How to Spend the War Money
By David Swanson
Congress Members of both parties, not to mention the White House, have already forgotten the anti-war and anti-Bush vote of November 7th (the Republicans lost one more seat in a runoff on Wednesday) and are dreaming of big Christmas presents for war profiteers. Since we Americans apparently have no other need for any money, and since we enjoy paying our taxes so much, they're planning to approve another $160 billion in "emergency" (off the books) cash for the war early next year. That's billion with a B. This will be on top of the $70 billion they provided in October. I hate to play Scrooge here, but ain't that a bit much?
The strange thing is that Congress doesn't even know where the money goes. The Democrats have announced plans to try to find out, but Speaker Designate Nancy Pelosi has simultaneously announced that the money will be approved. It's as if she were announcing that the Democrats would do investigations of Bush's crimes, but that they would not impeach him no matter what they found. Oh wait, I forgot: she has announced that too. There must be something I'm just not understanding about the way Washington works today.
Pelosi and other Democrats have tried to explain it. They say they will commit to approving the additional money in order to "support the troops." But they must be talking about the handpicked pro-Bush troops Sean Hannity recently pretended to have "organically" stumbled upon in Iraq (the ones who had all by sheer coincidence brought along cameras to take Hannity's picture, and who amazingly all agreed with him exactly). Otherwise, Pelosi's latest RNC talking point makes no sense to me.
Zogby International's poll of U.S. servicemen and women serving in Iraq in early 2006 found that 72 percent of them wanted to stop the war by the end of 2006, a date that is fast approaching. So, how do we "support the troops" if the troops want us to stop "supporting" them?
Iraq Veterans Against the War have on their website a list of ways to support the troops. Here's the first item on their list: "Contact your Representative and demand that they stop funding the war in Iraq and halt the construction of all permanent bases in Iraq. Ask for a meeting with them or their staff to discuss your views." I wonder if Pelosi has seen this.
Veterans for Peace, on their website, urge us to write letters to Congress Members asking them to "support bringing our troops home immediately." Hmm. Maybe supporting the troops just doesn't have anything to do with what the troops want. Clearly they want health care and educational and employment opportunities when they get home, and we aren't supporting them with those. Come to think of it, there are millions of non-troop Americans we aren't supporting either. Not to mention Iraqis. Maybe we need a new approach.
Former Senator George McGovern has co-authored a book with William Polk titled "Out of Iraq: A Practical Plan for Withdrawal Now." This book does one of the better jobs I've seen of explaining the historical context of the disaster we've created in Iraq. But, more importantly, it proposes a way out, including specific steps, noting that some of them will cost money and estimating how much. McGovern and Polk propose that we pay:
$6 billion for a two-year, Muslim, international force;
$1 billion to help Iraq create, train, and equip a police force, not an army;
$0.5 billion to help create and train a national reconstruction corps, made up of Iraqis;
$0.25 billion to survey and plan the removal of landmines, unexploded ordinance, and depleted uranium;
$1 billion for surveys, planning, and organization of rebuilding damaged property (plus loans and grants of an unspecified amount to assist Iraqis in rebuilding);
$0.5 billion to dismantle and dispose of blast walls, wire barriers, and other architecture of war and occupation;
$0.25 billion to restore archeological sites;
$0.1 billion to audit the Coalition Provisional Authority and find out where oil profits meant for the Iraqi people went;
$0.00001 billion in reparations for each civilian killed or grievously wounded (plus an unspecified amount for victims of torture) [following the authors' calculation, but using the Lancet study's much higher estimate of deaths, this comes to $9.75 billion];
$0.5 billion in fellowships to train lawyers, judges, journalists, social workers;
$0.5 billion to bring professionals who emigrated back to work in Iraq;
$1.7 billion to rebuild Iraq's public health system.
This adds up to $22.05 billion. That's the cost of twelve and a half weeks of occupying Iraq. And if we spend that $22.05 billion, we'll still have $47.95 billion left, money that has already been approved by Congress to pay for the war and put our grandchildren into debt. It will not cost $47.95 billion to put all of our troops on planes and bring them all home by June 2007, as McGovern and Polk propose. It will cost $3.8 billion according to a proposal from John Isaacs.
The rest of the money ($44.15 billion), plus the $160 billion that we now won't need for war at all (bringing the total to $204.15 billion), I'd propose, should be spent on the following priorities:
Physical and psychiatric care and career counseling for veterans ($1 billion);
Restoration of people's homes that were destroyed by Hurricane Katrina ($10 billion)
Creation of universal, single-payer health care (Sen. Wyden has a new quasi-single-payer plan with costs covered by shifting current expenses);
Restoring a decent minimum wage (no cost);
Establishment of free college tuition for all ($60 billion per year by Rep. Kucinich's estimate);
Creation of a cabinet-level Department of Peace (2% of "Defense" budget = $8 billion).
Of course, we're still left with $125.15 billion, so we may just have to take a drastic step – and I know how unpopular this is: we may just have to CUT TAXES. Just for kicks we could change it up this time and cut taxes on working people rather than the rich. I bet voters would just hate that!