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The Costs of War (Continued) | The Nation

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Katrina vanden Heuvel

Katrina vanden Heuvel

Politics, current affairs and riffs and reflections on the news.

The Costs of War (Continued)

Last week, Congress authorized another $70 billion for Afghanistan and Iraq in 2007, with additional increases through 2009.

According to the National Priorities Project (NPP), $378 billion has already been spent or allocated for the Iraq war. Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz estimates that the economic costs of war, occupation, and related expenditures may reach $2 trillion – despite the Bush administration's promise that this conflict would cost $50 billion and its firing of its economic advisor for daring to estimate the cost between $100 to $200 billion. (The horrific human cost: more than 2,700 US soldiers and some 100,000 Iraqis killed since the US invasion in 2003.)

As NPP Research Director, Dr. Anita Dancs, testified at a congressional forum, $378 billion could pay for all of the following: health care coverage for all uninsured children during this entire war; four-year scholarships to a public university for all of this year's graduating seniors; construction of 500,000 affordable housing units; the Coast Guard's estimate on funds needed for port security; tripling the energy conservation budget in the US Department of Energy; and reducing this year's budget deficit by half.

But there are other costs to our nation too. They include the corrosion of our values, our constitution, and our reputation internationally. The passage of legislation on military detainees last week is believed by some scholars to be as destructive to our republic as the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798. (In fact, Charles Falconer, one of the highest-ranking justice officials in Britain, told the Washington Post that current US practices make it "harder to identify to the world what your values are.")

What makes these human, economic, and morals costs of the Iraq war even more infuriating is the Bush administration's messianic, "state of denial." As the recently released National Intelligence Estimate reveals, the war has transformed a relatively limited terrorist threat into a breeding ground for a new wave of extremist Islamic jihadism. NPP also points out that we are now less prepared at home for a natural disaster (as Hurricane Katrina demonstrated) or terrorist attack with our resources and troops stretched to the breaking point in Afghanistan and Iraq.

This administration had a misguided idea about building a shining city on a hill in Iraq and its own power to achieve it. What was truly needed then, as now, was international cooperation and a commitment to spreading our democratic values by force of successful example, not force of arms. This is far from a policy of retreat or isolationism, as "stay the course" (right off the cliff) adherents would have you believe. It means challenging the Bush administration – and too many Democratic leaders – who have bought into an over-militarized approach to terrorism. It means, in the end, being a global leader instead of a global cop.

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