TWO TRILLION DOLLARS. This is how much the Iraq Study Group claims our invasion of Iraq will end up costing us. In case you follow the stock market more than politics, I will mention that the Iraq Study Group is a bi-partisan group of military men and politicians who analyzed our situation and Iraq and set out to present their findings to the American people and to recommend our next course of action. (The commission included William Perry - a former professor from my graduate school department who also served as Defense Secretary for President Bill Clinton from 1993-1997. This does not bias me of course!) I will say it was refreshing to get this kind of analysis outside of the typical Washington political wrangling. On page 32 of this report, the Iraq Study Group summarizes how much the invasion of Iraq is costing Americans:
"The United States has made a massive commitment to the future of Iraq in both blood and treasure. As of December 2006, nearly 2,900 Americans have lost their lives serving in Iraq. Another 21,000 Americans have been wounded, many severely. To date, the United States has spent roughly $400 billion on the Iraq War, and costs are running about $8 billion per month. In addition, the United States must expect significant “tail costs” to come. Caring for veterans and replacing lost equipment will run into the hundreds of billions of dollars. Estimates run as high as $2 trillion for the final cost of the U.S. involvement in Iraq."
Using the term "involvement" to describe our invasion of Iraq may become the understatement of the century, but I will forgive Iraq Study Group for this abuse of semantics. The main point is that this invasion has been extremely costly on human and financial terms. It is hard for most of us to imagine exactly what $1 trillion, much less $2 trillion, looks and feels like, but trust me, that is a LOT of money. Annual GDP for the U.S. in current dollars was $12.5 trillion in 2005. So when the Iraq Study Group says that we have made a "massive commitment," they really mean it. It would be interesting to ask Americans again whether they would support a war that costs this much and is fought for the current reasons that have been developed since the invasion was declared "mission accomplished" by the President. I think the answer would be a resounding "NO", and the powers-that-be that would propose such a thing would be run of town quickly, whether Democrat, Republican, Independent, or Libertarian (ok, Libertarians would not lift a finger do anything for anyone else anyway - smiles)!
But instead, when Americans were misled into this battlefield, folks were too scared of the disastrous potential of terrorism to call our decision-makers to task and to require justification of war with hard evidence, rational logic, and a complete and transparent assessment of potential consequences. The checks and balances that our forefathers created for government also failed us as most politicians opposed to the war were too afraid of majority power and too afraid of looking "weak" to a citizenry that seemed thirsty for big, strong, powerful leaders who could boast guaranetees of our safety and moral righteousness. So, in that environment, all that America needed for war was conjecture that Iraq had weapons of destruction, rumors that Saddam harbored terrorists, and intimations that his country supported dark, secret plans to one day attack the United States with his military machine weakened by the noose we already had in place on Iraq from the first Gulf War. We even got an image of a United Nations that was helpless and ineffective for this "new era" of warfare against terrorism. Our allies who actually stood up in opposition were brushed aside as 'irrelevant", living in the "old world." We were even told that the war would not cost much money, and we would be welcomed as "liberators." I guess we are learning our lessons on the follies of empire the hard way on this one. I can only hope that such expensive mistakes will be forever beyond our reach, but, then again, the entire world has seemed all too willing to continue to lend us money to continue our worldwide adventures.
