The costs of perpetual war

The War Resister’s League estimates that in fiscal year 2005 the Bush administration’s imperial war budget will top $935 billion.

Their math is as follows: $536 billion for current military expenditures; $50 billion for the conduct of the Iraq/Afghan wars; and $349 billion for the interest payments on past military expenditures. This represents 49 percent of all outlays from federal funds. (Federal fund expenditures are distinct from payments drawn from trust funds like Social Security. However, since the 1960s, surpluses from trust funds have been commingled with federal funds in order to give the impression that the U.S. budget is something other than a war budget.)

Basing his analysis on a recent Congressional Budget Office report on “The Long-Term Implications of Current Defense Plans,” Steven Kosiak of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments (CSBA) warns that the Bush administration’s defense budget projections understate the true costs of their 2005-14 defense plan by some $765 billion. CSBA also warns that “if these additional outlays were not offset by a tax increase, or cuts in entitlement or domestic spending,” the interest payments on a larger federal deficit would increase by $185 billion.

When the additional costs of the administration’s 10-year defense plan are added in, total military spending for FYs 2005-14 increases to $5.8 trillion. This would deepen federal deficits by some $3.635 trillion over the coming decade, hardly a fiscally responsible way to prepare for the retirement of the baby boom generation.

In calculating the cost of war, Greg Speeter, executive director of the National Priorities Project, warns that the budgets needed to carry out the Bush administration’s preemptive war strategy “are so enormous and the weaponry so expensive that the Pentagon will have to take money from already under-funded social programs and renege on long-standing federal commitments to address such domestic concerns as child poverty, deteriorating schools and access to adequate health care.”

Other programs such as affordable housing, environmental clean ups, education and public works projects to address the deteriorating infrastructure would be shortchanged. In addition, revenue sharing to help cash-starved states and cities to deal with their fiscal crises would be off the table. The costs of empire are so enormous that if they are not radically reduced the domestic “body count” will rise dramatically.

Helen and Harry Highwater keep track of the casualties of the Iraq and Afghan wars on their web site, “Unknown News.” Their work focuses on the human costs of war. The following is their accounting of the dead and wounded:

• The number of U.S. troops killed in Afghanistan is 100; the number seriously wounded, 564 (as of January 2004).

• The number of Afghan troops killed is 8,000; the number severely wounded, 2,400 (May 2003).

• The number of Afghan civilians killed is 24,000; Afghan civilians seriously injured, 5,924 (December 2003).

• The number of U.S. troops in Iraq killed is 539; seriously injured, 3,040 (February 2004).

• The number of Iraqi civilians killed is 8,245; seriously injured, 14,841 (February 2004).

• Casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan: estimated killed 27,880; seriously wounded 71,761 (as of Feb. 14).

There are additional costs of perpetual war. These include the truth, as a permanent state of fear is maintained by neo-conservative practitioners of “noble lies”; the environment, as wars for oil are fought to preserve an oil-based economy; liberty, as the so-called Patriot Acts unfold; and freedom, as the military draft is reinstated.

While the Machiavellian disciples of the late neo-conservative guru Leo Strauss currently occupying the Pentagon embrace the crazy theory of perpetual war, there is no reason why the rest of us should allow our children to be sent off to war by a cabal of chicken hawks.

The author can be reached at pww@pww.org.