War's economic impact a pressing issue

It’s easy to oppose Operation Iraqi Freedom because of a hatred for President George Bush and/or any of the members of his cabinet. It’s easy to oppose the war because of the loss of human life, or a belief in pacifism or even because of the looming diplomatic disasters that have resulted from the bungling of the UN resolutions.

But there are other, more disturbing consequences lurking behind protesters’ signs and between the lines of angry speeches of worried liberals. Perhaps one of the most prescient and frightening reasons for being against the war with Iraq is neither personal nor moral, but financial.

Despite the fact that no one in the government was able to give even a rough estimate of the cost of the war before military action was taken, after the first bombs fell, Bush was able to come up with a $75 billion price tag. That spells bad news not only for the Iraqi people who will see their land pulverized, but also for the U.S. citizens who will be left paying for a reconstructed Iraq.

Although the United States is inarguably the greatest unilateral power in the history of the world, it is also without a doubt the greatest debtor. As a country, it is living beyond its means, heavily dependent on foreign debtors and importing more than it exports. The debt America owes abroad has now reached $2 trillion. That’s 20 percent of the GDP. It’s entirely possible that foreign debt could top 65 percent of the GDP by 2010.

The situation was grim before the war in Iraq, and now it’s looking worse. Conservatives estimate the cost of the war and of rebuilding Iraq, over a 10-year period, at anywhere from $156 billion to $755 billion. The key word in that phrase is ‘conservative;’ other estimates have run as high as $3 trillion, and those are before economists have even had a month to gauge just what kind of damage is to be done to U.S. troops — and the economy.

In the 1991 Gulf war, most of the cost was paid by other countries — many nations substituted money for troops in the international coalition against Saddam. But that was in a situation where dozens of nations were willing to lend their support. Sierra Leone sent 20 (unarmed) police officers to join the cause. Even Syria was on the side of the United States.

This time around, the United States will have to bear most of the burden. Unless new taxes are instated, it would take $200 billion annually for the United States simply to finance the foreign debt. Dreary statistics, and they could perhaps become a great deal drearier.

The Bush administration has generated enough international opposition to effectively limit the amount of financial support that can be expected. And the fewer allies, bases and air rights that the United States has, the higher the costs will be in American lives and the higher the price will be. The country will not only pay for the war, but the postwar reconstruction as well. Within the first week of war, every major airfield in Iraq has been bombed to destruction. That was one week. The longer this war drags on, the higher the costs will be. And there will be few parties willing to foot the bill.

Perhaps the biggest casualty of Operation Iraqi Freedom will be the economy. If Bush’s $75 billion request is granted, the dramatic increase in debt could result in a fall of the dollar that would both reduce U.S. economic standards and significantly increase the cost of projecting U.S. power abroad. And plausible solutions to the impending crisis are just as gloomy as the problem itself.

Really, the only way to avoid this scenario is to raise taxes, which will also to some extent reduce living standards. Such an alternative is all but doomed to failure against a Republican congress, Senate and White House.

It would be a humor of the darkest kind if the war that was undertaken under the pretense of a police state’s responsibility to keep world order were ultimately the cause of that same police state’s decline.