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The Perversity of American Empire
by staff report via ryall - NPR Monday, Jun 27 2011, 10:19am
international / imperialism / other press

$20 billion cost for air-con alone in Central Asia while domestic needs go screaming!

Characteristic of the lunacy that is the rapidly failing American Empire is the cost of air-conditioning for occupation forces in Central Asia. A staggering $20.2 billion annually, which exceeds NASA's entire budget, is wasted so America can fly its flag in unhospitable deserts half way around the globe.

If not for the fact the US prints the world's reserve currency (the greenback) America would already be bankrupt. Perhaps nations that hold the lion's share of US debt may reconsider putting an end to the misery of the American population at home and people in occupied nations by dumping their dollar reserves. By supporting the dollar China and Russia share equally in the destructive madness of US Empire today!

Air-con tents!
Air-con tents!

The amount the U.S. military spends annually on air conditioning in Iraq and Afghanistan: $20.2 billion.

That's more than NASA's budget. It's more than BP has paid so far for damage during the Gulf oil spill. It's what the G-8 has pledged to help foster new democracies in Egypt and Tunisia.

"When you consider the cost to deliver the fuel to some of the most isolated places in the world escorting, command and control, medevac support when you throw all that infrastructure in, we're talking over $20 billion," Steven Anderson tells weekends on All Things Considered guest host Rachel Martin. Anderson is a retired brigadier general who served as Gen. David Patreaus' chief logistician in Iraq.

Why does it cost so much?

To power an air conditioner at a remote outpost in land-locked Afghanistan, a gallon of fuel has to be shipped into Karachi, Pakistan, then driven 800 miles over 18 days to Afghanistan on roads that are sometimes little more than "improved goat trails," Anderson says. "And you've got risks that are associated with moving the fuel almost every mile of the way."

Anderson calculates more than 1,000 troops have died in fuel convoys, which remain prime targets for attack. Free-standing tents equipped with air conditioners in 125 degree heat require a lot of fuel. Anderson says by making those structures more efficient, the military could save lives and dollars.

Still, his $20.2 billion figure raises stark questions about the ongoing war in Afghanistan. In the wake of President Obama's announcement this week that about 30,000 American troops will soon return home, how much money does the U.S. stand to save?

Dollars And Cents

The 30,000 troops who will return home by the end of next year were sent to Afghanistan in 2009, at a cost of about $30 billion. That comes out to about $1 million a soldier.

But the savings of withdrawing those troops won't equal out, experts say.

"What history has told us is that you don't see a proportional decrease in spending based on the number of troops when you draw them down," Chris Hellman, a senior research analyst at the National Priorities Project, tells Martin.

"In Afghanistan that's going to be particularly true because it's a very difficult and austere environment in which to operate," he says.

That means most war expenditures lie not in the troops themselves but in the infrastructure that supports them infrastructure that in some cases will remain in place long after troops are gone.

"We're building big bases," American University professor Gordon Adams tells Martin. The costs of those bases are, in economic terms, "sunk" costs, he says.

"We're seeing this in Iraq. We're turning over to the Iraqis mostly either for a small penny or for free the infrastructure that we built in Iraq. But we won't see back any money from that infrastructure."

Then there's the costly task of training Afghan security forces. The Obama administration has requested almost $13 billion to train and equip Afghan security forces in the next fiscal year.

And more importantly, Hellman says, "[Afghan President Hamid] Karzai indicated a couple years back that [Afghanistan] wasn't going to be a position to support their own military forces 15, 20 years out. I suspect we're going to be called on to pay a substantial part of that bill going forward."

Criticism From The President's Own Party

For critics of the president, the idea that the troop drawdown won't save much money is reason enough to suggest it should be bigger.

One outspoken critic is Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV). He notes the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have cost hundreds of billions of dollars so far, and he argues a larger troop drawdown isn't a national security risk.

"We have the greatest special ops in the world. We have more technology than any other country on earth," Manchin tells Martin. "Do we actually need to have 70,000 troops on the ground?"

"When you have this many people in a country that doesn't want you there that has no economy, no infrastructure and a corrupt government and you're trying to stabilize it and build them into a viable nation? I'm not sure we have enough time, and I definitely know we don't have enough money," Manchin says.