And that brings me to the crux of this missive. We may be facing a $2 trillion wartime bill and have cut taxes. We have received promises that taxes will not be increased. We are counting on economic growth and fiscal discipline (if it ever appears again in Washington) to stretch us out of the current massive debt load. In the meantime, we have China and Japan buying up our treasuries and financing a lot of our debt. They also benefit from our economic growth since Americans buy so mcuh of what Japan and China produce. Now, Japan is a reliable ally, but China? Well, the story gets a bit more dicey. China has struggled mightily to recover from the devastation it saw during World War II and the onset of communism. Over the past 25 years, China has avoided major military confrontations. As the U.S. has gotten entangled in all manner of political and military confrontations, the Chinese have largely focused on building their country and developing a sustainable economic base. The U.S. bankrupted the Soviet empire by forcing it to spend more than it could sustain on its military, on trying to check American power and influence across the Third World, and maintaining its buffer zone in Eastern Europe. China is not even doing anything so active. They are simply keeping our engines stoked long enough to allow us to hang ourselves. While we spend away $2 trillion from our treasury (and print new money to meet the bills), what do you think China is spending its hard-earned dollars on? What wars are slowing China down? China's economic "battle" with the U.S. will prove to be a much more pivotal moment in history than our assumption of this war on terror. While terror can cripple the psyche of a nation and terrorism can kill many people, economic disadvantage can leave a nation completely disabled, unable to compete on the global scene, and impoverish many millions into sub-standard ways of living for many generations. I use these extremes on purpose. While we fear what could happen, we can miss what is already happening.
We Americans are naturally inclined to optimism. We are used to winning, and we grow up convinced that our way of life and our economic system is the world's gold standard. Our President is supposed to be the "leader of the free world," and thus, we have the greatest democracy the world has ever seen. Our successes, especially since the Industrial Revolution, have typically done all the talking that is needed. Our optimism has been consistently rewarded. We do not think of ourselves as an empire, but as we continue to do what we want across the globe, unchecked by any serious challenger, we act and look more and more like an empire. Walks like an empire, talks like an empire, an empire we have. Even if we proclaim to our subjects that we have the good intentions of a "liberator", as a patron saint who leads the oppressed to the shores of freedom, we are still wrapped in the trappings of empire. History has consistently proven that all empires fail, the only outstanding question is how disastrous and spectacular is the fall. Will the U.S. fade like Great Britain, or will it collapse like the Roman Empire? It seems an odd question to ask as the American era still seems to be sprinting in full stride. But it is an important question to keep in mind as we make future decisions on how we want to spend our hard-earned "treasure."
Can you tell I am enjoying this newly preceived freedom to talk again about Iraq and its implications? Well, to round out this missive, I thought I would replay the transcript of the December 7, 2006 meeting between President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair as if I had a conversation with President Bush. I am leaving Blair alone because I find him to be a complete politician with polished reasoning and excellent oratorical skills. Besides, jousting with Bush is always so much fun. If you have managed to read this missive this far, you might as well finish now! (=smiles=)
President Bush Meets with British Prime Minister Tony Blair Dwight D. Eisenhower Executive Office Building December 7, 2006, 11:05 A.M. EST
[PRESIDENT BUSH]: Thank you all. Please be seated. I just had a good visit with Prime Minister Tony Blair. I appreciate you coming back, Mr. Prime Minister. I always enjoy our discussions, and I appreciate your clear view that we are confronted with a struggle between moderation and extremism. And this is particularly evident in the broader Middle East.
Citizen Dr. Duru: Thank you President George Bush for bringing Prime Minister Blair back to share the podium with you. He serves as a great reminder of how short-changed America is when it comes to having a national spokesperson. Anyway, what is this struggle between moderation and extremism? Is it better to do wrong in moderation? Or is it better to do good in the extreme? Regardless, I am glad we will spend trillions of dollars figuring this one out.
[PRESIDENT BUSH]: I talked about my recent trip to Jordan, where I talked to Prime Minister Maliki. I briefed the Prime Minister on my visit with His Eminence, Mr. Hakim, one of the major political players in Iraq. We discussed the report I received yesterday from the Iraq Study Group, a report chaired by Secretary of State -- former Secretary of State James Baker and former Congressman Lee Hamilton. I told the Prime Minister I thought this was a very constructive report. I appreciated the fact that they laid out a series of recommendations, and they're worthy of serious study. I also updated the Prime Minister on the reviews that are being conducted by the Pentagon and the State Department and our National Security Council. I talked to him about the consultations I'm having with the United States Congress. We agree that victory in Iraq is important; it's important for the Iraqi people, it's important for the security of the United States and Great Britain, and it's important for the civilized world. We agree that an Iraq that can govern itself, defend itself and sustain itself as an ally on the war on terror is a noble goal. The Prime Minister and I seek a wide range of opinions about how to go forward in Iraq, and I appreciate your opinions and your advice.
