Congress’ approval Wednesday of $70 billion more for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan mean the twin conflicts are now more costly to American taxpayers than the war in Vietnam.
According to a study by the Washington-based Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, Congress has now approved nearly $700 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"Using inflation-adjusted dollars, the total cost of those wars has now surpassed the total cost of the Vietnam war (which ran to $670 billion)," the group’s Travis Sharp told OneWorld. "It’s also more than seven times larger than the Persian Gulf War ($94 billion) and more than twice the cost of the Korean war ($295 billion)."
As a result of Wednesday’s vote, Sharp said, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan will become the second costliest conflict in American history, trailing only World War II.
"But that was a time when 12 million Americans served, as compared with 1.42 million active duty soldiers and just over one million National Guard and reservists today," Sharp added.
Much of the money approved by Congress will go to buy expensive new military equipment: $922 million is earmarked for purchase or alteration of 41 new Blackhawk, Apache, and Chinook Helicopters; $813 million will be spent on new Bradley Fighting Vehicles; $455 million for new Humvees; $427 million on new Heavy Tactical Vehicles; and $425 million for M1 Abrams Tanks.
"I think what you’re seeing from Democrats is a resignation to the fact that they’re going to have to wait for the Bush Administration to leave office before they see any serious change in the country’s war policy," Sharp said. "The Democrats just want to play out the clock on this one."
But "playing out the clock" comes with a severe cost for essential services at home.
Even before the new $70 billion dollars was approved Wednesday, the Massachusetts-based National Priorities Project had estimated that the average American household has already spent $4,100 on the Iraq war.
This year alone, US taxpayers spent $137.6 billion on the Iraq war. For the same amount of money, the government could have provided more than 39 million people with health care, built one million units of affordable housing, or outfitted 142 million homes with renewable electricity sources.
"We want to help people comprehend the magnitude of these numbers," said the group’s Pamela Schwartz. "Surely, ultimately, we’d hope that our priorities would shift so that significantly less money is going to war with more money going to programs like heath care, Headstart, and education."
"We want to help people understand that choices are being made here," she added.
To that end, the National Priorities Project has set up a web-site, Costofwar.com, where taxpayers can learn what the cost of the Iraq war has meant to their community. Visitors to the website can search by state, city, or congressional district and find out how much money the Iraq war has taken out of their community and where the money could have gone instead.
For example, taxpayers in Chicago have spent $4.8 billion on the war in Iraq money that could have been used to build 567 new elementary schools or build 35,000 units of affordable housing.
In smaller places like George W. Bush’s hometown of Crawford, Texas, war spending has also had a strong impact. Crawford’s taxpayers have spent $1.3 million on the war in Iraq money that could have been used to provide 180 full scholarships for university students, or hire 30 additional police and sheriff’s deputies.
"The Democrats were elected last year with a certain set of priorities, but President Bush drew a line in the sand," Schwartz told OneWorld. "Rather than drawing their own line, Democrats respected Bush’s line. They met President Bush’s spending limits on domestic programs and gave him a blank check for the Iraq war. That’s the choice they made."