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DUMMERSTON, Vt. — The butcher’s bill, the ever-expanding human and economic cost of the Iraq war, grows with each passing week.
The human cost keeps increasing. Nearly 2,300 U.S. soldiers have been killed and more than 16,000 have been seriously wounded.
The economic cost keeps increasing too. The war in Iraq is estimated to cost the United States about $100,000 a minute, or nearly $200 million a day.
But the bill will ulitmately be much worse.
According to Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stieglitz of Columbia University and Linda Biomes, who teaches management at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, the ultimate cost of the Iraq war could go as high as $2 trillion.
That figure appears in a paper released last month by Stieglitz and Biomes, and it includes the cost of fighting the war now, caring for the wounded veterans of the war in future years, rebuilding a worn-out military and other economic costs.
Stieglitz and Biomes' estimate is based upon a U.S. deployment in Iraq that lasts until 2010, but with a steadily declining level of U.S. forces — a generally accepted scenario. While some of their figures are subject to debate, such as estimating how much the American economic might grow if money spent on the war was invested in domestic priorities, there are other costs that aren't, such as the the costs of caring for the badly wounded from the war.
Of the 16,000 who have been seriously wounded, about 20 percent have serious brain and spinal injuries that will require lifelong care. All of the wounded will be receiving disability payments and VA health care over the coming decades. All this will cost billions, and it is an unavoidable obligation.
Unlike the Bush administration, which blithely assumed in 2002 that the war would cost between $100 billion and $200 billion, the Iraq war has cost close to $300 billion (and counting). Every single one of us is paying for it.
We're paying more for energy because of the instability in the Middle East since the U.S. invasion. We're paying for the interest for the money that our government is borrowing to pay for the war, since it steadfastly refuses to raise taxes on the wealthy to help shoulder the cost. We're paying for the drag on our economy for money spent on war instead of education, health care or economic development at home.
Conservatives have pooh-poohed these figures, and the Bush White House will not comment on them. But it is more than clear that even if a plan was put on the table right now for a phased withdrawal from Iraq over the next 12 months, Americans will still be paying the heavy human and economic costs of this war, the largest and most expensive military engagement since Vietnam.
We can't undo the mistake of invading and occupying Iraq. But we can confront its costs and have a realistic plan for paying for it.
Unfortunately, the Bush administration refuses to do so. In the fiscal 2007 budget, President Bush is seek $439 billion for the defense budget. This doesn't include the cost of the Iraq war, about $120 billion in this year alone. Bush still clings to his beloved tax cuts, and wants to cut spending for every other non-defense item in the budget to pay for them.
On top of the Iraq folly is the new buzz-phrase in Washington — "the long war," the Pentagon's new name for the so-called global war on terror. They are now trying to sell the idea that we are locked in a confrontation with Islamic extremists that is not limited by time or space.
This view certainly is useful for justifying the world's most bloated defense budget. But we are unable to pay for the wars we now have. The price of empire is unsustainable, given the current condition of our economy. But the Bush administration merrily rolls along, indifferent to reality and indifferent to the people who are paying dearly — and will continue to pay dearly — for their imperial dreams.


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Randolph T. Holhut has been a journalist in New England for more than 25 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books). He can be reached at
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