Tom Engelhardt: The Pentagon Bailout Fraud

Roundup: Historians' Take

[Tom Engelhardt, who runs the Nation Institute's, is the co-founder of the American Empire Project. His book, The End of Victory Culture (University of Massachusetts Press), has just been thoroughly updated in a newly issued edition that deals with victory culture's crash-and-burn sequel in Iraq.]

Let's start with the money the Bush administration has already thrown at the war in Iraq. According to the June congressional testimony of William Beach, director of the Center for Data Analysis, the war has cost $646 billion so far. The new defense budget for 2009 tacks on another $68.6 billion for Iraq and Afghanistan in the coming year. However, military expert Bill Hartung of the New America Foundation puts a conservative estimate of the costs of a single week of the Iraq War at approximately $3.5 billion (or about $180 billion a year).

In other words, the war in Iraq will cost far more in the next year than the Iraq portion of that $68.6 billion Congress is about to pony up in the defense budget, and so will be funded, as has long been true, through supplemental war bills submitted by the Bush administration (and then whatever administration follows). In other words, sometime in 2009 the direct costs of the war the Bush administration once predicted would cost perhaps $50-60 billion in total will stand at more than $800 billion, or $100 billion above the cost (if all goes well, which it won't) of the bailout of the financial system now being proposed in Washington.

Estimates of the true long-term costs of the President's war of choice, including payments of health care and veterans benefits into the distant future, soar into the budgetary stratosphere. They range from the Congressional Budget Office's $1-2 trillion to an estimate by economists Joseph Stiglitz and Linda J. Bilmes of up to $4-5 trillion. So we're talking somewhere between one-and-a-half and seven bailouts-worth of taxpayer dollars flowing into the morass of disaster, corruption, and carnage in Iraq.

And here's another curious bit of information: Just the other day, the website ThinkProgress pointed out a strange glitch in Iraq planning. The Bush administration, deep into negotiations with the Iraqi government, evidently managed to wheedle an extra year's time for the prospective withdrawal of American combat troops from Iraq; its negotiators pushed the date from 2010 -- the year suggested by both Barack Obama and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki -- to 2011. According to Maliki in an interview with an Iraqi TV station, this change came from the administration's concern over the"domestic situation" in the U.S. (that is, the needs of the McCain campaign).

"Actually," said Maliki,"the final date was really the end of 2010 and the period between the end of 2010 and the end of 2011 was for withdrawing the remaining troops from all of Iraq, but they asked for a change [in date] due to political circumstances related to the [U.S] domestic situation so it will not be said to the end of 2010 followed by one year for withdrawal but the end of 2011 as a final date." So we're talking about another perhaps $150-180 billion in 2011 -- or approximately the full suggested initial payout in the Washington bailout plan of at least one key Democrat. This gives the phrase"presidential politics" new meaning. Now, just imagine for a moment the situation we might be in if there had been no Iraq War. We could have bailed ourselves out many times over.

As Chalmers Johnson, author most recently of Nemesis: The Last Days of the American Republic, the final volume of his Blowback Trilogy, has pointed out for years, the Pentagon, the military-industrial complex, and America's wars are in the process of bankrupting us. How strange then that, as he indicates below, no one in the mainstream even blinks when a staggering new Pentagon budget sails through the House of Representatives and then, by voice vote, through the Senate just as negotiators in Washington are scrambling to find a similar sum to deal with a catastrophic financial meltdown; nor does anyone in the mainstream bother to make any connection between that budget and the funds we don't have available to use elsewhere, or between the looting of Iraq and the looting of our financial system (and, in both cases, of course, the looting of the American taxpayer).

Related Links

  • Chalmers Johnson: We Have the Money (If Only We Didn't Waste It on the Defense Budget)

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    More Comments:

    Donald Wolberg - 10/6/2008

    Unfortunately you numbers are as bad as your philosophical perspective. But so be it.

    Lorraine Paul - 10/5/2008

    Oh! yes, the world is very much 'enjoying' a Pax Americana! Those of us who are still alive that is!

