A "Different" Reason for Opposing the Iraq War
Bill Long 5/25/07
When I wrote my book on the Oregon death penalty in 2001 (A Tortured History: The Story of Capital Punishment in Oregon), I advanced the novel, but common-sense argument (it seemed to me) that debate over the death penalty ought to be taken out of the moral realm and placed in the economic/public policy arenas. I tried to argue that what was really at stake that the amount of money spent on the death penalty, when other alternatives granting the same amount of security to Oregonians at less than 1/2 the cost were available, was not really a wise use of scarce State resources, both in money and legal talent. It has taken about six years for the argument to gain some traction, and there may soon be in Oregon a commission to study the "cost" of the death penalty to the state.
Well, in the continuing, and often fruitless, debate over the Iraq War, one of the factors that seems least mentioned is the way that continuing the war in order to fulfill the ideological vision of those whose vision will almost certainly not be realized in Iraq, requires them to compel me to pay probably more than $1000 per year in order to keep things going there. The only other specific thing that many people give more than $1,000 a year to support is their church. For a compelled sum to be right up there with your donations to church/charity seems to be a little too much for people to demand from me to fulfill their version of patriotism. Let's look at some numbers.
Cost Estimates of the War in Iraq
On January 17, 2007, the New York Times ran a story in which various "estimates" for the cost of the War in Iraq were presented. Here are some of the data.
"In the days before the war almost five years ago, the Pentagon estimated that it would cost about $50 billion. Democratic staff members in Congress largely agreed. Lawrence Lindsey, a White House economic adviser, was a bit more realistic, predicting that the cost could go as high as $200 billion, but President Bush fired him in part for saying so."
A $200 billion war is horrendously expensive war. By comparison, Congress estimated the cost of the First Gulf War in the early 1990s to the United States to be about $61 billion. But if we look at the numbers projected for this Iraq War more closely, we have reason to believe it will be much higher.
The commonly agreed-upon figure is that it costs us about $300 million per day to be present in and fight in Iraq. This comes out to about $2.1 million per week or about $110 billion per year. How much eventually will it cost? Well, the Times quoted two different analyses:
"the two best-known analyses of the war’s costs agree on this figure, but they diverge from there. Linda Bilmes, at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, and Joseph Stiglitz, a Nobel laureate and former Clinton administration adviser, put a total price tag of more than $2 trillion on the war. They include a number of indirect costs, like the economic stimulus that the war funds would have provided if they had been spent in this country. Mr. Wallsten, who worked with Katrina Kosec, another economist, argues for a figure closer to $1 trillion in today’s dollars."
How Much Are They Demanding FROM ME?
Well, we see that estimates are just that--estimates--but it looks like more than $1 trillion will be needed before we withdraw. I think conservatives know this is true, and thus they "up" the volume of rhetoric because they truly are aware of the great waste there would be if we don't win. The problem is, we may have become manuevered into such a position now that we wouldn't be able to recognize victory if it came.
But how much do I pay if the war costs, say, $1.4 trillion? Well, we know that there were about 131,000,000 taxpayers in the US in 2003. So, let's say that there are 140,000,000 now. That means that the "average" taxpayer would be required to come up with $10,000 to fund the war. We don't know over how many years this wil be spent, but we can assume it is more than $1,000 per year.
Making it "Personal"
If someone knocks on my door and asks me to buy a product, I not only have the choice to purchase or refuse, but I can say how much I want to spend. No one, to the best of my knowledge, asks me for a $1,000 commitment for a single item on a regular basis. I think that anyone who demands that I pay $1,000 per year to support a scheme has the burden of making a pretty strong case of why I should do that. Generic claims of "protecting my freedom" or "for my own good" don't really work for me when this level of commitment is demanded. I could get into supporting things for that generic reason if the level of commitment was much lower. For example, only about $1.30 per year of my tax bill goes to support the National Endowment for the Humanities. The NEH doesn't have to make much of a case for me to want to continue to support that effort at that price. But when someone demands that I spend nearly 800 times that much for several years in a row, well, I think I need lots of specifics. And, we simply don't have them anymore. All we have is a President (and situation) that simply isn't going to change until we have a new President.
This argument makes sense to me. But when all options are considered, I think we have painted ourselves into the most difficult ethical position for our country in my lifetime. We have destroyed a country, or created the conditions for it to be destroyed, and we so should be "honor bound" to make sure we "rebuild" it to at least the situation it was in before we destroyed it. But we are so far from being able to do this that we really ought to assess actually how far we are from this goal. We haven't even been able to stop the carnage, much less build institutions or put people back to work. The grief I feel at this can sometimes be almost overwhelming.
I guess I have nearly contradicted myself in this argument, but these are the dual thoughts tugging at me tonight. I don't like the demand to pay such a huge amount; but I can't see how we have any justfication in leaving a country in shambles. Can anyone sort this out?