The Iraq War Costs Us in Lives, Limbs and Lost Economic Potential
War costs. It costs the lives and the limbs of young men and women who are sent into battle. Their families, their loved ones, their communities and their nation lose the potential of some of the best young citizens. For the Iraq war, that total already exceeds 3,300 dead and nearly 25,000 wounded, with tens of thousands more scarred psychologically, often permanently, from the horrors they witnessed.
War costs. It squanders billions on destruction that might be devoted to construction. Best estimates are that the Iraq War -- which has already consumed about $425 billion -- will end up costing about $2 trillion when the cost of veterans' health care, disability payments, replacing the weapons and rebuilding the military is counted. That's $2 trillion -- largely debt left to our children to pay – that will not be available to move this nation to energy independence, rebuild our cities, insure that every child has a healthy start, make our schools the best in the world, keep college affordable, or renovate our collapsing infrastructure in everything from sewers to communications to subways. We face a staggering investment deficit at home that few talk about simply because we are already facing large deficits. And that cost will be measured in a less competitive economy, less well-educated children, more inequality, more poverty, more despair and more violence right here at home.
War costs. One of its great costs was on display in the recent presidential debates. War consumes our attention. Each day the papers are filled with reports from the frontline. The president, House and Senate focus their attention on the war. The presidential candidates and their debates devote most time to the war. Busy Americans devote a large part of the time they have to talk about national concerns on the war.
Other things drop from the agenda. When Katrina hit, and exposed the shame of American poverty, we vowed that we would never forget. The president belatedly traveled to New Orleans, held a dramatic news conference to commit himself to the rebuilding of New Orleans and the Gulf and to the broader challenge of poverty in America.
That was then. Now, the lights are still off in many poor neighborhoods in New Orleans. Thousands are still dispersed around the country with no progress made on rebuilding their homes. The lethal failure of rescue during Katrina has been made worse by the unforgivable failure of reconstruction after Katrina.
In his State of the Union address, the president didn't mention Katrina. No questions were asked about it in the first Democratic and Republican debates. Poverty, stagnant incomes, indebted families, unaffordable health care and college – all got passing mention at best in either debate.
The focus? Iraq, of course, and the "war on terror." War has not only squandered American lives and dollars; it understandably has consumed our attention. And in doing so, it simply blinds us to the looming challenges we face right here at home. We know more about Baghdad than about New Orleans, or any of our other cities.
Dr. King opposed the Vietnam War in part because he saw that as the war escalated, the war on poverty was abandoned. Without much debate, the nation wasted lives, resources and attention on the folly in Vietnam, and abandoned the struggle, which showed great promise, against poverty at home.
War — even failed war — feeds on itself. The violence it generates fosters hatred, vengeance and more violence. The Iraq War, our own intelligence services report, has been the best recruiting tool for al Qaeda across the world.
The commitment of the military generates demand for more military. We spend almost as much as the rest of the world combined on the military. The Pentagon now consumes more than half of the U.S. discretionary budget – the budget Congress appropriates each year, about $3,700 per household each year. Yet every major candidate in both parties is committed to spending even more on the military, to expanding it, to giving greater capacity to go places and do things.
The failed occupation in Iraq is costing this country lives, resources and security. It consumes our attention. Some will pay with their lives; some already have. The nation will pay for it with our future, with hope deferred and possibility foreclosed. These terrible costs cannot be recovered.
The Rev. Jesse Jackson is a longtime civil rights activist and president/founder of the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition.