We’ve spent over $711,343,548,694 on the Iraq War

How could we have spent it better?

Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.

—President Eisenhower/April 16, 1953

All through the debate over health-care reform last year, I cast a somewhat jaundiced eye on those critics who said the United States could not afford it, because frequently those critics also seemed to be supporters of the Iraq war. Their thrift seemed to stop at the war’s edge. They said we could not afford health care, when we plainly could afford it, given our outlandish spending on a war of choice, to say nothing of a Wall Street bailout.

$700 billion for the war. $700 billion for Wall Street.

That made me wonder, what might we have done with the kind of money we are spending on that war?

Suppose, for instance, we had invested that huge sum in diabetes research? We are told that diabetes is spreading like an epidemic. I read somewhere that every six minutes another person has a digit or limb amputated as a result of diabetes. Imagine it: We target a disease and cure it.

Or suppose we had spent that much money on rebuilding the infrastructure of the nation, inevitably described as crumbling? The jobs created would have gone a long way toward cushioning the nation’s economy when Wall Street screwed up.

Or reforestation. Or flood control.

Former U.S. labor secretary Robert Reich has suggested that schools receive the same bailout that Wall Street received—$700 billion. It would be a lot easier to do if that same amount (so far) had not been left in Iraq. Instead, the Obama administration recently announced that just $4.35 billion in new funding will be provided to schools—and only to those states who toe federal education guidelines.

For that matter, there is work around the world that needs doing that is of far greater importance and that would do more for the United States than this misbegotten war.

Like a lot of people, I am tired of hearing supporters of the Iraq war tell us that we cannot afford more honorable and beneficial expenditures. Certainly if we can afford a war in Iraq, with the damage it has done to the United States and the benefits it has had for terrorists, we can afford to invest in the United States and other more productive overseas projects that would do more to insure our safety and security. Military action does only so much to make us safe. At some point, we have to deal with the causes of terror directly, both in policymaking and in expenditures.

So as this seventh anniversary of the start of the war approached, and with Newsweek rewriting history to make the war’s origins palatable, I asked a number of serious thinkers in our community the question: “How would you spend the kind of money that has gone to the Iraq war?” One of our respondents, Rebecca Thomas, prefaced her comments by saying, “I am flat serious when I say I cannot even comprehend that much money. I can’t get my head around how much that actually is.” It’s a problem that most people outside the beltway probably have, more’s the tragedy.

Patty Dickens

I’d have spent it on sustainable jobs, farming techniques and education—including birth control—for Third World countries and beyond. Perhaps there’d be less terrorism, poverty and overpopulation.

Patty Dickens is a music teacher and mother.

Phil Bryan

I remember how much emphasis was placed on science and math education when I was in high school, such as National Science Foundation grants, scholarships and more. Both Bush and Obama have had to make cutbacks in many science areas, from the canceled large nuclear accelerator/collider during Bush’s term to the recent cutbacks in NASA manned flight programs by Obama. Some environmental groups are beginning to worry about Obama’s commitment, which is really mainly a problem of not enough money to go around. So my vote would be to have put the money into major scientific exploration of inner and outer space, oceanic, and environmental sciences. So many other fields, such as medicine, would also benefit from the related discoveries. And it might also stimulate many brilliant young minds to go into such fields of discovery, rather than so many being lured into finance and money management of all kinds.

Phil Bryan has managed major casino properties in Nevada and Colorado.

Rebecca Thomas

If I could have even a tiny percentage of that money, I would start a project I have always wanted—a transitional program for young people who age out of the foster care system. As things are now, once you hit your 18th birthday, you are pretty much on your own. So many of these kids flounder, get into trouble, or end up in dire poverty because they don’t have support and help in that difficult process of becoming an adult and standing on their own. To be sure, some do OK—but not most. Instead of starting local, I could go national from the start with that money. During the holiday season of 2008 or 2007 I read a story about a soldier who had aged out of foster care and went into the military because he didn’t know what else to do, was deployed to Iraq, came home on leave to L.A. for Christmas, had no family to visit and ended up committing suicide. That is just beyond tragic in my book. Lots of these kids are taken advantage of, become victims of violence, become ill, or have babies they can’t care for, and if we could only give them some guidance and attention for a few years—let them make the mistakes we all make and know there is a safety-net—they would have a chance at a better life. It wasn’t their fault they were in foster-care, and it sure seems cruel to show them the door at 18.

Rebecca Thomas is a graduate student, former director of the Temporary Protection Order Office and mother of an infantry soldier.

James T. Richardson

[Without the war expenditures,] funding for crucial public goods such as education would not be in free fall, and we would be able to compete with other nations such as China.

James T. Richardson is a sociologist, author of several books on “new religions,” and director of the Grant Sawyer Center for Justice Studies.

Peter Chase Neumann

The $700 billion spent on the Iraq war, which I believe may be a very conservative estimate, could have been used to improve our education system. This would have made our population today much more able to be productive and competitive in the world and probably would have saved several million American jobs from being lost overseas through downsizing and job exporting to outside contractors.

