[Update: Unbelievable. I should have waited a bit to post this. Then I could have included Bush’s latest comment: that this is a bill Americans should be happy to pay.]
It’s almost a shame that the subprime mortgage bonanza burned out before the sun finally sets on the George W. Bush administration. After all, they managed to lure Americans into a war we didn’t need and couldn’t afford, then stuck us with a ballooning bill and never ending payments. Reborn as a brokerage firm dealing in subprime mortgages, this administration could have made a killing.
Don’t take my word for it. Just have a look at your bill.
What could your family do right now with $100 a month? How about a little more then $100 a month? Got an answer? Good. You won’t be doing anything with that $100, because that’s you’re share of the monthly bill for George W. Bush’s war in Iraq.
It started out as a statement Sen. Barack Obama made at a campaign stop. Then the St. Petersburg Times picked up on it, decided to do the math, and discovered that the price was right.
“When Iraq is costing each household about $100 a month, you’re paying a price for this war,” he said in the speech in Charleston, W.Va.
The figure came from The Trillion Dollar War: The True Cost of the Iraq Conflict, a new book by Joseph Stiglitz and Linda J. Blimes. The number checked out, but lacked a footnote. So the Times called up one of the authors.
There was no footnote for the $100 estimate, so we called Bilmes to ask how she had calculated it. She said they took the Bush administration’s 2008 request for war funding – $196-billion – and divided it by 12 to get a monthly cost. That works out to $16-billion for both wars and about $12-billion just for the Iraq portion.
Then, she and Stiglitz divided those figures by the number of U.S. households and came up with $138 for both wars and slightly more than $100 for Iraq alone, she said.
We double-checked the authors’ sources and math, and found they were right.
Indeed, the Bush administration request for 2008 was $196-billion for both wars, with $159-billion going to Iraq, according to a summary by the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service. A recent Census Bureau report said there were 116-million households. So that works out to about $140 per month for both wars and about $114 for Iraq alone. (Our numbers are slightly higher than Bilmes and Stiglitz because we used the latest estimates from CRS and a newer and slighter higher count for households.)
To understand how the selling of the Iraq war would make any broker of subprime mortgages proud, you have to remember how the Bush administration lowballed the costs of the war at $50 billion. You have to keep in mind that the Pentagon has overspent by $295 billion on weapons systems that are over budget and behind schedule, and the Army made a $300 million deal with a 22-year-old contractor to send 40-year-old ammunition to Afghanistan. You might also consider that, with these headlines still fresh, the State department just renewed Blackwater’s contract, despite investigations into tax violations and the murders of Iraqi civilians.
The Bush administration’s crackdown on contractor fraud, by forcing companies to report abuse of taxpayer money, has a major loophole: it doesn’t apply in Iraq and Afghanistan, or anywhere else overseas. House Democrats are demanding documents related to loophole, in order to figure out just how it slipped into a plan to protect taxpayer money. In turn, the Bush administration is delaying the delivery of the documents. (The White House says it is “working with the committee” and plans to provide a response to its request “in the near term.”) There’s enough deception and disinformation — from the still-missing WMDs to the imaginary Saddam/al Qaida link — in the above to warm impress even the most crooked subprime mortgage broker.
Meanwhile, we continue to pay and the price keeps going up.
So, what could your family do with $114 per month? Better question, what could your family do with $1,368 in extra cash this year? That’s pretty much your household’s share of the Iraq war bill. It’s slightly more than the $1,200 a married couple will get when the “stimulus” checks are finally mailed out. (The rest of us will get some where between $300 and $600.)
And if you’re one of the 67% of Americans who think the Iraq war contributed to the economic mess we’re in, President Bush says “just ’til those stimulus checks kick in.”
Of course the “stimulus” will only “kick in” once. The cost of the Iraq war will kick in over and over again. Even as Gen. Petraeus goes to Washington to meet with the “shareholders” of this venture we’re all paying for, somebody left their copy of the business plan lying around, and news has leaked out that we’re in Iraq indefinitely.
