$210 Billion Down the Hole

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According to the latest estimates, the United States government
has spent over two hundred and ten billion dollars on the war in
Iraq. How do we put that in perspective?

We could divide $210 billion by 300 million Americans. That would
tell us that the war has cost $700 for every man, woman, and child
in America.

(How about you? Do you personally feel that you have received seven
hundred dollars worth of freedom and security thanks to all the
bombs we’ve dropped in Iraq?)

We can also divide the $210 billion by seventy million American
taxpayers. That tells us the war has cost $3000 per taxpayer. Are
those taxpayers satisfied with the ‘freedom’ from life and limb
that our weapons have brought to so many Iraqi children — or would
those taxpayers have preferred to ‘selfishly’ spend the money on
college tuition and health care for their own children?

But maybe Americans don’t count. President Bush says we will do
‘whatever it takes’ to help Iraq, implying that he’d even sacrifice
America to save Iraq. Assuming we all agree with that sentiment,
what have the Iraqis received — aside from demolished cities —
for our $210 billion dollars?

Well, they haven’t received enough to eat. A visit to a supermarket
will confirm that microwave meals can be purchased for a dollar
each, and so it is possible to provide a person with three square
meals a day for only three dollars a day. The twenty-five million
people of Iraq could be fed on $75 million a day, or $27 billion
a year. That’s only a small fraction of the $210 billion we’ve spent
on Iraq. Yet, amid the ruins created by our violent occupation,
hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children are malnourished. Apparently,
not even fifteen percent of our money is going toward nation-feeding
— let alone ‘nation-building.’

Nor has anywhere near the bulk of the spending on the Iraq War
gone to our soldiers. Divide $210 billion dollars by 160,000 American
soldiers in Iraq, and you see that we’re spending $1.3 million per
soldier. These are the same soldiers complaining about no air conditioning
in 110-degree weather, poor medical care, the lack of body armor,
the need to scrounge junkyards for vehicle armor, and a shortage
of ammunition. None of our soldiers seem to have even $1300 worth
of camping gear, let alone $1.3 million worth of high-tech equipment.
And they sure aren’t receiving $1.3 million apiece in pay.

(Maybe all those pro-war folks with those ‘Support Our Troops’
signs should wave them at the Oval Office. That’s where their message
needs to sink in.)

Perhaps you think that the $210 billion dollars went toward offensive
military capability. But it is estimated by President Bush himself
that the US military has at most killed only thirty thousand Iraqi
insurgents, and if you divide $210 billion dollars by that number,
you see that it is costing us $7 million to kill each insurgent.
If George Washington had wasted $7 million in logistics to kill
each Redcoat, the Continental Congress would have stripped him of
command and regarded him as more damaging to the Patriot cause than
Benedict Arnold! Today, however, the Bush Administration awards
medals to generals who have achieved that astounding level of inefficiency
in the Iraq War.

We’re assuming, though, the money actually went toward fighting
the war. Or does the word ‘misappropriation’ come to mind?

The Bush Administration admits it may have misappropriated a billion
or two in Iraq because of accounting errors. But the scandal is
far bigger than that. What about willful, conscious misappropriation
— into a swollen federal bureaucracy, Congressional pork-barrel
programs, and all those no-bid contracts for corporate political
donors? Such practices might be perfectly legal, but still they
have the whiff of corruption, do they not?

They also have a whiff of a deeper evil, considering that so many
innocents have died for the prosperity of the unscrupulous. And
we do have more important matters on which to spend the money —
such as, say, a manhunt for real terrorists (Osama, remember him?).

Two hundred and ten billion dollars is a lot of money to spend
with nothing positive to show for it. And the Bush Administration
has nothing positive to show for the Iraq War. Not in making America
safer, not in making Iraq better.

So just exactly where did the money go? It went where taxpayer
money dedicated for ‘idealistic’ purposes often goes: down a fiscal
black hole. And thanks to our current leadership, with our national
debt already above sixty-five percent of GDP, America itself is
rapidly accelerating toward the same event horizon.

For though we have squandered nearly a quarter of a trillion dollars
on Iraq, there is no end in sight — unless, it is the end
of America itself.

17, 2005

Schembrie [send him mail]
is an engineer and writer living in Washington.

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