Citizen Dr. Duru: Wow. So much discussion! Could it be that what we are currently doing is not working? Maybe we will take out this much time and effort for discussion across multiple opinions the next time we decide to take on another worldwide commitment. Even one so noble as this one. Wake me when the next member of the civilized world thanks us for invading Iraq.
[PRESIDENT BUSH]: The increase in sectarian attacks we're seeing in and around Baghdad are unsettling. It has led to much debate in both our countries about the nature of the war that is taking place in Iraq. And it is true that Sunni and Shia extremists are targeting each other's innocent civilians and engaging in brutal reprisals. It's also true that forces beyond Iraq's borders contribute to this violence. And the Prime Minister put it this way, he said, "The violence is not an accident or a result of faulty planning. It is a deliberate strategy. It is the direct result of outside extremists teaming up with internal extremists -- al Qaeda with the Sunni insurgents, and Iran with the Shia militia -- to foment hatred and to throttle, at birth, the possibility of a non-sectarian democracy." You were right, and I appreciate your comments. The primary victims of the sectarian violence are the moderate majority of Iraqis -- Sunni and Shia alike -- who want a future of peace. The primary beneficiaries are Sunni and Shia extremists, inside and outside of Iraq, who want chaos in that country so they can take control and further their ambitions to dominate the region.
Citizen Dr. Duru: OK. You could not bring yourself to call this a civial war even though CNBC and other media outlets have decided to make it official. I can accept that. But now you are quoting Blair and forcing me to directly contradict him. It was indeed faulty planning not to foresee the potential for civil war. We were arrogant in our assumption that the Iraqis would welcome us wholeheartedly as liberators. We were so convinced that our invasion of Iraq would solve the problem of terrorism, we blinded ourselves to the more likely possibility that we would create a fertile playground for terrorists to further wreak havoc on innocent citizens. It is not enough to say better to happen in Iraq than in the U.S...
[PRESIDENT BUSH]: These Sunni and Shia extremists have important differences, yet they agree on one thing: the rise of free and democratic societies in the Middle East where people can practice their faith, choose their leaders, and live together in peace would be a decisive blow to their cause. And so they're supporting extremists across the region who are working to undermine young democracies. Just think about the Middle East. In Iraq, they support terrorists and death squads who are fomenting sectarian violence in an effort to bring down the elected government of Prime Minister Maliki. In Lebanon, they're supporting Hezbollah, which recently declared its intention to force the collapse of Prime Minister Siniora's democratically-elected parliament and government. In Afghanistan, they're supporting remnants of the Taliban that are seeking to destabilize President Karzai's government and regain power. In the Palestinian Territories, they are working to stop moderate leaders like President Abbas from making progress toward the vision of two democratic states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security. In each of these places, radicals and extremists are using terror to stop the spread of freedom. And they do so because they want to spread their ideologies -- their ideologies of hate -- and impose their rule on this vital part of the world. And should they succeed, history will look back on our time with unforgiving clarity and demand to know, what happened? How come free nations did not act to preserve the peace?
