Friday, July 01, 2011
Anyone paying attention to the costs of U.S. military action in Iraq and Afghanistan must have known that the president badly underestimated those numbers on June 22, when he told the nation that we have spent "a trillion dollars" waging war over the past decade. For well over two years, we have known that the total monetary cost of those wars will eventually amount to well over $2 trillion, and might well rise higher, according to Nobel economist Joseph Stiglitz and his associate Linda Bilmes.
What we didn't know until this week is that the expense in constant dollars -- leaving aside the horrific price paid by the dead, wounded, displaced and ruined in every country -- will likely reach well over $4.4 trillion.
That is the conclusion of a study released by the Eisenhower Research Project, a group of scholars, diplomats and other experts based at Brown University's Watson Institute for International Studies. The Eisenhower study doesn't scant the human damage, which its authors say has been underestimated as badly as the fiscal costs. According to them, "an extremely conservative estimate of the toll in direct war dead and wounded is about 225,000 dead and about 365,000 physically wounded in these wars so far" -- including those in Pakistan, which is embroiled in war just as lethally as Afghanistan.
The American military dead in all three countries now total more than 6,000, a figure that does not include another 2,300 in U.S. military contractors; the American wounded, military and civilian, are well over 100,000, which doesn't include the psychological destruction wreaked on those who served and their families. The most obvious indicator is the exceptionally high suicide rate among the million or more returned veterans.
The Eisenhower study's authors concede that they cannot readily estimate the full value of the economic and social damage we have sustained as a nation -- in lost years of work and wrecked families, as well as huge interest costs on the money borrowed to finance these interventions. Nor can they fully account for the growth and investment forfeited because such a great proportion of the nation's resources was squandered on war rather than pressing needs in infrastructure, energy, education and health.
For less than 5 percent of what we have spent on war -- to consider one example among many -- we could have completed an American high-speed rail system and repaired most of our crumbling infrastructure, too.
Even if the current war could somehow be concluded instantly, however, the moral and fiscal obligations incurred so far will continue for decades. Beyond the mandatory disability payments, medical and psychiatric care, and additional benefits to which our veterans are entitled, we will face the prospect of increasing military budgets to restore the equipment and readiness of the battered Army and National Guard.
And those costs in turn will subtract from the scant dollars left for domestic programs -- as President Eisenhower himself observed when he said, "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."
It is sobering to revisit the question of what war has cost us in this generation at a moment when the debate over the nation's finances is so furious and yet so often frivolous.
But it is ever more important to remember how we arrived at this dead end, especially as we listen to the braying Republican leaders who refuse to consider any tax increase. Our fiscal woe is the legacy of their policy, waging war at enormous expense, while sharply reducing taxes on the rich. What we live with now is what "conservatism" has wrought.
COPYRIGHT 2011 CREATORS.COM
See Other Political Commentary.
See Other Commentary by Joe Conason.
Views expressed in this column are those of the author, not those of Rasmussen Reports. Comments about this content should be directed to the author or syndicate.
Rasmussen Reports is a media company specializing in the collection, publication and distribution of public opinion information.
We conduct public opinion polls on a variety of topics to inform our audience on events in the news and other topics of interest. To ensure editorial control and independence, we pay for the polls ourselves and generate revenue through the sale of subscriptions, sponsorships, and advertising. Nightly polling on politics, business and lifestyle topics provides the content to update the Rasmussen Reports web site many times each day. If it's in the news, it's in our polls. Additionally, the data drives a daily update newsletter and various media outlets across the country.
Some information, including the Rasmussen Reports daily Presidential Tracking Poll and commentaries are available for free to the general public. Subscriptions are available for $4.95 a month or 34.95 a year that provide subscribers with exclusive access to more than 20 stories per week on upcoming elections, consumer confidence, and issues that affect us all. For those who are really into the numbers, Platinum Members can review demographic crosstabs and a full history of our data.
To learn more about our methodology, click here.