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Foreign Correspondent

by international syndicated columnist &
broadcaster Eric Margolis
30 November 2009


NEW YORK - American would not have won independence from Great Britain without generous military and financial support from France and its monarch, Louis XVI.

But France spent itself into bankruptcy supporting the American colonists. France’s financial ruin was a major cause of the ensuing French Revolution that cost the unfortunate Louis his head.

Wars are hugely expensive. Money plays as great a role in them as soldiers and weapons.

US Congressman David Obey, a Wisconsin Democrat who is chairman of the powerful House Appropriations Committee, has come up with a novel idea: American should pay for the wars they are currently waging.

Obey’s proposal, which is backed by other congressmen of both parties, sounds startling – until one realizes that both the Bush and Obama administrations have never properly financed their foreign wars by forcing Americans to pay for them through higher taxes. Instead, Washington has deferred the $1 trillion to date costs of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars by simply adding them to the national debt, and paying interest on the balance owing. President Lyndon conducted similar financial slight of hand with the Vietnam War, inflicting serious injury and instability on the US economy.

Few Americans feel the real financial costs of these wars. Future generations will get stuck with the bill.

But this kind of deceptive national accounting is becoming increasingly difficult in the face of President Barack Obama’s $1.4 trillion deficit this year, and his imminent decision to send some 30,000 more US troops to Afghanistan.

Each American soldier in Afghanistan costs at least $1 million per annum, according to the US Congress Research Service. Thirty thousand more US troops will thus cost $30 billion in additional war costs on top of the $200 billion annual cost of garrisoning Iraq and Afghanistan – now the second most expensive wars in US history.

Much of this money will have to be borrowed from China and Japan.

Obey and his allies want to impose a graduated surtax on Americans of 1-5%, depending on their income level, to fund the actual costs of what are now Obama’s wars. Otherwise, warns Obey, the huge cost of sending keeping up to 100,000 US troops in Afghanistan will `destroy the other things we are trying to do in our economy.’ Chief among which is health care.

In a clear choice between guns or butter, Obey estimates ten years of war in Afghanistan will cost the same $900 million as providing a comprehensive health plan for all Americans.

Unfortunately, chances of a war surtax passing Congress are nil. While the Afghan and Iraq wars are increasingly unpopular among Americans, a tax increase at a time of over 10% unemployment will ignite the same kind of furious reaction that met President Obama’s proposed national health plan, and endanger Democrats facing midterm elections.

As the Obama administration appears set to escalate the war in Afghanistan, the real costs of Afghanistan and Iraq are still being concealed from the public and Congress.

A billion here; a billion there; suddenly, we are taking about real money.

The $200 billion annual cost for both wars is only a part of the growing expenses faced by Washington.

The annual bill for US intelligence, which employs over 200,000 people, has doubled to $75 billion, in large part to support foreign wars and operations against anti-US Muslim groups.

Costs of occupying Afghanistan rose to $300 billion this year, and will increase sharply next year. Operations in Iraq will total $684 billion in 2009. President Barack Obama’s plans to withdraw all US troops from Iraq by 2011 may encounter serious delays and snags as resistance resumes and the underground Ba’ath Party become more active.

Washington spends $25 billion funding foreign armies, the bulk of which goes to the Mideast, Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan. Aid to Islamabad will rise to $15 billion over the next five years, including secret `black’ payments.

The US supports 168,000 `contractors’ in Iraq, many of them gunmen. CIA runs 74,000 mercenaries in Afghanistan. The new fortified, 104-acre US Embassy in Baghdad will cost $700 million; the new embassy in Islamabad, $800 million. Islamic militants call them `crusader castles.’

Add to these costs the expense of maintaining fleets in the Gulf and Indian Ocean, and military bases in the Gulf and Diego Garcia to support operations in Iraq and Afghanistan; hugely expensive military airlift; $400 per gallon fuel delivered to US forces in Afghanistan; and, of course, financial inducements to many smaller nations to send handfuls of troops to Afghanistan and Iraq. Also an important part of the annual $93 billion in veterans benefits.

Thus the real cost of Afghanistan and Iraq are much higher than $200 billion annually. Yet President Obama, heedless of such costs, appears determined to expand the Afghan War. It seems clear that Obama has fallen increasingly under the influence of America’s powerful military-industrial-financial complex and neoconservative war party. In short, the same calculus of forces that guided the Bush administration.

Even America’s mighty economy cannot for long support waging wars across the Muslim world. Unaffordable wars have been the ruin of many an empire, and the American Raj seems headed in the same direction as Nobel Peace Prize winner Barack Obama plunges ever deeper into the Afghan quagmire.

Copyright Eric S. Margolis 2009.

Published at since 1995
with permission, as a courtesy and in appreciation.

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FAX: (416) 960-1769
Eric Margolis
c/o Editorial Department
The Toronto Sun
333 King St. East
Toronto Ontario Canada
M5A 3X5

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