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The Cost of War in Iraq and Afghanistan

November 16th, 2009 · No Comments · Economics, International affairs, Politics

Since 2001, the United States alone has spent over $687 billion on the Iraq war. We have spent over $228 billion on the war in Afghanistan. By the end of this year, 2009, we will have allocated about a trillion dollars for these two wars.

Even more important is the fact that, in these two wars we have lost pretty conservatively, including everyone involved—Iraqi soldiers and citizens, Afghan soldiers, Taliban, Al Qaeda, other Afghan citizens, plus American and our coalition military—over 1,300,000 people, dead or wounded. We have over 4300 American soldiers dead and another 30,000 wounded from Iraq. Almost 900 from Afghanistan.

If the dollar expenditures were the only costs of defending ourselves, it would be substantial enough, but these costs are a very minor part of what we spend each year. President Bush and Vice President Cheney saw to it that these two wars were excluded from the annual national budget calculations. (Since President Obama took office they have been included.) But, over and above the expenditures mentioned above for these two wars the military expenditures are about $500 billion. Every single year. And what do we get for it?

The President is not Marshall Dillon and the United States is not Dodge City. The bulk of the responsibility lies in the Defense Department and rather than acting responsibly, they have used the American taxpayers’ dollars like a piggy bank. The military, combined with the lobbyists from the military contractors, like Lockheed, Boeing, General Dynamics and members of the House and Senate are all complicit in running the budget up to and beyond our wildest needs.

We need a strong military. There is no question about that. But we do not need one that costs us literally every other dollar that we take in from taxes. If you pay $10,000 in taxes, fully $4,500 of that goes to military contractors or military expenses. That is why we should not be in Iraq or Afghanistan one day longer than is necessary. And it is no longer necessary.

Every week we see the names of the thousands of young American men and women who die or are severely wounded in Afghanistan or Iraq. In Afghanistan, since the war began we have accumulated over 1400 deaths of all coalition forces, about 900 from the U.S.A. This is a toll that must have some result. But we have learned that not only are there no longer terrorists in Afghanistan, but that they exist all over the world. Over time, many of these people have merely become gangsters, local criminals who kill or create explosions to make a point, but have no real territorial objectives.

There are really no good remaining war goals in Afghanistan. There never were any in Iraq. The sooner we can depart Iraq, the better.

The extraordinary thing is what we could do with than money. We could close down the borders with Mexico to stop a gigantic influx of both illegal aliens and illegal drugs. With the money we have spent on Iraq alone, we could have given 30,000,000 more Americans health care each year for ten years…given it to them.

Our health care system could be reformed and made available to all Americans at much more reasonable prices than we are spending now. Not free, although we would still have Medicaid, Medicare and the Veterans’ Administration, but at much more reasonable prices than we have now. Eventually, probably long before ten years, prices under a reformed system will automatically come down because of increased competition and much greater numbers of people in the marketplace.

We could convert 95,000,000 homes to renewable energy sources for ten years. We would be able to cut down the cost of personal transportation enormously at the same time. Or we could add 1.5 million elementary school teachers and fund them for ten years.

Many of these options would solve other problems, like the teachers, who would help to cut high-school dropout rates, which would cut down on crime. But war in Iraq or war in Afghanistan, while it may sound as if we are defending our national honor, does not have positive effects on our economy or our daily life.

The current level of troops in Iraq as of November 2009 is about 120,000 military and we don’t know exactly how many contractors. The plan is to reduce that amount to 50,000 by July of 2010, about 8 months from now. So we will be adding some number of ex-military to the domestic workforce in 2010, perhaps as many as 50,000. Some of the volunteer force and some of the National Guard units will stand down. Others may re-deploy to Afghanistan unless we choose to wind down that effort.

We need to do this. We need to bring our troops home and begin to focus on real Homeland Security, with more inspections of containers coming in and more examinations and investigations of suspected terrorists or terrorist sympathizers here in our own country. And we need to control our borders for the same reason. If we had the opportunity to shift even 10,000 troops to the border while we are hiring and training the new, expanded border patrol members, it would make an enormous difference.

We can save billions of dollars, save lives of our young people, shift resources to help the Afghan people, shift other resources to help the American people, and grow our economy all at the same time. It is time to end these wars now.

We have known positively for many years that the Bush Administration lied about the need to go into Iraq. There was no imminent danger to the U.S. Last year, after over 4,300 dead Americans and a country completely devastated, George W. Bush said that he was finally bringing the troops home. The American public voted Barack Obama into office because he said that he would bring the troops home. So the elected leaders of both Parties have said the troops would be brought home. So why are they still in Iraq? What are we doing in Iraq?

Why did we go into Afghanistan? We went into Afghanistan ostensibly to retaliate against Al Qaeda and also the Taliban, because they were the organization behind those who attacked us on September 11, 2001. This is November 2009, and we have run up and down Afghanistan, killed many of the leaders and now have a strong presence and an ever-growing relationship with Pakistan. We know the reasons we must come home from Iraq. The reasons we must come home from Afghanistan are different.

Many will say that the reason we must stay in Afghanistan is that we came in before and promised them a better country, more freedom, and while we helped them defeat the Russians, they also helped us keep the Russians from becoming too aggressive on the world stage. Today is different. If the Afghans want to end Taliban rule, they must fight against the Taliban as the Taliban fought against the Russians. But we cannot involve ourselves in that battle any more than we should have in Viet Nam. The Afghan people are Muslims who live by Muslim law. The Taliban are the more extreme end of that law, as we might say that Fundamentalist Christians and Catholics are to our government.

We cannot condemn them nor interfere except in ways that may help, rather than hurt them. If we stay, and are attacked as occupiers, then when we retaliate, which we will, we will only confirm the accusation. We must leave Afghanistan and only return when we have an invitation. And, in the meantime, if we are to support opposition to the Taliban, on grounds that we wish to help them build a more humane society, then we should do it by taking sides and offering weapons and military strategic support.

But we should leave Afghanistan as soon as it is militarily possible. We are fighting terrorists. They do not have an army. They do not have a navy nor do they have an air force. They have a bunch of spies and saboteurs. We know how to handle those people too. But it is not with a war on the Taliban in Afghanistan. The military did its job. It is time to come home.

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