In some respects the costs are incalculable ...
|Counting the Costs of the War in Iraq
Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz was discussing the projected costs
of war and reconstruction in Iraq as recently as March 2003, he told the House
Appropriations Committee: "We are dealing with a country that can finance
its own reconstruction."
In May of 2003, President Bush declared
that the war was essentially over. "Major combat operations in Iraq have ended." In September 2003, however, Wolfowitz returned
to Congress to defend President Bush's request for 87 billion to cover the costs
of the continued fighting and the initial round of reconstruction anticipated
for 2004. The money was approved.
In 2004, an election year, an additional
25 billion was requested and approved, and nearly everyone understood, this was
simply a temporary funding request. No one wanted to pay the political price of
an honest reckoning of the war's true cost going forward. The Bush campaign crticized
the Kerry campaign for daring to suggest that expenditures for the war were approaching
But in January 2005 the administration returned to Congress
for another 80 billion and no one was suggesting that this would be the last such
request. Are readers keeping score? By the end of 2005 this
war may well have cost American tax payers not the 200 billion total Senator Kerry
was pointing to, but a whopping 300 billion.
Yet the cost keeps rising ...
Cost of the War in Iraq
Since 2001, the Bush administration has requested and Congress has approved a total of about $331 billion in special appropriations for military operations. This includes about $226 billion for Iraq, $76 billion for Afghanistan and $29 billion for homeland security-related and other activities.
Last year (2006) , the administration submitted a supplemental request for an additional $70 billion to help cover the cost of the war, and plans to amend its 2007 defense budget request to include $50 billion as a down payment on 2007 costs related to military operations. This would bring the total amount received by special appropriations to some $451 billion.
Compare that to the
350 million allocated for the relief effort following the tsunami, or even the
150 billion that some experts estimate the federal government may eventually spend on relief and reconstruction related to hurricane Katrina.
No wonder that many throughout the world now see the US as being far more serious
about making war than relieving the real suffering of human beings who face poverty,
disease or disaster on a massive scale, even here at home.
disturbing, however, is the loss of human life associated with this conflict.
Since there were never any public estimates of the number of American or Iraqi
casualties that were anticipated before going to war, it is not possible to evaluate
the miscalculation with respect to the loss of life ... here we move from mere
statistics the losses that are truly incalculable.
Since the process
of weighing the loss of even one human life is impossible, let's simply consider the
financial consequences of the 450 billion dollars approved specifically for the wars in Iraq and Afaghanistan. (While remembering that the special appropriations for these wars do not represent their entire cost, by a long shot. For example, these appropriations do not include many items in the regular defense budget that could be allocated to the "war on terror," or long term health care and survivor benefits for wounded soldiers or their families.)
persuade you to join me in an adventure using the argument that the undertaking
will be "self-financing" as the administration did in this case, but
it turns out that there has been a 450 billion error in my calculations, and I
expect you to share in the loss of 450 billion dollars, it is time for a re-evaluation
of our relationship, to say the least. In the case of a corporate CEO who
makes a mistake of this magnitude, heads will roll.
If it is
not simply miscalculation, but deception involved, the corporate leader might
well end up in jail. In the case of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Boston, for
example, the miscalculations and mistakes of Cardinal Law during the sex abuse
scandal now appear to be costing his church over 100 million dollars. In
this instance the Cardinal resigned in disgrace.
In the case of Iraq
we are not talking about 100 million, but 450 billion.
The $120 billion
likely to be spent on war this year alone is equal to about 20% of the year's
entire federal budget for discretionary spending, more than we tax payers
will be asked to pay for education, job training, employment and social services,
combined. $120 billion for war in a single year also makes the $350 million budgeted
for the relief effort following the tsunami pale by comparison. As Jesus once
reminded his followers: "Where your treasure is, there your heart will be
The President has
made a point that he is guided in his decisions by his deep Christian faith. And
while many people think of Jesus as being at the very least a person of deep principle,
he could also be both pragmatic and realistic, as is indicated by the instructions
he gave to his disciples when discussing the "cost of discipleship:"
"Which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first
sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise,
when he has laid a foundation, and is not able to finish, all who see it begin
to mock him, saying, 'This man began to build, and was not able to finish.' Or
what king, going to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and
take counsel whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against
him with twenty thousand? And if not, while the other is yet a great way off,
he sends an embassy and asks terms of peace." (Luke 14:28)
We do not think of Jesus as being an expert in either the planning of construction
projects or the conduct of war, but in these words his wisdom clearly is relevant
Note that he suggests that a crucial part of both discipleship
and leadership is the ability to count the cost of one's decisions before
entering into a particular course of action, not after the fact. With the costs
of our effort in Iraq now exceeding this administration's wildest estimations,
it is time for a renewed public debate about the progress of this project and
about its successful and expeditious completion.
As Jesus suggested,
ethics is not about moving forward with blind faith, but rather involves a careful
and faithful evaluation of the consequences of one's decisions ... before making
them. It is high time that the American people as well as its leaders become more
faithful in this sense of the word.
latest casualty count in Iraq, including the names of those who have died. Pray
for them ... and their families.