Citizen Dr. Duru: At least we now understand why we are really in Iraq. Weapons of mass destruction were a sideshow to the real action. We have a larger, and more important plan to check extremists in the Middle East. But did you notice that these guys are only able to operate with such wreckless abandon in weak nations? As bad as Saddam was, he kept many of these extremists in check. Now, the dictator's dethroning provides opportunity. Instead of one despicable ruler, we have a hoarde of awful characters running amuck amongst the Iraqi population vying for dominance. And what other countries in the Middle East have adopted our grand vision of democracy for the region? Will we have to invade Saudi Arabia, Jordan, AND Syria AND Iran to enforce democratic principles? I doubt we will. For we surely will fail. And we seem able to make friends with monarchs and dictators when it suits us anyway. So what will history have to say about us then? And are we not worried that history will be unforgiving while judging our inability to save the people of Darfur? Is history not already wondering about our commitment to peace when we did almost nothing to stop the genocide in Rawanda? Mr. President, I know the U.S. can no longer afford to be the world's police, but let's at least be honest about why we fight the battles we do choose.
[PRESIDENT BUSH]: Prime Minister Blair and I understand that we have a responsibility to lead and to support moderates and reformers who work for change across the broader Middle East. We also recognize that meeting this responsibility requires action. We will take concerted efforts to advance the cause of peace in the Middle East. Prime Minister Blair informed me that he will be heading to the Middle East soon to talk to both the Israelis and the Palestinians. And I support that mission. I support the mission because it's important for us to advance the cause of two states living side by side in peace, and helping both parties eliminate the obstacles that prevent an agreement from being reached. And your strong leadership on this issue matters a lot. We'll support the democratic government of Prime Minister Maliki as he makes difficult decisions and confronts the forces of terror and extremism that are working hard to tear his country apart. Britain and America are old allies, and the Prime Minister and I are strong friends. But Britain and America aren't standing together in this war because of friendship. We're standing together because our two nations face an unprecedented threat to civilization. We're standing together to prevent terrorists and extremists from dominating the Middle East. We stand together to prevent extremists from regaining the safe haven they lost in Afghanistan, a safe haven from which they launched attacks that killed thousands of our citizens. We stand together because we understand the only way to secure a lasting peace for our children and grandchildren is to defeat the extremist ideologies and help the ideology of hope, democracy, prevail. We know the only way to secure peace for ourselves is to help millions of moms and dads across the Middle East build what our citizens already have: societies based on liberty that will allow their children to grow up in peace and opportunity.
Citizen Dr. Duru: My earlier comments apply again here, Mr. President. How exactly do we think we are going to enforce democracy across the region? We cannot go in shooting and bombing in every country.
[PRESIDENT BUSH]: It's a tough time. And it's a difficult moment for America and Great Britain. And the task before us is daunting. Yet our nations have stood before in difficult moments. Sixty-five years ago this day, America was jolted out of our isolationism and plunged into a global war that Britain had been fighting for two years. In that war, our nation stood firm. And there were difficult moments during that war, yet the leaders of our two nations never lost faith in the capacity to prevail. We will stand firm again in this first war of the 21st century. We will defeat the extremists and the radicals. We will help a young democracy prevail in Iraq. And in so doing, we will secure freedom and peace for millions, including our own citizens.
Citizen Dr. Duru: Uh oh. Say it isn't so, Mr. President. Are you preparing us for another century full of war and the exercise of military might? And don't you lose (more) points for comparing this struggle to World War II? You should know that when the media makes the comparison, they imply that we achieved a much larger vicotry in less time. You are now just providing more fodder to your critics. There is a reason why America was able to achieve such a complete and resounding victory then - the mission was clear. The enemies ruled over nations and regions that we could easily idenitfy, isolate, and attack. Perhaps even more importantly, the freedom of Americans was directly threatened. Now, we have an enemy who could not care less about how our society is structured or our form of government. They do not seek to rule over us. They seek to kill and annihilate us. So, when you evoke the noble concepts of liberty and freedom, you create a moral abstraction that is hard for us, the targets, to connect to the real task at hand. There is more that you said at this public meeting, but it all became pretty repetitive - shades of the same message you repeat over and over, hoping that repetition will eventually equal truth. However, I was glad to hear you say two things that you NEVER would have said before this year's elections: "...I believe we need a new approach" and "It's bad in Iraq."
Need I say it? Be careful out there!