Wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, Part 3 - Fiscal Costs
In my first diary in this series, I noted how far removed most of us in the United States are from those who serve in our armed forces. The number of Americans who have a close family member who is or has served in the military has steadily decreased over the last several decades from 75% to around 33%. That means that most people are not personally touched by these endless wars that our country is pursuing. Equally shocking is the number of members of Congress who have served in the military stands at only 18%, most of whom have never seen combat. It is another number that has been steadily decreasing over the years. This means that those who send our young people into battle have no concept of what war is really like and have no skin in the game either so they continue to allow these endless wars to proliferate.
Last week in the second diary of this series, I talked about how the Military Industrial Complex is so deeply embedded in our political system that is dictates much, if not all, of our foreign policy. Approximately 1/3 of all military spending worldwide is by the United States and it continues to grow. The United States is also the world's largest exporter of arms. A 2013 listing of the most profitable defense industry corporations shows that seven of the top ten most profitable defense industries are US corporations with the remaining three being European corporations.
This week's diary is about the fiscal costs of these two wars and why they are a time bomb for future generations.
One week after the 9/11 attacks, Congress passed the Authorization for the Use of Military Force Act which allowed President Bush to send military forces into Afghanistan to hunt down Osama bin Laden and take out the Taliban which was deemed responsible for allowing the growth of Al Qaeda. By 2003, the war on terrorism was expanded to Iraq based upon the Bush administration's claim that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction that he was planning on using against the United States. At the same time, Bush proposed tax cuts for everyone, thus marking the first time in 140 years that the United States embarked upon a war without raising taxes.
That's an odd combination, as Bush demonstrated last week when he announced his plan. First he emphasized the threat that international terrorism poses to U.S. security and somberly declared that this is a "time of war."
Then he proposed a good-time economic plan that would shower Americans with $674 billion in tax breaks over the next decade -- at a time when the federal budget has fallen back into deficit and faces irresistible demands for more spending on defense and homeland security. The unavoidable result will be bigger federal deficits and a larger national debt, which amounts to shifting the cost of defending the nation onto our children.
With this push to slash taxes during wartime, Bush broke from 140 years of history under presidents of both parties. In every major conflict the United States has fought since the Civil War (and some minor ones), Washington has raised taxes to pay for the war.
In 2012, the United States spent over $680 billion on defense. This figure is more than the next ten countries combined total of defense spending. Since 2001, the United States budget for defense has risen from $287 billion to its high in 2012, and will still be an enormous $648 billion in 2015. Meanwhile, there are still no additional revenues to cover these wars. In fact, figures for the year 2015 show that anticipated revenues will be about $600 billion short of anticipated expenditures. And remember, the Bush tax cuts are still in effect which means that since 2003, the United States has been fighting two simultaneous wars without enacting taxes to pay for them.
So what are the costs of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq? The most commonly quoted figure is $1.6 Trillion which is a staggering figure.
The Congressional Research Service, for example, just fired up its calculators and concluded that the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have cost U.S. taxpayers $1.6 trillion.
That number does not begin to reflect the true long term costs of these wars. The $1.6 Trillion figure is simply for the outlays to date, meaning manpower and weapons. It does not begin to account for the costs that will continue to occur for many years after we have left these two countries. Harvard economic researcher Linda J. Bilmes, who is an associate of Joseph Stiglitz, has been tracking the real costs of these wars for a number of years now. These true costs include long term care for veterans and their families, as well as other social and economic costs. In 2010, Bilmes and Stiglitz wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post calling the war in Iraq, the $3 Trillion dollar war.
In 2013, Bilmes calculated the costs of both wars to be a minimum of $4.5 Trillion and as high as $6 Trillion. This is stunning when compared to the Bush administration's estimate that the war in Iraq would be $50 to $60 Billion.
Bilmes, in her 2013 study, said the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq have been “the most expensive wars in U.S. history.” That, of course, was before the U.S. entered its third Iraq war in August, and before the U.S. decided to keep troops in Afghanistan through 2016.
But just because those U.S. troops in Afghanistan no longer have a combat mission doesn’t mean they’re a bargain: the CRS report says the cost of keeping a single American soldier there this year is an eye-watering $3.9 million.
And the costs keep mounting. The website for the National Priorities Project has lots of really interesting charts and graphs. Here is a link to an ongoing real time ticker showing just how much money has been spent to the minute on each of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The money keeps piling up faster than the second hand of a clock.
The war in Afghanistan is the longest war ever for the United States and the Iraq war is the third longest in our history. While President Obama declared the end of the Afghanistan war in December, it appears we still have troops involved over there, so has the Afghan war really ended?
More than 10,000 US troops – and countless more contractors – will remain in country
This is perhaps the clearest and most obvious signal that the U.S. will continue its war. As part of a bilateral security agreement signed between the new Ashraf Ghani administration in Kabul and the Obama administration, roughly 10,600 U.S. troops will remain in Afghanistan for at least the coming months. U.S. troops are currently scheduled to leave the Afghanistan entirely by 2016, but the agreement authorizes troops to remain until 2024 if conditions change.
Both of these wars have been pursued simultaneously without the benefit of adequate tax revenues to support them. In my next diary, I will analyze how the costs of these wars and other military adventures are affecting us here in the United States.
Editors note: This diary was originally written as an open thread so if the comments appear to be off topic, that is the reason.