With President Bush's latest budget request of $245 billion for the "global war on terror" (and a warning from administration officials that there are more funding requests to come), the staggering total has now reached $745 billion. And even that is probably too low.
"There's going to be real sticker shock when we get down to what the truth is about the cost of this war," Senator Kent Conrad, Chair of the Senate Budget Committee, told the Washington Post. "It's going to be way beyond what anybody has fessed up to."
Which is exactly the point Nobel-prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz has made time and again, saying that the war could end up costing over two trillion dollars. Not to mention what Speaker Pelosi understatedly calls an "opportunity cost" sapping the ability of the US to undertake important domestic initiatives – not only now, but for future generations when the bill for the borrowing required to fight this war comes due (in contrast to past wars, this one has been paid for on a "credit card" while taxes for the wealthy are slashed).
It is critical that Congress not only reassert its power of the purse (and use that power to protect the troops and bring them home), but also begin to rethink what an effective, rational foreign policy and defense budget means in these times. Instead of squandering our resources on the Bush course of increased militarization we should be changing course to address national security issues that this administration has avoided like a pre-war intelligence report it doesn't want to hear. For example, global warming should be considered a national security issue. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, with hundreds of scientists drawn from 113 nations (including the US), has just concluded based on six years of research that "there is an overwhelming probability that human activities are warming the planet at a dangerous rate, with consequences that could soon take decades or centuries to reverse."
Even the Bush administration can't keep its head in the sand any longer on this front – it's hard to be a denialist now – so it has offered small, token praise. But as Frances Beinecke, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council said, "Talk is easy. Let's all roll up our sleeves and get on with the task – and end our state of denial."
So where is the administration's boldness to confront this central challenge facing us and the world in the 21st century? Where is the call for a mandatory limit on greenhouse gases from all sources of global warming pollution, including power plants and factories? Where is the commitment not only to alternative fuels – but cleaner, cheaper, and renewable sources of energy?
These challenges are enormous. But fortunately there are some beginning steps now being taken on the road towards sanity. Senators Bernie Sanders and Barbara Boxer have introduced the Global Warming Pollution Reduction Act that would begin cutting emissions now and increase reductions every year – saving money and preventing disasters in the long run. And the Apollo Alliance offers a broad vision on how our nation can invest in energy independence and alternative fuels. That's the kind of commitment, determination, and leadership we need to see to face the challenges of the 21st century – instead of the same old defense budget follies from a Bush administration that would dig us deeper and deeper into its disaster.