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It takes half a million dollars per year to maintain each sergeant in combat in Iraq. Thanks to a Senate committee inquiry, an authoritative government study finally details the costs of keeping boots on the ground. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO), in its report Contractors' Support of U.S. Operations in Iraq, compared the costs of maintaining a Blackwater professional armed guard versus the U.S. military providing such services itself. Both came in at about $500,000 per person per year. News reports of the study have largely focused on the total cost of U.S. contractors. The 190,000 contractors in Iraq and neighboring countries, from cooks to truck drivers, have cost U.S. taxpayers $100 billion from the start of the war through the end of 2008. Overlooked in this media coverage has been the sheer cost per soldier of keeping the army in Iraq. This per-soldier cost is more comprehensible and alarming than the rather abstract aggregate figure. Whether in maintaining U.S. soldiers or private-sector contractors, the costs of occupation are enormous. With no end in sight, unending foreign wars do have one clear consequence: the eventual bankruptcy of the United States.
The studies are only for personnel. They don't include the long-term costs of care for disabled and handicapped veterans. They don't include the costs of replacing or maintaining equipment. Nor do they factor in the costs for allies' supplies and training or the cost of interest on all the borrowed billions used to fight the war. That's how Joseph Stiglitz and Linda Bilmes reached the astronomical cost estimate approaching $3 trillion for Iraq and Afghanistan. That study estimated actual yearly cost per soldier in the field at $400,000, a number comparable to the CBO estimate for sergeants.
Perhaps the accountants who did the CBO study were themselves surprised at the costs of fielding an American army. Their objective was only to analyze the costs of hiring guards at $500,000 a year, compared to fielding soldiers. The study only incidentally shows the individual costs of American occupation forces facing resistance.
Given these costs, which are only part of a military budget and other defense expenditures that approach a trillion dollars, it's easy to see how the wars are bankrupting America. Washington has borrowed the money, and the impact can already be felt in the dollar's declining value and America's deteriorating infrastructure. The national debt, since the war started, has increased from six to nine trillion dollars. Ancient Rome simply taxed its citizens into ruin and clipped the coinage to pay for its armies. Higher taxes, a lower standard of living, and unending wars will drive us to the same end.