The Institute for Policy Studies recently published
an analysis of the cost of the Iraq War and occupation, "The
Iraq Quagmire: The Mounting Costs of War and the Case for Bringing Home the
Troops." The study was co-authored by two prominent researchers and
writers, Phyllis Bennis and Erik Leaver. Bennis is a fellow at the Institute
for Policy Studies (IPS) and the author of the forthcoming Challenging
Empire: How People, Governments, and the UN Defy U.S. Power (October
2005). Leaver is a research fellow at IPS and serves as the policy outreach
director for the Foreign Policy in Focus project.
Kevin Zeese: Your study, "The
Iraq Quagmire: The Mounting Costs of War and the Case for Bringing Home the
Troops," examines the economic and human costs of the Iraq war and
occupation. Let's start with the economic costs. How does the cost
of the Iraq war compare to previous wars in the last century?
Leaver: The Iraq War is the most expensive military effort in the last 60 years.
To put Iraq war spending figures in perspective, the monthly cost of the Iraq
and Afghan wars now rivals the average monthly cost of the Vietnam War. Operations
costs in Iraq are estimated at $5.6 billion per month in 2005, while the average
cost of U.S. operations in Vietnam was $5.1 billion per month, adjusting for
inflation. In current dollars, the Vietnam War cost $600 billion.
Zeese: There have been numerous spending bills related to the Iraq war.
How much has been appropriated so far? What is coming down the pipeline?
Where is the money going?
Leaver: In 2002, White House economic adviser Lawrence Lindsey was fired after
predicting that an Iraq war would cost between $100 billion and $200 billion.
As it turned out, Lindsey low-balled the cost.
Congress has approved four spending bills for Iraq with funds totaling $204.4
billion and is in the process of approving a "bridge fund" for an
additional $45.3 billion to cover operations until another supplemental spending
package can be passed, most likely slated for spring 2006. Rumors have the next
supplemental pegged at $30 billion.
The lion's share of the funding goes toward daily operations followed next
by purchases of new equipment. Money is also spent on maintenance of equipment
and in providing funds to coalition members and in training Iraqi troops. Unlike
the hurricane relief efforts, where money is specifically targeted to victims,
Iraqis are not receiving much of this funding.
Zeese: What is the impact of the cost of the Iraq war on the federal budget?
We've heard talk that the budget cuts related to the Louisiana flooding were
impacted by the Iraq war. Is there any truth to this?
Leaver: These expenses have long-term effects on the U.S. economy. In August
2005, the Congressional Budget Office estimated that the cost of continuing
the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan at current levels would nearly double the projected
federal budget deficit over the next 10 years.
In June 2004, Walter Maestri, emergency management chief for Jefferson Parish,
said to the [New Orleans] Times-Picayune: "It appears that the money
has been moved in the president's budget to handle homeland security and the
war in Iraq, and I suppose that's the price we pay." Ron Fournier of the Associated
Press reported that the Army Corps of Engineers asked for $105 million for hurricane
and flood programs in New Orleans last year. The White House carved it to about
$40 million. Clearly, tradeoffs were made in the budget process. And while funds
were being cut for projects at home, the administration was pushing for facilities
in Iraq such as the $500 million embassy.
Zeese: How about the impact on other social programs and veterans benefits?
Leaver: The Bush administration's combination of massive spending on the war
and tax cuts for the wealthy means less money for social spending. The administration's
FY 2006 budget, which does not include any funding for the Iraq War, takes a
hard line with domestic spending – slashing or eliminating more than 150 federal
programs. It also virtually freezes funding for domestic discretionary programs
other than homeland security. Among the programs the Bush administration seeks
to eliminate: vocational and adult education, a number of programs associated
with community development, environmental protection agency grants, low-income
home energy assistance, disease control, substance abuse, Occupational Safety
and Health Administration, and public safety.
The VA [Veterans Administration] projected that 23,553 veterans would return
from Iraq and Afghanistan in 2005 and seek medical care. In June 2005, the VA
secretary, Jim Nicholson, revised this number to 103,000. The miscalculation
led to a shortfall of $273 million in the VA budget for 2005, and with between
1/4 and 1/3 of all returning soldiers needing care at a VA facility, these costs
are going to skyrocket in future years.
