The cost of war


Geraldine Sealey
March 25, 2004 12:30AM (UTC)

Donald Rumsfeld doesn't want to estimate how much the continuing war in Iraq will cost -- in dollars, that is. His budget for next fiscal year, which mysteriously did not include funding estimates for the military's major venture, led Congressman David Obey to tell Rummy: "This is no more a budget than a chorus of kazoos is the U.S. Marine Corps Band."

In the Gadflyer, Thomas Schaller suggests reasons why the president doesn't want us thinking too much about what the war costs. "Like any other choice, the decision to invade Iraq implies a year's worth of opportunity costs: Options not taken, programs not funded, problems left unsolved during the past 365 days," he writes. Schaller compares an estimate of the cost of the Iraq war -- nearly $108 billion and counting -- with the fiscal crises in the states, which have led to program cuts throughout the country.

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From Schaller: "Absent the war, the president could have still had his tax cut and paid for every state program that was shorted during the past two years. Sure, we'd still have nearly a trillion dollars in federal deficits during the past two years, but that's thanks to a unified Republican government that thinks 'fiscal discipline' means punishing anyone who criticizes or even points out their budgetary recklessness. But at least the states would be fiscally stronger."

" The opportunity costs of decisions made by our leaders are borne, in varying ways and to varying degrees, upon all of us -- or, in the case of the borrow-and-spend crowd occupying the Oval Office, borne upon not only all current taxpayers, but on our children and grandchildren as well. The liberation of Iraq has been and will continue to be costly, and we've just entered Year Two. But the president continues to justify his actions by speaking as infrequently as possible about the pricetag. He does so precisely because he does not want Americans taking the opportunity to think about the costs of Iraq thus far, and those that will follow. Those are the 'opportunity costs' the president wants to avoid most of all."

Schaller also points out this useful (yet maddening) Web site that keeps a running ticker of how much the war has cost and compares it to spending on pre-school, children's health, public education, college scholarships and public housing.


Geraldine Sealey

Geraldine Sealey is senior news editor at Salon.com.

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