JIM CREES: The cost of ten years at war

A little over ten years ago, very few public figures, (including the press), were willing to suggest we Americans needed to be very, very careful before entering too enthusiastically into a war with Iraq.

There were, indeed, some real concerns.

First, despite the claims of Richard Pearl and Dick Cheney, and others there was categorically no evidence to prove that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction, nor did Saddam have any means to deliver an attack to American soil if he did have such weapons. In other words, there was no imminent danger to the United States by Saddam Hussein.

Second, many realized then, and more realize today that there would never be resolution to a proposed war in Iraq - certainly not the one the Bush administration and the neocons promised. There will never be an American-style democracy in Iraq ...ever.

A disappointing few observers suggested an invasion of Iraq would not be the short, in-and-out war as promised by the Bush administration. Some warned of the cost. As a result they were castigated - called everything from a traitors to cowards, (and much, much more.)

And so, here we are today. Ten years later, and we are “officially” done with the combat mission.

At what toll?

Almost 4,500 American soldiers have been killed in Iraq since the U.S. invaded in 2003, (not counting Afghanistan.) Tens of thousands have been wounded.

The Iraq Family Health Survey estimates there have been 151,000 violent deaths among Iraqi civilians. (That’s a low estimate. Even the Associated Press estimates some 10,000 more than the number mentioned.)

A lot of people died so that Saddam could be eliminated - which was the only substantial achievement of the war.

To kill one despot, thousands of this nation’s finest young people were sacrificed, and hundreds of thousands of civilians died doing their duty.

And there is another cost.

There can be no doubt that the financial stability of our country has been shaken to the core because of the almost frivolous decision by a small group of neo-conservatives who had been barking at Iraq’s back door for years.

How much has this war cost?

Wellllllll ...

As the ‘fiscal conservatives’ wail and gnash their teeth over the national debt, (apparently incurred wholly and single-handedly by Barack Obama), it might interesting to take a look at one teeny-tiny portion of that debt.

The Iraq war.

In 2003, the government of these United States promised the American people that the then proposed war in Iraq would cost between $50-60 billion.

Both the White House Office of Management and Budget director Mitch Daniels and Vice President Dick Cheney said the “price tag’ for an invasion of Iraq and a resolution to that conflict would cost $50-60 billion.

A Bush administration economic adviser, Larry Lindsey, was fired when he suggested they were low-balling and the war could cost from $100-200 billion.

Wars tend to be kind of expensive, yet the Bush administration actually cut taxes, (the only real source of government income), just as it was planning on embroiling the nation in an extensive foreign war.

Five years into that war, even the $200 billion estimate had been blasted out of the water. In 2008, the cost of U.S. involvement in Iraq had skyrocketd to $3 trillion.

Then, in 2010, the Washington Post noted: “But today, as the United States ends combat in Iraq, it appears the $3 trillion estimate was, if anything, too low.”

And for the first time, an analysis of the expense of “diagnosing, treating, and compensating disabled veterans’ was figured into the mix.

“There is no question that the Iraq war added substantially to the federal debt,” wrote Joseph E. Stiglitz in 2010. “This was the first time in American history that the government cut taxes as it went to war. The result: a war completely funded by borrowing. U.S. debt soared from $6.4 trillion in March 2003 to $10 trillion in 2008 (before the financial crisis); at least a quarter of that increase is directly attributable to the war. And that doesn’t include future health care and disability payments for veterans, which will add another half-trillion dollars to the debt.”

Now, truth be known, figuring the true cost of the Iraq war is difficult. But however difficult, most economists contend the nation simply must figure in future expenses as well ax immediate costs.

Once upon a time, it was estimated that some 45 percent of the troops returning from Iraq would  require disability compensation.

The latest estimates are that there will be closer to 56 percent of the Iraq war veterans who will need continuing and continuous care.

A war’s cost is not just measured in the cost of bombs and bullets.

There are societal expenses as well.

Whatever the case, whether two, three, or four trillion, the cost of the Iraq war has done its part in devastating our national economy - far more than anything done by Obama.

But to talk disparagingly about the war in Iraq, even from and economic viewpoint, is simply not patriotic.

Still, I can’t help but wonder what we could have done with the trillions of dollars we wasted in Iraq? And what did we get for our investment?

And I can help but wonder what those 4,500 Americans whose lives were ended in Iraq would or could be doing today?

And for what was that horrible sacrifice?