Five years of war: Billions squandered, Opportunities lost

NPP Pressroom

The Huffington Post
Greg Speeter

At the fifth anniversary of the Iraq War, it's fitting to take stock: What has the war cost your community? Of course there is no greater cost than the hundreds of thousands of lives lost in this unnecessary and tragic war. But the dollar cost has other enormous human consequences as well. On a national level, we have spent roughly $522 billion thus far on this war of convenience which has increased terrorism in Iraq and angered the rest of the world. It is the second most costly war in U.S. history, surpassed only by World War II. And the price tag does not even include health care, disability, debt interest and other costs that could ultimately total $3-$5 trillion. These costs are so large as to become incomprehensible. The National Priorities Project (NPP) brings current spending numbers to a level people can understand...and ultimately change. What could these war dollars have bought instead? The comparisons are startling. For the $130 billion we spent on the first two years of the war, we could have repaired every public elementary and secondary school in the country. One of every 3 schools in this country is in need of replacement or substantial repair. The roughly $185 billion we spent on the next two years of the war could have provided health insurance for every one of the nation's 9 million uninsured children for 9 years. The $180 billion that we spent last year and thus far this year, could have rebuilt almost every one of the 70,000 bridges in this country which is structurally deficient. The $137 billion projected for next year would about equal what the federal government would spend on elementary and secondary education, nutrition, housing, the environment and job training combined! The National Priorities Project brings home the cost of war to taxpayers in each state, city and congressional district. These numbers are particularly relevant given the fiscal crises running rampant in our states and cities. Currently at least 22 states and the District of Columbia face budget gaps or deficits, threatening cuts in health care, education and other services, and increased taxes. The cumulative deficit of these 22 states and D.C. is $38-$40 billion. In contrast, these states and the District cumulatively will spend over $70 billion this year on the war. To get a local view of the impact, take a look at New York City. $1 billion in cuts to its school budget are on the table as it spends $5 billion on the war. Or look at Boulder, Colorado, which cut its fire and police budget by $3 million. It spends that much on the war every 3 weeks. Our nation's capital, facing a variety of fiscal crises, has spent an average of $1.5 million a day on the war, every day, since the war began. While this war must end for so many reasons, it is our larger military budget that ultimately deserves our ongoing attention. The war costs have come primarily from supplemental budgets. The proposed regular Pentagon budget (including nuclear weapons spending in the Department of Energy budget) amounts to $541 billion this year, about 4 times what the war costs. The U.S.'s budget for the military and the war is about as large as the military budgets of all the other countries in the world combined. Security experts note that national security is more than weaponry and war. Security means having a strong defense (homeland security) and strong measures to prevent war in the first place. An emerging group of national security experts note in the Unified Security Budget that 90 percent of our security budget goes to military efforts, only 6 percent to homeland security, 4 percent to address preventive efforts. In fact, the U.S. spends less per capita on humanitarian aid than all but one of the industrialized nations. With military force as our primary foreign policy, negative world opinion towards the U.S. has grown dramatically. Last year, according to a Gallup poll, Americans were more dissatisfied with the U.S. position in the world than at any other time since the poll asked this question beginning in 1966. The people are demanding change. Use NPP's numbers to make it happen. Let's make this election year a time for a new national security policy that starts us on a path towards real security.