You don’t have to be a wizard with a calculator to figure out that the fiscal state of our union is worsening. The federal deficit has soared to a mind-blowing $427 billion for 2005, and a recent 10-year forecast from the government announced that there’s simply no way President Bush can make good on his pledge to halve the deficit by 2009, regardless of the draconian cuts proposed in his just-released budget.
Obviously, the Iraq war is a huge part of why. In January, the administration asked for another $80 billion in new funds for the military. The 2005 war costs already total $105 billion.
It’s a far cry from what we were promised by Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz: “We are dealing with a country that can really finance its own reconstruction,” he remarked famously. Later, it was Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld who claimed that the war’s price tag would be something “under $50 billion.”
Well, not quite. In 2003, we spent $79 billion. In 2004, it was $88 billion. (As a comparison, the entire Gulf War cost $80 billion and was mostly paid for by Saudi Arabia.)
Now add to all this the new call to radically increase the so-called “death benefit” paid to the families of U.S. soldiers killed in war from $12,424 to $100,000. The increased benefit would cost something like $460 million in the first year, because it would be retroactive to cover U.S. troops killed in Iraq and Afghanistan since November 2001. Also, it would include improved life-insurance coverage for troops serving in combat zones.
Bush jumped on board the death-benefit bandwagon just in time for his State of the Union address last week. But it sounded like his guilt talking. He’s ultimately responsible for the deaths of 1,400 Americans (and counting), and this seems to be his way of dealing with it. Indeed, the guilt was probably made heavier by a study of casualties that show that 50 percent of the 1,400 soldiers who have died in Iraq were married and that one in three had children. That’s way higher than in America’s earlier wars, mostly because of the all-volunteer aspect of today’s military and reliance on reserve and National Guard units.
We don’t believe the benefit should be raised. Regardless of the tragedy of it all, these are volunteer soldiers who sign up for and are paid for a job that involves dangerous duty. They knew there would be killing, and many have been killed. But mostly, we oppose it as a component of the irrational manner in which money has been thrown at this war, which, after all, was launched wrongfully under the false pretense that weapons of mass destruction were present.
What might be the war cost in the long run? Despite the feel-good rush of last week’s election in Iraq, it would be delusional to think we’re in for anything but a prolonged occupation of Iraq with mounting deaths and huge expenses for many years to come. Gentlemen, get out your calculators.