Zeese: What is the impact of the war/occupation on the Iraqi economy?
Leaver: Unemployment figures today range from 20 percent to 60 percent. By
comparison, during the Great Depression, U.S. unemployment peaked at 25 percent.
The effects have been disastrous for the Iraqi people. Up to 60 percent of the
population depends on food handouts, and the average income has dropped from
$3,000 in the 1980s to $800 in 2004. The Iraqi government, under budgetary pressures,
recently warned that government ministries "can carry out their duties
with only about 40-60 percent of their employees." This would be devastating,
as the government employs nearly one-half of Iraq's 6.5 million strong workforce.
The U.S. government says it has tried to respond by involving more Iraqis in
reconstruction, but acknowledges that it is only employing 122,533 Iraqis in
the civilian sector. Furthermore, only $7.7 billion out of $18.4 billion slated
for reconstruction was spent by August 2005.
It is clear that high levels of unemployment are fueling the resistance by
putting, in the words of one U.S. Army officer, "too many angry young men,
with no hope for the future, on the street." This has become a deadly combination
as the going rate in parts of Baghdad for planting roadside bombs is between
$100-300 while the salary for an Iraqi soldier can reach $340 per month.
Zeese: There have been inconsistent reports about whether the U.S. is building
permanent military bases in Iraq. I've had activists who have talked to
Senator John Warner, who claims there are no permanent bases being built. Other
members of Congress like Jim McGovern (D-Wash.) say there is money being appropriated
to build permanent bases. What is the truth here? If such bases are being
built, how many are there and what is their purpose?
Leaver: Despite what many U.S. officials state, militarily, the United States
is planning for a long-term stay in Iraq. The most recent spending bill in Congress
for the Iraq war contained $236.5 million for permanent base construction. The
original request for these funds from the Department of Defense stated, "This
proposal will allow the Army to provide temporary facilities and in some
very limited cases, permanent facilities. … These facilities include barracks,
administrative space, vehicle maintenance facilities, aviation facilities, mobilization-demobilization
barracks, and community support facilities."
Currently, the U.S. operates out of approximately 106 locations across the
country. That's a huge presence in a country the size of California. Originally
many of these bases were designated with unabashed names like "Camp Slayer,"
"Forward Operating Base Steel Dragon," and "Camp Headhunter."
But by late 2004, many were renamed to more subtle names like Camp Prosperity,
Camp Liberty, and Camp Freedom. In May 2005, plans for concentrating U.S. troops
into four massive bases positioned geographically in the north, south, east,
and west were reported.
Zeese: What is the impact of the Iraq war on security? Is it undermining
terrorist networks or expanding them? Is it going to have any impact on
security in the United States, or will it keep the terrorists fighting us on
foreign soil as the president claims?
Leaver: While no Iraqi terror threat previously existed before the president
led our nation to war, a National Intelligence Officer for Transnational Threats
at the CIA said in January 2005 that the Iraq war has now provided terrorists
with "a training ground, a recruitment ground, the opportunity for enhancing
technical skills." Others at the CIA agree. A May 2005 assessment says
Iraq may prove to be an even more effective training ground for Islamic extremists
than Afghanistan was.
Experts from the nonpartisan London think tank Chatham House wrote in July
2005, "[The Iraq War] gave a boost to the al-Qaeda network's propaganda,
recruitment and fundraising, caused a major split in the coalition, provided
an ideal targeting and training area for al-Qaeda-linked terrorists and deflected
resources and assistance that could have been deployed to assist the Karzai
government and to bring bin Laden to justice."
While foreign fighters are seen as the most violent groups in Iraq, their numbers
have been estimated to be around 1,000 out of a resistance ranging between 16,000
and 40,000. Instead of being long-term mercenaries, new investigations by the
Saudi Arabian government and an Israeli think tank found that the majority of
foreign fighters are not former terrorists and instead became radicalized by
the war itself – a troubling statistic given that according to the Bush administration,
one major goal of this war is to stem future terrorism.
Coupled with what we've seen in the aftermath of the hurricane, the Iraq war
has clearly made us less safe, at home and abroad.