A look at the twisted priorities of Washington's war machine
April 11, 2003 | Page 8
IN LATE February, House Speaker Dennis Hastert was asked whether paying for the war on Iraq would cut into federal spending on social programs. His response? "If you have to pay for guns, you can't pay for all the butter."
Just two years ago, economists were predicting federal budget surpluses for some years to come. But between George W. Bush's huge tax cut for the rich and massive increases in military spending, the 2004 projected deficit is $307 billion--an all-time record that doesn't include the Bush administration's request for $75 billion to fund the war on Iraq.
ERIC RUDER examines how U.S. spending on its wars abroad translates into a war on workers and the poor--both in the U.S. and around the world.
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Putting their war first
THE HOUSE and Senate have each passed bills pledging roughly $75 billion to fund Bush's war on Iraq. But this will only cover a fraction of the cost of the war.
Only $2.5 billion of that money is earmarked for funding the postwar occupation of Iraq by U.S. troops and the cost of reconstruction. Together, these tasks will cost the U.S. $105 billion at best and more than $600 billion in the event of strong resistance to U.S. occupation, according to a study by economist William Nordhaus.
And though U.S. officials are constantly heaping praise on themselves for their generous provision of humanitarian aid to the people of Iraq, Congress has allocated an insulting $250 million for food aid for Iraq--about .3 percent of its $75 billion funding package. This measly sum is barely a tenth of the emergency food aid appeal made by the World Food Program, which estimates that it will need $2.2 billion to provide poor Iraqis with food before they begin running out in late April.
To get an idea of just how much the U.S. spends to destroy human life around the world, consider the following statistics:
-- The combined incomes of the 582 million people living in the 43 least developed countries is $146 billion. During the next six years, the U.S. plans to spend $2.7 trillion on its military. This sum could multiply the incomes of these people by nearly 20 times.
-- Approximately 790 million people in the developing world are still chronically undernourished. About 1.3 billion people live on less than $1 a day, and 3 billion--roughly half the world's population--live on under $2 a day. About 1.3 billion have no access to clean water, 3 billion have no access to sanitation, and 2 billion have no access to electricity. For about $80 billion--the cost of the 200 planes that make up the U.S.'s long-range bomber fleet--the basic human needs of every human being on earth could be met, according to Unicef.
-- Global military spending in 2000 was $785 billion. The United Nations Development Program estimates the annual cost to bring education, health care, basic nutrition and sanitation to the undeveloped world is $40 billion.
Congress is "mugging the poor and helpless"
"WITH THE eyes of most Americans focused on the war, the Bush administration and its allies in Congress are getting close to agreeing on a set of budget policies that will take an awful toll on the poor, the young, the elderly, the disabled," wrote New York Times columnist Bob Herbert in early April.
The House passed a budget that calls for $1.4 trillion in tax cuts for the rich while cutting billions from food stamps, school lunches, health care for the poor, student loans--and veterans' benefits! "We do not consider pensions for the poorest disabled veterans and GI bill benefits for solders returning from Afghanistan to be 'fraud, waste or abuse,'" said the Paralyzed Veterans of America in a press release.
In all, the House proposes cutting $265 billion from entitlement programs over the next 10 years--such as eliminating child nutrition programs that provide school lunches for 2.4 million low-income children. "[The House budget] mugs the poor and the helpless while giving unstintingly to the rich," wrote Herbert. "This assault on society's weakest elements has been almost totally camouflaged by the war."
To get an idea of other ways that U.S. military spending could be used, go to the National Priorities Project Database on the Web and click on "Trade-offs." Using the conservative figure of $100 billion as the cost of war on Iraq (it might end up costing 10 times that), it would be possible to provide instead 12,195,349 housing vouchers, 1,541,037 elementary school teachers, 361,253 fire trucks, 11,757,966 Head Start spots for children or health care coverage for 34,830,861 children.
U.S. military spending equals world's next 20 largest militaries
AT $399 billion, the 2003 U.S. military budget is 285 times more than the $1.4 billion that Iraq spent on its military last year. But U.S. military spending also dwarfs the combined military spending of all countries that the U.S. has deemed "rogue states"--Iraq, Iran, North Korea, Syria, Libya, Cuba and Vietnam. The next highest military budgets--those of Russia and China--don't even come close to U.S. spending levels.
In descending order, the 20 countries with the highest military budgets after the U.S. are Russia, China, Japan, Britain, France, Germany, Saudi Arabia, Italy, India, South Korea, Taiwan, Brazil, Israel, Spain, Australia, Canada, the Netherlands, Turkey, Kuwait and Iran. The U.S. spends more than all of them combined while it also claims about 50 percent of the $53 billion annual international arms trade.