What would you rather have than a war?

(Opportunity costs. – promoted by Magnifico)

No, it’s not one of those nonsense questions.

Like, “What would you rather be or an elephant?”

“Would you rather carry your lunch or walk to work?”

“Is it farther to New York or by airplane?”

What would you rather have than the war in Iraq?

Setting aside the human cost, the carnage — if that is possible, by an act of will — just focus on the monetary costs.  Money’s something everyone can relate to — even conservatives.

And there is no better teaching moment, no better time to make the argument that we can’t afford to continue this war and occupation, than April 15, the day we empty our pockets and send our money to the Pentagon.

That could and should be a focus of antiwar activity this month.

The National Priorities Project makes it easy to find out how much your city, state or Congressional district has already spent on the war, and translates the dollars into what else they could have paid for.

The estimates are on the low side compared to others. But here’s the current rundown:

Taxpayers in the United States have paid $522.5 billion for the Iraq War thus far. For the same amount of money, the following could have been provided:

153,995,332 People with Health Care OR

540,922,142 Homes with Renewable Electricity OR

11,285,097 Public Safety Officers OR

8,960,343 Music and Arts Teachers OR

80,782,313 Scholarships for University Students OR

38,313 New Elementary Schools OR

4,064,478 Affordable Housing Units OR

230,292,880 Children with Health Care OR

71,703,033 Head Start Places for Children OR

8,583,162 Elementary School Teachers OR

7,549,214 Port Container Inspectors

The New York Times has put the figure at $1.2-trillion, a number that’s meaningless until it’s translated into what else it could pay for:

For starters, $1.2 trillion would pay for an unprecedented public health campaign – a doubling of cancer research funding, treatment for every American whose diabetes or heart disease is now going unmanaged and a global immunization campaign to save millions of children’s lives.

Combined, the cost of running those programs for a decade wouldn’t use up even half our money pot. So we could then turn to poverty and education, starting with universal preschool for every 3- and 4-year-old child across the country. The city of New Orleans could also receive a huge increase in reconstruction funds.

The final big chunk of the money could go to national security. The recommendations of the 9/11 Commission that have not been put in place – better baggage and cargo screening, stronger measures against nuclear proliferation – could be enacted. Financing for the war in Afghanistan could be increased to beat back the Taliban’s recent gains, and a peacekeeping force could put a stop to the genocide in Darfur.

All that would be one way to spend $1.2 trillion. Here would be another:

The war in Iraq.

Ultimately, the war could cost $3-trillion.

Somehow, we’ve let people bemoan the collapsing US economy without ever mentioning that the likely recession might be connected to spending billions of dollars to kill people, occupy a country and destroy the lives of many of the occupiers as well as the occupied populace.  

It’s the war economy, stupid. Or should we say it’s the stupipd war economy. It’s killing us economically, and devaluing the dollar.

Let’s start connecting the dots for people.

Many cities have Tax Day protests every April 15, usually at the main post office where people are lined up trying to beat the mailing deadline for their returns.

For antiwar activists, it’s a perfect opportunity, through creative signs and leaflets, to bring the cost of the war home to the people who are paying for it.

Clearly there would be a huge economic impact if we spent the money at home, a Peace Dividend that could pay for all sorts of things that now go unfunded.

Or we could do what the conservatives and libertarians would prefer — not spend it, and leave all or part of it in the pockets of American taxpayers, and their children and grandchildren, who are going to be paying off these trillions, too.

I’m not suggesting you refuse to pay war taxes, as some do.  That’s up to you. I’m paying mine.

But at least take the small step of reminding people where their hard-earned dollars are going — and whose pockets they’re going into.

The construction and services company KBR, formally known as Kellogg, Brown and Root and a subsidiary of oil-services giant Halliburton until April, topped the list with more than 16 billion dollars in US contracts from 2004 to 2006.

Halliburton was led from 1995 to 2000 by Vice President Dick Cheney, one of the most hawkish voices in the administration of President George W. Bush in the run-up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

DynCorp International, a provider of private security services to State Department personnel, was a distant second with 1.8 billion dollars in contracts.

Washington Group International, a rival to KBR in building and engineering, was third with just over one billion dollars.

Blackwater, whose security guards were accused of opening fire indiscriminately on Iraqi civilians in a deadly September incident in Baghdad, ranked 12th with 485 million dollars in contracts.

Simon Harak, a Jesuit priest who directs Marquette University’s Center for Peacemaking, offers these “bullet points”:

— In 1991, the Rendon Group PR firm won a $200 million contract to promote the invasion of Iraq.

— In 1992, Dick Cheney hired Halliburton to do a feasibility study of military outsourcing.

— In 1995, Cheney became Halliburton’s CEO, serving until 2000.

— Halliburton paid $302 million in taxes in 1998, and got $85 million back in 1999.

— Halliburton has been granted billions of dollars’ worth of no-bid government contracts.

— 50% of the CIA’s functions have been outsourced to private contractors.

— There are 180,000 private contractors in Iraq today-outnumbering U.S. military forces.

— 50,000 of these private contractors provide “security services”-they are guns for hire.

— $100 billion a year in taxpayer money goes to military security companies like Blackwater.

— There is no accountability mechanism under U.S. law for private military contractors.

— The U.S.-led provisional government gave private contractors immunity from Iraqi law in 2004.

— More than 60 military personnel have been prosecuted for Iraqi civilian deaths, but not a single private contractor.

— An Army private makes $37,000 a year.

— A private security contractor makes $33,000 a month-nearly $400,000 a year.

There is more than enough ammunition — isn’t it interesting how often we use warlike terminology? — to make a case for peace.

April 15 would be an excellent day to do it, but it’s also an appropriate theme any time there’s an antiwar activity planned, like Iraq Moratorium events on April 18, the Third Friday of the month.  Some Moratorium organizers are planning to use April 15 protests as a day to enlist (recruit? more military terms) people to take action on Moratorium day as well.

None of this is to suggest that we ignore the other gruesome costs of the war — perhaps a million Iraqis dead and 4 million more driven from their homes, 4,000 American deaths, 30,000 US wounded, and countless others damaged for life.  The economic argument simply adds another layer.  Hard as it is to believe that the human toll is not enough, it’s clear that we need to make every argument available to us — again and again and again.

It’s go to stop, and we’ve got to stop it.    


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  1. it is scary.

    You ask an important question: do we want a “just” society or do we want a militaristic one?

  2. thanks for it!

    • Robyn on April 3, 2008 at 18:57

    Only scratch the word “A”.

    • dennis on April 3, 2008 at 19:27
    • TomP on April 3, 2008 at 19:45

    I prefe rpeace and prosperity, and an end to huge class stratification.

  3. including all chapters of Women in Black, signing up every month at iraqmoratorium.org for some sort of action.

    If you are reading this and you are against the war, go there and sign up!  

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