In addition, I would have hoped that a “few” (perhaps as little as 10 or 20) billion of those $700 billion could have been spent on rehiring and reestablishing governmental regulatory agencies that should have been overseeing out financial securities and banking systems—and prevented the financial meltdown of 2008-2009. Regulatory agencies are not nearly as expensive as war, but they do require funding to do their jobs, such as regulation and overseeing of: banking; securities brokerage, food, airline industry, drug and pharmaceutical industry, the insurance industry, and NHTSA (highway and automotive safety).

Just as one small example: the NHTSA’s investigative office, the Office of Defects Investigation, was cut down to only about $5 million annually—which was supposed to cover an entire year’s worth of investigation of highway and vehicle defects like the recent Toyota accelerator and braking problem—which should have been detected and nipped in the bud before it was allowed to get out of control. But there were not enough NHTSA investigators, just as there were not enough banking regulators.

Peter Chase Neumann is a Reno attorney and a board member of Scenic Nevada.

Mary Webb

It’s an appalling figure.

First, we should use the money to provide access to health care for all. I’m sick at heart to know there are people who can’t get well or who live with pain and suffering and hopelessness because of the enormous costs of medical care.

Then teach children how to have hope that there is a future; teach them to protect their own health and the health of the planet.

Could we spend just a tiny part of that to reinvigorate our sense of values, especially re: education?

Mary Webb teaches advanced nonfiction and technical writing at UNR and is author of A Doubtful River, a book about the Truckee River.

Susan Lynn

Some thoughts off the top of my head:

1. Research that would lessen the impacts of Alzheimer’s or cancer or childhood diseases. I think we should spend more on prevention than treatment.

2. Food for the folks worldwide who don’t have enough and for those who have endured the recent earthquakes and tsunamis.

3. Funds for parks, public lands and recreation that are always the first to be cut from budgets when people need them the most. Good for mental health.

4. Funds to balance the budget even though this amount is now a drop in the bucket. It could certainly lessen the debt.

5. New technology to purify water by removing bacteria, viruses and pharmaceuticals so that it can be safely reused.

6. Family planning assistance worldwide. We are stressing the planet capabilities to provide resources—all kinds—to human, animal and plant populations. We are messing up our own nests.

Susan Lynn is coordinator of the Great Basin Water Network.

Michael Green

I would be inclined to use the money for diseases that appear to have no particular cause. We know that cigarettes can cause cancer, but not all cancers result from cigarettes—ovarian cancer, for example. Neurological disorders may result from overimbibing in some way, but some of them remain mysteries.

My choice is selfish, since my family has suffered from these maladies. But when I think of the societal benefits that might have resulted from putting this money to the use of the greater good, as opposed to the good that deposing Saddam Hussein did for many of the Iraqi people but the horrible results in so many other places and ways, and I think of why we wound up in this war in the first place, I feel less selfish about it.

Michael Green is a historian, author of Freedom, Union, and Power: Lincoln and His Party During the Civil War and Nevada/Readings and Perspectives, among other books.

Martha Gould

Oh, where to start. I think first address repairing and replacing the national decaying infrastructure—roads, bridges, tunnels etc. Perhaps about $300 billion for a start. The rest should be divided among Medicare and Medicaid, funding K-12 through higher education and expanding the Pell grant program. We have in place the national legislation for such programs but too much red tape. Part of the education funding should go to help states repair K-12 school facilities, many of which are in dire need of repair or replacement. Some of the money should go to physician reimbursements. If one is a senior citizen on Medicare who is not an established patient with a doctor or a practice, then good luck in finding a doctor who will take you on as a patient. By law, Medicare is the primary insurance for senior citizens. And some of the funds should go to such programs as SCHIP [State Children’s Health Insurance Program], health care for families whose income is considered as poverty.

Addressing the nation’s infrastructure means lots of jobs, as does repairing or replacing K-12 school facilities. In all this mix is the need for a formula for a state match or maintenance of effort.

Part of the funds should go for public libraries under the current law for LSTA [Library Services and Technology Act], the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and the Endowments for Humanities and the Arts. A civilized country must support institutions that feed the heart, mind and soul, if one is to be considered civilized.

Martha Gould is former Washoe County Librarian and former chair of the National Commission on Libraries and Information Science.

Wes Yarborough

That money would have been put to much greater use building homes, converting the U.S. dollar into something other than just a piece of paper (I say this because every dollar printed is lent to the United States with interest and every time we print money the only money we have to pay it back with is the money, which was lent to us, so we are on a never ending cycle of debt), eradicating poverty, creating jobs, passing legislation for the American people (not publicity), and to keep our politicians accountable, as well as keeping the bureaucracy in check.

Wes Yarborough is a Galena High School senior who recently attended the World Parliament of Religions in Australia. He will study next year in Switzerland.

Elizabeth Donahoe

There is so much.

We could have insured every family in the United States for health care for life.

We could have inoculated every child and adult in the world against major disease.

We could have given each of the 304 million individuals in the United States a $2,300 stimulus check and gotten the economy rolling.

Elizabeth Donahoe directs a family drug court organization that focuses on keeping families with drug and alcohol abuse problems together.