Mario Roy / La Presse – 2007-11-20 23:02:31
PARIS (November 15, 2007) — When people are dying in the thousands, there’s something a little indecent about calculating in dollars and cents what the process costs that is leading them thus to their deaths. Nonetheless, that’s what a committee of the American Congress has done with respect to the war in Iraq and, secondarily, the Afghan conflict.
The result of that labor makes known figures so mind-blowing, they constitute a real threat for the United States’ economy. And, in consequence, for the global economy.
So, these two military operations have cost American citizens $1,600 billion dollars so far, or double the budgets officially allocated by Washington to this expense category. In the worst-case scenario, the bill will rise to $3,500 billion in 10 years.
We find ourselves light years away from what George W. Bush predicted in 2003: that the Iraqi operation would cost between $50 billion and $60 billion and that the disbursement would be offset by [related] oil profits. Yet in 2006, the $30 billion generated by Iraqi oil was entirely absorbed by the Iraqi state, the reconstruction of which nonetheless remains seriously deficient.
Yes, the 30-page study is partisan.
It was conducted by Democratic members of the joint Congressional economics committee, but did not receive the endorsement of the committee’s Republicans. Nonetheless, it simply cuts other data a different way, and, in many cases, merely strings together already-proven things.
The report takes into account not only the direct costs of the military operations, but also the indirect costs, notably: the increase in oil prices (which have gone from $37 to $90 per barrel), interest on foreign debt, the costs of veterans’ rehabilitation and medical care, and the opportunity costs to employment and investment.
The overwhelming proportion of these costs is linked to the operation to overthrow the dictator of Baghdad, a war undertaken “by choice” and not by necessity, as the Congressional committee correctly calls to mind. Consequently, the squandering of the $2,800 billion committed to that venture is particularly appalling.
That’s without mentioning the 4,000 American soldiers killed and the indeterminate number – somewhere between 80,000 and 600,000 – of Iraqis killed. Also, as the report further indicates, without taking into account the “harm to our reputation and our credibility in the world.”
How much, already? Three thousand five hundred billion? Numbers like this leave us cold because they exceed the understanding of ordinary mortals, which gets confused after a million.
I will spare the reader the corny old populist refrain about how, had this money been invested in the fight against poverty, it would have enabled this and that. Everyone knows that, on this scale, that’s not how things work.
All the same, it’s possible to bring it all back to a human dimension. For example, this $3,500 billion represents $46,400 for every American family – the price of a home in certain poor regions of the country.
And one may also compare the issue to another decision of the United States, one taken in 1947, to promote the Marshall Plan. That succeeded in pulling 16 European countries out from the ruins of World War II and only cost American taxpayers $100 billion (in today’s dollars) – or 35 times less.
What one measures this way is not only a mountain of bank notes. But also the gulf between policy supplied with vision and another policy which cruelly lacked it.
Translation: Truthout French language editor Leslie Thatcher.
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