A confidential draft agreement covering the future of US forces in Iraq, passed to the Guardian, shows that provision is being made for an open-ended military presence in the country.
The draft strategic framework agreement between the US and Iraqi governments, dated March 7 and marked “secret” and “sensitive”, is intended to replace the existing UN mandate and authorizes the US to “conduct military operations in Iraq and to detain individuals when necessary for imperative reasons of security” without time limit.
The authorization is described as “temporary” and the agreement says the US “does not desire permanent bases or a permanent military presence in Iraq”. But the absence of a time limit or restrictions on the US and other coalition forces – including the British – in the country means it is likely to be strongly opposed in Iraq and the US.
Given the limited options the next president — whomever he or she is — will face limited options in Iraq, we’re probably not going to start withdrawal on January 20, 2009. Probably not even January 21. So, what can your family do with, say, $4,104 in the next three years, long after the “stimulus” check has run out?
Well, take your pick:
- If you’re a part of the middle class — where income has increased just just 1.3 percent in eight years, compared to the 9.1% increase for the top 1/5 of the population — you’d probably use it to pay some bills, as with your one-shot stimulus check.
- If you’re one of hundreds of thousands of Americans taking second jobs to make ends meet, you might work fewer hours and get more sleep.
- If you’re one of the growing number of Americans who are putting off retirement, because their home equity has plummeted, you might use it to pad your retirement when/if you get to enjoy it.
- You might also use it to pay some past due bills, if you’ve fallen behind 30-days or more, as Americans have done in record numbers recently.
- If you’re one of many Americans cutting back on driving these days, chances are some of it will go into your tank as gas prices hit a record high. (Meanwhile Iraq is swimming in a huge oil revenue surplus, and even the insurgents are getting a cut.)
- If you have health insurance, you still might need it to pay for your increasingly expensive health care and the rising price of your prescriptions.
- If you’re one of the 232,000 who lost jobs in the firs three months of 2008, you’ll need it just to cover the rising cost of food, to supplement what food stamps and food banks don’t cover.
- If you’re a student, or have kids you’d like to send to college, that money might come in handy as student loan guarantors go belly up, and the credit crunch makes student loans harder to get from the lenders that are left.
Of course, none of us will get a bill in the mail this month, and send in a check to pay for the Iraq war. Nor will we receive some kind of collective bill for this month’s $12 billion payment. But that doesn’t mean that we won’t pay. It certainly doesn’t mean that we aren’t paying.
If more and more of us believe that the Iraq war caused the economic slowdown and that leaving Iraq will help the economy, it’s because we pay — not with checks, but with what the monetary cost of this war (there are other costs, paid by our soldiers and by Iraqi civilians) prevents us from doing for our communities and our country.
- What we spend on Iraq in one month could buy more than a year’s health care for 4 million children.
- What we spend on Iraq in one month could repair our most critical levees and dams.
- Just over half of the $3 trillion Iraq has cost us so far could pay for the $1.6 trillion in infrastructure repairs we’ll need in the next five years.
- What we spend on Iraq in one day could pay for 6,883 high school graduates to attend college at public universities, for four fully-funded years. (So one month of what we spend in Iraq could do the same for one month, or 30 days, could send more than 206,000 high school graduates to college.)
- With what we spend on Iraq in one day we could hire 7,030 new public school teachers.
- We could have rebuilt New Orleans 4.4 times.
Whether we’re in Iraq for three more years or 100 years (in which case the theoretical cost to your household — perhaps to be inherited by your children, my children, and their children — would be something like $136,800) these are things we will not do, and can not do, as long as we pay the bill for George W. Bush’s war.
Being unable to do what’s needed for our families, our communities, and our country is the price. And like so many our our debts, it will only continue to rise. Until, and unless, we decide that we — and our children, and their children — will not pay that bill anymore.