The Costs of War

"My budget includes the largest increase in defense spending in two decades -- because while the price of freedom and security is high, it is never too high." - President George W. Bush, State of the Union Address January 29, 2002

"War, what is it good for? Absolutely nothing," - singer Edwin Starr who died April 4, 2003

At the end of its third week, the "balance sheet" of the war on Iraq is clearer than it was just a few weeks ago. Even as conflict continues, a quick look at the costs of war can help those on both sides of the issue evaluate whether it has been a war worth waging, in dollars and in lives.

First, let's look at the money. On April 3 the U.S. Senate and House passed the largest ever supplemental spending bills - approximately $78 billion - to pay for the war in Iraq, bolster homeland security, and provide additional support for allies and the commercial airline industry. These funds are in addition to the 2003 Department of Defense budget of $379 billion.

Within the Senate bill $7.85 billion is provided for foreign aid including $1 billion for Israel, $1.1 billion for Jordan, and $2.47 billion for Iraqi Postwar reconstruction. The house version also includes $50 million for Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, $400 million for Afghanistan, and $105 million for Columbia. Both bills provide over $4 billion to bolster homeland security and over $3 billion to support the commercial airline industry. These are just some of the costs to the United States; Australia and the U.K. have spent many more billions.

In addition to military costs, the State Department announced that the through the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance, around $750 million will be spent for humanitarian relief for the Iraqi people. This includes $530 million previously allocated to the United National High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) and $200 million in cash for the World Food Program to purchase food from American farmers for shipment to Iraq. An additional $20 million in grants has been earmarked for non-governmental organizations (NGOs) such as CareUSA, Save the Children, and Mercy Corps International.

The bill for ongoing administration has not been calculated at this time, but a recent report from the Council of Foreign Relations sheds some light on what those costs might be. In Iraq: The Day After, the CFR states that once Baghdad is firmly under U.S. control, the administration should be prepared to spend "some $20 billion per year" to maintain "75,000 troops for post-conflict peace stabilization....as well as funding for humanitarian and reconstruction assistance."

Not shown on the financial ledger are the additional human costs of this war. British and American forces have seen in excess of 100 soldiers killed during the first three weeks. Iraq has certainly lost thousands of soldiers, but accurate numbers are very hard to come by at this stage. Civilians have also borne a terrible price for what the administration calls their "liberation", but civilian casualty figures are even more difficult to obtain at this time. Estimates already point to numbers in the thousands.

Iraq Body Count, a compilation obtained by surveying news reports around the globe (www.iraqbodycount.net) puts the total of civilian deaths at more than 1,000 with an untold number of injured. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) says that during one intense period of fighting, more than 100 casualties were arriving at hospitals each hour.

On the American homefront, there are many casualties as well: Those loved ones who wait anxiously as news trickles in about the fates of their children, fathers, mothers, brothers, and sisters; Families with relatives and friends inside Iraq tune into web sites to gather the latest news about the war; Entire communities who share their grief for those killed in action; Peace activists who react in dismay at a war that they were unable to prevent; Administration officials who wait for the voters' reactions. And somewhere another child loses a parent.

Hopefully any day now, the killing and destruction will stop. Then, after a period of costly occupation and rebuilding, our troops can return to their families here at home. The costs of war for those injured physically and mentally will continue and be a new challenge to the already overburdened Department of Veterans Affairs just as it was for the veterans of Desert Storm. In Iraq, citizens will have to live with the lingering effects from depleted uranium used in the bombing campaign.

Both the financial and human toll of this war may pale in comparison to other modern conflicts - WWII, Korea, Vietnam - but it is obvious that armed battles between nations continue to be a costly venture and the price is remains high. War is still, in the words of General Sherman, "hell".

Peace - Charlie



Charlie Jackson, founder of Texans for Peace, recently returned from his second trip to Iraq, undertaken through the Christian Peacemaker Teams organization of Chicago. He is a high-tech CEO and lives with his two sons in San Antonio.


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