A January 2008 report by the National Priorities Project indicates that the U.S., to date, has spent $495 billion on the War in Iraq. According to political scientist Chalmers Johnson, “The military adventurers of the Bush administration have much in common with the corporate leaders of the defunct energy company Enron. Both groups of men thought that they were the ‘smartest guys in room’... (However), the neoconservatives in the White House and the Pentagon outsmarted themselves. They failed even to address the problem of how to finance their schemes of imperialist wars and global domination.”
When George W. Bush assumed the presidency in January 2001, the national debt was approximately $5.7 trillion. Today that debt exceeds $9 trillion. If one assumes a 5 percent interest rate for future payments, the Bush debt will require the government to pay its creditors, including the Japanese and Chinese, some $200 billion a year indefinitely, even before any of the nation’s pressing health, education, employment and infrastructure problems are addressed. The Bush administration’s record is, to say the least, hypocritical given the Republican mantra that Democrats are “tax and spend liberals,” while its own policy of “ borrow and spend” has dug the country’s economy into a seemingly endless morass.
More and more Americans are facing up to the connection between the incredible costs of the Iraq war and an economy which is seriously damaging local communities throughout the country. A Feb. 9 Associated Press poll found that most Americans think ending the war is the best way to help the economy. In contrast, many journalists and others in the media continue to treat the war and the economy as unrelated matters.
According to Johnson, there are three key components of the U.S. debt crisis. First, we have been spending outlandish amounts of money in Iraq and on other “defense” related projects which bear little relationship to genuine homeland security. The recently proposed 2009 Pentagon budget calls for $515.4 billion, which when adjusted for inflation, will exceed the highest annual level of spending since World War II. This proposal will be the 11th year of constant increases in the military budget, and does not include billions of other supplemental spending on current war efforts, nuclear weapons or other “black budget” items.
Second, the administration and many members of Congress somehow believe we can counteract the rapid destruction of our manufacturing base and the continuing loss of U.S. jobs through massive military expenditures, or so called military Keynesianism — “ the mistaken belief that public policies focused on frequent wars, huge expenditures on weapons and munitions, and large standing armies can indefinitely sustain a wealthy capitalist economy,” Johnson said.
In reality, the opposite is true. Ultimately, military Keynesianism feathers the nests of war profiteers and deprives the economy of useful production, distribution and consumption of products which people actually need, and which provide a healthy stimulus and multiplier effect for the economy. According to economist Dean Baker, “It is often believed that wars and military spending increases are good for the economy. In fact, most economic models show that military spending diverts resources from productive uses, such as consumption and investment, and ultimately slows economic growth and reduces employment.”
Third, in our blind dedication to militarism, we have seriously neglected investment in our social and physical infrastructures. Needed expenditures for health, public education and other aspects of human development have been frighteningly neglected, while our roads, bridges and other facilities have dangerously deteriorated. Additionally, former Labor Secretary Robert Reich notes that “Among the 13 wealthiest nations, America now ranks last or next to last in infant mortality, low birth weight, and life expectancy. (And) some 5.3 million more Americans are living in poverty than when (George W.) Bush became president.”
In short, proliferate military spending and the ongoing occupation of Iraq is wasting resources which are required to get our economy moving again. As we continue to borrow $343 million a day to finance the war in Iraq, our escalating debt will be a continuing drag on the economy while passing on an incredible debt to future generations. Economic forecasts will be bleak as long as we pour billions into an illegal, reckless war that has no end in sight. And while some think “It’s the economy, stupid”, in truth “It’s the WAR economy, stupid.”
Bill Wickersham is an adjunct professor of Peace Studies at MU, a member of Veterans for Peace and a member of the National Steering Committee of Global Action to Prevent War.