Viewpoint: War costs a muddled issue

Viewpoint: War costs a muddled issue

By Joe Baker, Senior Editor

Now that our military has mostly finished its Iraq meal, we get the bill, as always. The problem is nobody is saying what the final, firm numbers will be. They may not know yet.

Before the first shot was fired, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) had estimated the Iraq war would cost up to $9 billion per month.

The CBO said that figure would be in addition to an initial outlay of $13 billion to position the troops in the Persian Gulf region.

A short war, such as it turned out to be, could drop the cost to $6 billion for the first month. The actual battles did not take up that much time.

Some troops are being brought home and that operation, when complete, is estimated to cost $5 billion to $7 billion. Many more troops will remain in Iraq. The cost of that occupation has been estimated at $1 billion to $4 billion a month.

Cost projections have been all over the lot. In the past few months, estimates on the total figure have ranged from $20 billion to $200 billion.

The House and Senate last week approved a war supplemental spending bill that totals $80 billion with the amendments that were offered. Before that, the White House said it wanted $90 billion. The Senate voted 93-0 in favor of the bill and the House vote was 414-12 for the plan.

Sen. Evan Bayh, D-Ind., won approval of his amendment to add $105 million to the package to finance inoculations for smallpox or other bioterrorism measures. Senators also voted for an amendment by Sen. Bob Graham, D-Fla., to tack on $155 million in new spending for veterans’ care.

Senators also approved an amendment by Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., to boost funding for high-density, high-threat urban areas by adding another $200 million in aid and redirecting an additional $300 million.

The upper chamber dodged votes on an amendment to bar Iraqi reconstruction monies from going to residents or businesses from Germany or France and another to add some language to the airline aid package to deal with labor issues raised when airlines merge.

The Senate also took no action on an effort to up spending for homeland security and counterterrorism by $2.65 billion.

In the House, members voted to kill a move to strip out $1 billion in aid to Turkey from the bill. Republicans griped about Turkey’s lack of response to U.S. needs during the fight with Iraq, but White House officials said the aid is needed to patch up strained relations with that country.

The administration and the House, however, put through an amendment that bars reconstruction contracts for Iraq to any countries that opposed the U.S. war resolution before the U.N.

In the first Gulf War in 1991, the final tab came to $61 billion; 80 percent of it was paid by U.S. allies. This time, however, the allies are not interested in any further wars. That means John Q. Public gets to pick up the cost, which may be somewhere between $50 billion to $100 billion.

“This time we’ll probably pay 80 to 90 percent of the cost of the war ourselves, not only in human terms and casualties, but in financial terms as well,” Michael O’Hanlon of the Brookings Institution told ABC News.

The American Academy of Arts and Sciences forecast the invasion of Iraq might cost between $99 billion and $1.9 trillion, according to a report in The Washington Spectator. A decade of occupation and rebuilding could total up to $500 billion.

When put together with the president’s tax cut proposal and the nose-diving economy, the results are disastrous. Mitchell Daniels, director of the Office of Management and Budget, in a speech to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, predicted a $200 billion deficit for this year and more than $300 billion next year.

A year ago, before allowing for the tax cuts, the expectation was for an $80 billion deficit this year, $14 billion next year, and surpluses after that. The Bush program quickly torpedoed those hopes.

Because of these huge deficits, the number of taxpayer dollars that will go to the non-governmental, privately-owned Federal Reserve’s shareholders in interest payments for financing the deficit is astronomical.

Considering all this, other cronies of the administration stand to profit handsomely from the war, too. Bechtel Corp. gets contracts to rebuild roads, sewers, airports, hospitals and other infrastructure in Iraq worth up to $680 million. Vice-President Dick Cheney’s old company, Halliburton, which still pays him, through its subsidiary, Brown and Root, will rake in as much as $7 billion in two years.

Maybe we need something like the Truman Commission of the World War II era, which went after war profiteering with a vengeance. Sen. Robert LaFollette, back then, tagged such companies “enemies of democracy in the homeland” while Truman himself said some forms of war profiteering were “treason.”

Contracts to rebuild Iraq were granted on a no-bid basis under “National Security.” Instead of attacking those who don’t buy the Bush business line, let’s go after the dollar suckers who profit from our sweat, creating “National Economic Insecurity,” and threaten the future of Social Security.

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