“Ne’er a Villain Dwelling in All Denmark”

The last four digits on the Cost Of Iraq War webpage keep flying past at an astonishing rate. When last I glanced at the site, just moments ago, it read: $134,733,079,_ _ _. (Those blanks are meant to represent the last three digits, or sums of money in the hundreds of dollars. But they turned over so rapidly, I couldn’t make them out.)

Jointly sponsored by the Center for American Progress and Project Billboard, the partners have also launched a new billboard in New York City’s Times Square that replicates on a much grander scale the one they maintain on their respective websites.

(A word of warning: Both these groups are very Democratic Partyish. Very American Prospectie. Very liberal elitist. Perhaps also Sorosian. Maybe, on their wildest nights, even Nationites. They may take on corporate thugs such as Clear Channel Communications. And their current Cost Of Iraq War clock certainly is a good idea. But let’s at least be honest about where they are coming from. Indeed. The Center’s CEO—yes, its CEO—not its Director, much less its Comrade—is the former Clintonite John Podesta.)

Now, I can’t say exactly how accurate their numbers are. Beginning at $134.5 billion, the digital counter has been set to advance at a rate of $177 million per day, according to their press release, or “$7.4 million per hour and $122,820 per minute.”

But this really is beside the point. No matter how you care to estimate them, the costs of the American war over Iraq, like the American war over Afghanistan, are huge, and spiraling upwards. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute‘s Yearbook 2004, global military spending reached $956 billion in 2003, representing an 18 percent increase in real terms over 2001 expenditures, the principal reason for the increase having been the massive increase in U.S. military expenditures to invade and occupy Afganistan and Iraq, now approaching roughly one-half the global total. (See Ch. 10, “Military expenditure.”)

To accompany their new “billboard,” the Center for American Progress has issued a brief report that it calls The Opportunity Cost of the Iraq War (Aug. 25, 2004—also see the PDF version of the same). (For reasons that I don’t understand, there is a discrepancy between the estimated “cost” of the Iraq war on the billboard ($134.5 billion and counting) and this report ($144.4 billion).)

Anyway. The guiding question the report asks is: “Could the $144.4 billion spent on Iraq been better used to protect the American people from terrorist threats?” The report then proceeds to catalogue some 18 alternative “investments” for this money—absolutely none of which strikes me as worth the trouble, or differing in any fundamental way from the incumbent clique to which these Democrats have adopted the guise of the better way.

Such is the state of the national political debate in the United States today, I’m afraid. (But there needs no ghost come from the grave to tell us this.)

Instead I recall having heard something that Columbia University’s Seymour Melman used to say (i.e., probably in the period between his Profits Without Production (1983) and The Demilitarized Society: Disarmament and Conversion (1988)) to the effect that the total amount of money spent by the U.S. Government on military account since World War II—let’s say it was upwards of $10 trillion at that point—was sufficient to replace the physical infrastructure, including both the plant and the equipment, then in use at the time. (“Twice over,” he said some years later, as the article listed below puts it.—See esp. the section titled “A Myth of State.”)

Well. Here as before, I can’t say exactly how accurate this estimate was. (Plus, I may not be recalling the comparison in exactly the same sense that Melman drew it. Though I guarantee I’m close.)

But it grabbed me then. And I still find it at least as compelling today.

FYA (“For your archives”): In the early 1990s, the National Commission for Economic Conversion and Disarmament made a valiant go at the task from which it drew its name and inspiration, but the national political parties ultimately would have none of it. Still, as I find material on this theme, I’ll try to post it to the ZNet Blogs website. Here is one superb analysis by Seymour Melman himself, on the crippling of the social, economic, and political life of the United States underneath the boot of the kind of corporate-state fascism for which the Republican and Democratic parties are but two heads of the one hydra.

Seymour Melman, From Private to State Capitalism: How the Permanent War Economy Transformed the Institutions of American Capitalism (National Commission for Economic Conversion and Disarmament, February, 1997)

Dwight D. Eisenhower, Farewell Address, a.k.a., “Military-Industrial Complex” Speech (The Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library, Abilene, Kansas, January 17, 1961)

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