We document the way the administration has been trying to hide and mislead the American people about the cost of the war. Senator Charles Schumer of New York has asked the Bush administration to testify about those costs. The administration so far has refused. It refuses to engage with critics. The administration is still trying to hide behind the 9/11 smoke screen. The fact is that, because of the war, America is less — not more — secure. According to a recent survey of senior military officers, our military forces are depleted. We are less prepared for a new attack than we were five years ago.
Vice-president Dick Cheney and one-time Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, the big brains behind Iraq, more or less argued that this war would be self-liquidating, that it would pay for itself. What went wrong?
Let me first point out that they were misled by the first Gulf War, which we thought did pay for itself. The fact is, however, that if they understood the cost of war, they would have understood that that was not even true for the first Gulf War.
We did get our allies to pay much of the up-front operational costs. But the costs are more complicated than that. The first Gulf War was only a month-long war, and yet we’re paying $4.3 billion a year just for disability payments. If you understood that, then you would’ve realized a five-year war would have enormous costs.
One of the things that we know is that costs increase more than proportionately the longer troops stay. That’s because things like psychiatric problems increase more than proportionately. A lot of problems arise. You can withstand a certain number of blasts. But the larger the number, the higher the probability of a serious problem.
It’s interesting that the administration has not come to the American people and said, “This is where we made our mistake. This is where our calculation went wrong. Yes, we thought this war was going to cost about $50 billion. It’s now costing that amount every three months.” They never told us that, and it’s very telling. It’s a real lack of democratic accountability.
My own suspicion is they thought that we were going to be greeted with garlands, that our main cost would be sweeping up the rose petals. They did not understand the nature of the depths of the conflicts within Iraqi society. They had no understanding of the distinctions between the Sunnis and Shiites. They thought that a prepackaged sort of democracy would prevail.
I talked to the person sent over to help transform the Iraqi economy and asked the question, “What happens if, in a democratic Iraq, the people choose to have a theocracy along the lines of Iran?”
His response was that the US would have to stay there and re-educate them. And it’s clear that he thought that we had the option of staying there a long, long time.