If you support the ongoing occupation of Iraq, I'm sure you have your reasons and that they're based in hard scientific calculations. But please indulge me for a moment and help me do this little math problem:
All the benefits we've gotten out of invading and occupying Iraq (whatever they may be)…
Actually, let me stop right there. The benefits you have in mind for this calculation should not include the increased price of gas, the killed and wounded U.S. servicemen and women, or the creation of a breeding ground for terrorists in Iraq (that the invasion and occupation of Iraq have made us less safe is the consensus opinion of U.S. intelligence agencies, supported as well by a conservative British think tank). Oh, and please don't factor in the Iraqis' gratitude, since the majority of them believe the invasion and occupation have made them worse off, and they want the U.S. to leave.
As I was saying, all the benefits we've gotten out of invading and occupying Iraq (whatever in the world they may be) have come at a certain financial cost. U.S. taxpayers have shelled out $450 billion thus far. The Congressional Budget Office expects costs to end up over a trillion. And those calculations do not include the costs of providing health care for veterans and rebuilding the military, or the effects on the economy of removing workers to make them soldiers, of increasing the price of oil, of failing to spend the war money on domestic projects (such as infrastructure), etc. Columbia University economist Joseph E. Stiglitz and Harvard lecturer Linda Bilmes estimate a total cost of at least $2 trillion.
The immediate impact of that expense on human lives has been the following: an estimated 995,320 Iraqis killed, many more severely injured, an estimated 2 million Iraqis displaced within Iraq, and another estimated 2 million Iraqis now living as refugees in surrounding nations. Add to this nearly 4,000 U.S. servicemen and women killed, and nearly 27,000 wounded in combat, and another 27,000 wounded in accidents or suffering illnesses requiring medical evaluation. As of the end of 2006, more than 180,000 U.S. military veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan had filed disability claims. Contractors and mercenaries in Iraq outnumber U.S. troops, and according to Reuters had suffered 933 deaths as of June 30, and 10,569 wounded as of March 31. About 200 of those dead were Americans.
In very rough terms, then, we have chosen to shell out a trillion dollars to kill a million people. That's $1,000 for each death (plus, again, whatever the benefits have been).
Now, here comes the math problem. What if we had spent that trillion dollars saving lives that were at risk instead of taking away lives that were relatively safe? We know, for example, that tens of thousands of children die every year for lack of basic health care. A measles-mumps-rubella vaccination, including safe injection equipment, costs about $1.00. Thousands of children die every year for lack of drinkable water. You can find a lot of people clean water with a trillion dollars. According to UNESCO's 2007 Global Monitoring Report, we could provide primary education to every child in the world who lacks it for $11 billion a year.
And if we think in terms of just the United States, our needs shrink in the face of wealth as enormous as a trillion dollars. For that kind of money, we could provide health coverage to more people than we have in this country (a misleading statistic, since we already spend more than we need to for health coverage; we don't need to spend more – we need to establish single-payer coverage and spend less). Or we could provide tens of millions of four-year college scholarships (how many soldiers would choose a fourth tour of Iraq over a free college education?). Or we could create a jobs program working on infrastructure and green energy that would boost this economy and provide young people with choices other than the military.
So, this is the question for you to calculate: how would you spend a trillion dollars? If you could save a million lives and not kill the million people we've killed in Iraq, wouldn't that be a net gain of 2 million lives saved? Wouldn't you do it? This is not an academic exercise. The deaths in Iraq are continuing, and the death rate is increasing, not slowing down. After a month's vacation, Congress will vote another gargantuan pile of cash for the occupation of Iraq in September. Don't think for a minute that they won't do it….unless we stop them.
The occupation of Iraq is clearly not a victimless crime. Each of those killed or wounded has a face and a name, family members and loved ones. That's a heck of a lot of victims. And the policies that have victimized all of those people, Iraqi and American, will continue as long as Bush and Cheney are in office.
But most of the victims of Bush-Cheney policies are not in Iraq.
The policies of our federal government with regard to New Orleans prior to the impact of Hurricane Katrina and ever since have also not been without victims: at least 1,836 dead, 705 missing, tens of thousands displaced, the bulk of a major city destroyed. There will not be justice for surviving victims of Katrina, nor will preparations be made to protect against future natural disasters, as long as Bush and Cheney are in office.
The victims of the attacks of September 11, 2001, have to blame not only those who directly committed the murders but also the president who was explicitly and repeatedly warned and did absolutely nothing about it.
Warrantless spying is also not without victims. Any spying actually related to terrorism would be approved by the FISA court and approved retroactively. Nothing could be more certain or more swift. The illegal spying engaged in by the Bush-Cheney administration is aimed at Americans whom Bush and Cheney view as their opponents or enemies. This past weekend, Congress passed a bill effectively legalizing unconstitutional spying, or – to put it another way – eliminating the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution. You may be being spied on right now, and you no longer have any right to even let that bother you.
Detaining people without charge, holding them in cages on distant shores, allowing them no contact with legal counsel or friends or family, torturing them, in many cases torturing them to death – these are all ongoing activities that quite obviously have victims. Thus far, perhaps, nobody you know has been a victim. But people who look like you and talk like you and share your national citizenship and have no more connection to terrorism than you do have been victims of these programs.
Obstructing honest elections through an extensive array of vote-suppression and vote-count-manipulation tactics victimizes every voter. Voters, more than U.S. Attorneys wrongly fired, are the victims of a process that has turned the U.S. Justice Department into a branch of the Republican National Committee.