy Goodnough
This month marks a significant milestone in the United States. We have now spent five years in Iraq and are beginning the sixth year of war there. We invaded Iraq in March 2003. This sad chapter in American history will be felt for years to come. Many U.S. students attended high school and college while this war waged, and many of their recent memories are connected to war or 9-11. I have thought a lot recently about the soldiers we have asked to return for a second or third tour. We have asked these soldiers to forgo watching their children grow, and instead to fight, build and defend a country that is miles away. So few Americans have been asked to sacrifice so much. But, eventually, there will be sacrifices we will all have to make.
Anniversaries are time to do an accounting, to think about events past and decisions made. To date, we have lost close to 4,000 people in Iraq, and have seen 20,000 or more US soldiers wounded. Scholars have estimated that the cost of this war to Americans will be at least $3 trillion, conservatively. Trillion. We are now spending (actually, borrowing) about $12 billion every month on Iraq operations. And we aren't borrowing this money from our best friends, either. China now holds over $1 trillion of our debt. Never before have we given tax cuts during war. We have given the wealthiest Americans large tax breaks. And this is the first war completely financed by debt. Oil has risen from $25 per barrel to over $100 per barrel during this time. Stocks for defense contracting and oil companies have skyrocketed during this time, too. This is the most privatized war we have fought. So, U.S. Army security guards are paid $40,000 a year, and Blackwater guards are paid $400,000 a year. We spend more on the U.S. military as many of the countries of the world combined (China, Russia, India, Germany, U.K., France, Saudi Arabia, Japan, Italy). We are fighting another tenuous war in Afghanistan since 2001. And finally, we are in a recession (or teetering on one).
This has been the Bush legacy, and in many ways the legacy of many politicians who led Congress during the majority of Bush's tenure in office. Bad choices. Poor prioritization. Poor transparency. The current administration has been a textbook example of what not to do and how little experience matters when you are married to your ideology and refuse to think critically.
Soon we will choose a new president and new legislators. And in so doing we will choose to send another 19-year-old back to Iraq for yet another tour. We will choose to continue to spend $12 billion a month in Iraq. Remember the words of the president and his wise men who prophesized that the Iraqi people would fall in love with us and that we could pay for the war with less than $60 billion. Every time I hear the president or some politician wax philosophical about how they can't fund this or that initiative for the public good -- children's health, college loans, transportation infrastructure, and more -- I think about ways the interest on this war debt for the next 100 years could've been spent.
Washington cautioned us all about an overgrown military establishment. Dwight Eisenhower, a five-star General, Supreme Allied Commander and Republican President, coined and warned against the "military-industrial-complex" that he saw growing and swallowing the public good. He always took the opportunity to point out we could either buy a bomber or buy several thousand schools. We can still protect ourselves and not squander our wealth.
Let's all prioritize differently in this next decade. Let's listen to the respected voices of the past. Let's listen to wiser voices in the future. And let us end the war in Iraq now.
Troy Goodnough is a Morris resident.