    You don't consider the millions who have died in Iraq due to American bombing and intervention to be of any importance? After all, your country had already killed one million Iraqis during a 'virtual' peace. Half of this million, that is hundred thousand, were children. Now, however, your government and its privatised soldiery has decimated Iraq, is now threatening to do the same to Iran, is talking of breaching the sovereignity of an ally, Pakistan, is, and has been, dropping cluster bombs on Afghanistan that are known to be attractive to children and is behaving like exactly like your dumbed-down leader. A man who never set foot outside of the US until becoming president.

    Your talk of a Pax Americana is ridiculous, but even more, it is dangerous.

    As for bin Laden, he could have been tried in absentia. There is nothing on the US lawbooks that would preclude evidence being heard, witnesses being brought forward and the case being tried in a court. Do a bit of research on that. But, of course, too much would come out and that is the last thing your AWOL president and his corrupt cronies would want.

    Donald Wolberg - 10/5/2008

    Oh my...I will not of course use the trite argument that I have some understanding of the sacrifices those Americans who serve have made and continue to make. In all candor, Colin Powell's observation that if you break it, it's yours with regard to Iraq was very true. But certainly Iraq and the world is better for the disappearance of Sadam and his nutsy family. I do not think that was worth the lives of a single American, however, or the aftermath. Only time will tell if the Iraqis appreciate the opportunities they no have; certainly the Kurds do and are doing remarkably well. Iraq was the best case for the "horror state" with all the evils of Sadam. Whether it is our job to make the world safe from evil nut jobs is a point that can be debated. However, in general the world does enjoy a Pax America largely because "superpowers" need to work that way, whether it is Rome , Britain, or now us. I personally like George Washington's advice: "beware of foreign entaglements" but neoisolationism is not useful and largely impossible.

    As for the bane of Afghanistan, the destruction of the Taliban and punishing the other loonies, especially getting bin Laden is a half complete story. Whether bin Laden is still alive, and there seems to be some doubt about that, his trial was necessary, not just for us, but for the region. Here too, whether anything can be done to remedy the 500 year or more absence of the people of Afghanistan in the modern world, remains to be seen.

    Lorraine Paul - 10/5/2008 military in the world.???

    On what do you base this statement? The success in Afghanistan? Success in Iraq? Both are yet to be seen, although in Iraq if you count over a million Iraqis dead and 2 and a half million refugees wandering around the world, not to mention the depleted uranium bombs lurking to devastate future generations, it might signal success to some George Bush lovers!

    Who are you 'defending' yourself from? Afghanistan? Iraq? Let me know how you managed to find the plans for these countries next invasion of the United States, or have those pesky WMD's finally surfaced in both countries? You know the ones, Tony Blair said that could reach London in ten minutes.

    War-mongerers should be made to fight instead of young the healthy men and women whose lives and bodies will be forever tainted by war!

    You despicable worm!!!

    Donald Wolberg - 10/3/2008

    That Mr. Englehardt has an ant-defense perspective is certainly his right. But, it is also his responsibility to fill in the spaces of the short answer quiz with additional fact. Of couse numbers have meaning and if numbers represent dollars we all should be concerned, but her too some perspective is in order. Indeed, Iraq has been expensive in dollars and lives--any loss of American lives is of concern to us all. Indeed we have had about 150,000-165,000 military personnel in Iraq each year and perhas a million have been rotated in and otut through the course of the involvement there. Many thousands of vehicles have been used from the HummVee to Abrams tanks, as well as hundreds of helicoptes, hundreds of aircraft, scores of ships and all the other apparatus of the best military force in the world. Mr. Englehardt, however, fails to reprt that the military would have been funded whether in Iraq or not. It is likely that that funding amounts to at least 80% of the military funds spent in Iraq. Morever, that funding of $600-$700 billion was expended over years. Mr. Englehardt again fails to note that as a percentage of GDP, the funds expended are miniscule. The U.S. GDP is about $13.5 trillion/year (that is $13,500 billion/year. Over the last 5 years, the U>S. GDP has been at least $67 trillion ($67,000 billion). If $1 trillion has been spent in Iraq, and it has not, that would be 1/67 of GDP over the last 5 years. Numbers do mean something.

    I will not dwell on Mr. Englehardt's apparent non-interest in maintaining the best military in the world. Perhaps he will be able to reason with the next threat to our nation. However, I suspect most Americans would much prefer to back any words with the ability to defend ourselves and, if necessary, project force.