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The election results of November and the firing of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld have raised hopes of a significant change in U.S. foreign policy. Many blame Rumsfeld and the neoconservative idealogues for the disaster in Iraq, while neocons protest that Rumsfeld's "light army" strategy is the real problem. Some things should improve simply by virtue of the demise of Rumsfeld and the neocons' loss of credibility.
The current foreign-policy crisis, however, vastly exceeds the mistakes of Rumsfeld and the neocons; President Bush is still making nonsensical statements about "winning in Iraq" and "fulfilling the mission," and his administration is still loaded with people who want him to stake his legacy on doing so. The neoconservative ideology of his administration is merely an exaggerated version of the normal politics of American empire. Before a significant change for the better is possible, there must be a reckoning with the costs of the U.S.'s perpetual war and military empire. The recently approved Pentagon budget is a good place to get a measure of the hypermilitarized situation we are in.
Despite these immense outlays, budget analysts are warning of a coming financial train wreck, because the appropriations—in every category—fall short of the true costs of the war and the empire. Today the U.S. is spending $2 billion per week in Iraq, nearly all of it from emergency spending bills that add up to $380 billion thus far. The total for Afghanistan is $100 billion. These figures do not include disability and health payments for returning troops, inducements for soldiers to serve additional deployments, extra pay for reservists and National Guard members, and additional foreign aid to supportive nations. When these costs are included, along with the Pentagon's unprecedented dependence on expensive private contractors, the bill for five years of involvement in Iraq is expected to run at least $1.5 trillion, all of it added to the federal debt. Economist Joseph Stiglitz and public finance specialist Linda Bilmes estimate that $2 trillion is more realistic.
That comes to $18,000 per household—a far cry from what Americans were told to expect at the outset, when Rumsfeld said the war would cost under $50 billion, and Paul Wolfowitz said Iraq's oil would finance the nation's reconstruction. The U.S. could have fixed Social Security or provided health insurance for all uninsured Americans for the next half-century with the amount it is spending in Iraq. As it is, since the U.S. is borrowing to pay nearly the entire bill, it faces interest costs of approximately $300 billion for an offensive war of choice.
That put it as plainly as possible—and this was during the Clinton administration. When Bush took office, the U.S. was overdue for a moral and political reckoning with the compulsive expansionism of unrivaled power. A year later Bush squandered a precious opportunity to make a huge step toward a community of nations. Not since the end of World War II had there been such a moment. If the U.S. had responded to the attacks of September 11, 2001, by joining with NATO, sending U.S. and NATO forces after al-Qaeda and building new structures of collective security on regional and global bases, it would have gained the world's gratitude. Instead the Bush administration took a course of action that caused an explosion of anti-American hostility throughout the world, committing the U.S. to a doctrine of perpetual war and invading Iraq.