"A billion here, a billion there, pretty soon you're talking about real money," famously quipped US Senator Everett Dirksen back in the 1960's.
The US government has just estimated that President George Bush's occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq, and his so-called war on terror, will cost at least $690 billion by the end of next year. That's more than the total cost to America of World War I, the Korean War, or Vietnam, and second only to the $2 trillion cost of World War II (in current dollars).
This means that by 2008, Bush's wars in the Muslim world will have cost each American man, woman, and child $2,300.
The $690 billion poured into the bottomless hole of the faux war on terrorism does not include the estimated $100 billion direct cost of the 9/11 attacks, the urgent need to replace $66 billion of US military equipment worn out or destroyed in Iraq and Afghanistan, billions in lifetime care for seriously injured soldiers, $125 billion in backlogged veteran's claims, and untold billions spent in secret CIA programs in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Ironically, half of the money spent on these wars is being borrowed from former American enemies, Communist China and Japan. Half the current American deficit is being tied directly to the war on terrorism. After six years, the Bush/Cheney Administration cannot even define what it means by victory in its wars in the Muslim World.
Defeat looms large in Iraq; Afghanistan is headed that way; and the US National intelligence Estimate just reported that al-Qaida is actually stronger than ever. The still elusive Osama bin Laden, who said the only way to expel US influence from the Muslim World was to bleed the US financially, must be beaming over the success of his grand strategy.
As all kings have found since the dawn of time, in war, money is as important as armies. Wars always cost far more than originally projected. A primary architect of the 2003 Iraq War, former US Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, assured Americans the Iraq war would only cost $40 billion. The cost of occupying Iraq would be fully covered, he claimed, by plundering its oil. Wolfowitz now heads the World Bank.
Speaking of epic idiocy, enter the man selected by Wolfowitz to become proconsul of US-occupied Iraq, a bumbling conservative Republican hack named Paul Bremer.
During the 14 months he ran Iraq, Bremer committed two enormous follies. He dissolved Iraq's army and police, then fired all government employees who were members of Saddam's Ba'athist Party. Iraq was left without security forces or functioning government.
The first lesson in Imperialism 101 is that when you invade a country, the first thing to do is buy the loyalty of its army, police, and bureaucracy.
Chaos ensured in Iraq. Banks and museums were looted. Banditry was endemic. For a few hundred million dollars, the US could have hired much of Saddam's army, security forces, and bureaucrats. Instead, the Bush/Cheney Administration declared them outlaws and began using Shia militias and death squads--called the "Iraqi Army" by the US media--to fight the Sunni resistance, so helping to trigger today's ghastly Sunni-Shia civil war.
Chaos in US-occupied Iraq, and the collapse of its banking system and Ba'ath Party-run social programs, forced Washington to rush 363 tons of US $100 dollar bills to Baghdad. This money, which belonged to Iraq, came from the UN-run "Oil for Food" program. Bremer's people dished out $12 billion by the truckloads and bagfuls. Another $800 million was stolen by US-appointed officials of Iraq's Defense Ministry.
But Bremer's missing $12.8 billion was just the tip of the corruption iceberg. US corporations in bed with the Republican Party's rightwing, like Halliburton, and mercenary-supplier, Blackwater, made billions out of Iraq. Halliburton, whose former CEO was VP Cheney, was awarded $16 billion in questionable Iraq contracts.
Last week, House Democrats opened hearings that finally began to expose the tsunami of corruption that accompanied the occupation and plundering of Iraq. Billions more of fraud and thievery concealed by the Administration will likely be uncovered.
The whole sordid story of the 100,000 "private contractors" employed by the US in Iraq has only begun to emerge. According to the US Government Accountability Office, at least 48,000 of these--let's use the correct term, mercenaries--are private gunmen working for hundreds of shadowy US military corporations like Blackwater and Vinnell. These heavily-armed desperados are a law unto themselves and under no supervision.
Some of these mercenaries make US $1,000 daily in Iraq and Afghanistan. While the US locks up Muslims it brands "illegal combatants" in Guantanamo, it has deployed an army of armed thugs in Iraq and Afghanistan. Even interrogation and torture of Iraqis and Afghans has been farmed out to US private enterprise.
Blackwater reputedly has the world's biggest private military base and a fleet of aircraft. Such huge numbers of uncontrolled mercenaries are a menace. They could also pose a serious internal danger to America. Under the Bush/Cheney Administration, we saw the neoconservatives create their own private intelligence organizations within the Pentagon and a top-secret military outfit to spy on Americans. It is hardly a great leap of imagination to picture the same neocons creating their own corporate-run army in the heart of the United States.
While the Washington, DC. police no longer dare patrol crime-infested southern parts of America's capital, President Bush and VP Cheney are sending the 82nd Airborne Division to try to pacify Baghdad. If this isn't the extreme theater of the absurd, I don't know what is.
February 13, 2007
Eric Margolis, contributing foreign editor for Sun National Media Canada, is the author of War at the Top of the World. See his website.
Copyright © 2007 Eric Margolis
PROMETHEUS, Internet Bulletin - News, Politics, Art and Science. Nr. 116, February 2007