But others argue war should be waged independent of cost.

"The realm of war and peace exists separately apart and justifiably so from the economic realm," says Lawrence Kaplan, a visiting professor at the U.S. Army War College, who says critics like Manchin are looking for "economic answers to a non-economic question.

"And anyway, it's not the war that's broken Washington's piggy bank," he adds, noting that Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security account for far more spending than the $107 billion the Pentagon says it will spend in Afghanistan next year.

"Remember, we're talking about 30,000 troops," he says "I don't think that hundred-billion-dollar price tag should be the determining one."

Can Greener Mean Safer?

But for Anderson, the retired brigadier general, economics does have a role to play in modern warfare.

Anderson advocates for increased energy efficiency for military structures in order to cut down on the need for long, dangerous fuel-transport missions. A few months ago, Anderson heard from a company commander in Afghanistan.

"He literally has to stop his combat operations for two days every two weeks so he can go back and get his fuel. And when he's gone, the enemy knows he's gone, and they go right back to where they were before. He has to start his counter-insurgency operations right back at square one."

Anderson says experiments with polyurethane foam insulation for tents in Iraq cut energy use by 92 percent and took 11,000 fuel trucks off the road. But he adds there's a lack of enthusiasm for a greener military among top commanders.

"People look at it and say 'It's not my lane. We don't need to tie the operational commanders' hands' things like this," he says.

"A simple policy signed by the secretary of defense a one- or two-page memo, saying we will no longer build anything other than energy-efficient structures in Iraq and Afghanistan would have a profound impact."

2011 NPR

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Cost of war at least $3.7 trillion and counting
by Daniel Trotta via reed - Reuters Wednesday, Jun 29 2011, 8:59am

(Reuters) - When President Barack Obama cited cost as a reason to bring troops home from Afghanistan, he referred to a $1 trillion price tag for America's wars.

Staggering as it is, that figure grossly underestimates the total cost of wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan to the U.S. Treasury and ignores more imposing costs yet to come, according to a study released on Wednesday.

The final bill will run at least $3.7 trillion and could reach as high as $4.4 trillion, according to the research project "Costs of War" by Brown University's Watson Institute for International Studies. (www.costsofwar.org)

In the 10 years since U.S. troops went into Afghanistan to root out the al Qaeda leaders behind the September 11, 2001, attacks, spending on the conflicts totaled $2.3 trillion to $2.7 trillion.

Those numbers will continue to soar when considering often overlooked costs such as long-term obligations to wounded veterans and projected war spending from 2012 through 2020. The estimates do not include at least $1 trillion more in interest payments coming due and many billions more in expenses that cannot be counted, according to the study.

In human terms, 224,000 to 258,000 people have died directly from warfare, including 125,000 civilians in Iraq. Many more have died indirectly, from the loss of clean drinking water, healthcare, and nutrition. An additional 365,000 have been wounded and 7.8 million people -- equal to the combined population of Connecticut and Kentucky -- have been displaced.

"Costs of War" brought together more than 20 academics to uncover the expense of war in lives and dollars, a daunting task given the inconsistent recording of lives lost and what the report called opaque and sloppy accounting by the U.S. Congress and the Pentagon.

The report underlines the extent to which war will continue to stretch the U.S. federal budget, which is already on an unsustainable course due to an aging American population and skyrocketing healthcare costs.

It also raises the question of what the United States gained from its multitrillion-dollar investment.

"I hope that when we look back, whenever this ends, something very good has come out of it," Senator Bob Corker, a Republican from Tennessee, told Reuters in Washington.

SEPT 11, 2001: THE DAMAGE CONTINUES

In one sense, the report measures the cost of 9/11, the American shorthand for the events of September 11, 2001. Nineteen hijackers plus other al Qaeda plotters spent an estimated $400,000 to $500,000 on the plane attacks that killed 2,995 people and caused $50 billion to $100 billion in economic damages.

What followed were three wars in which $50 billion amounts to a rounding error. For every person killed on September 11, another 73 have been killed since.

Was it worth it? That is a question many people want answered, said Catherine Lutz, head of the anthropology department at Brown and co-director of the study.

"We decided we needed to do this kind of rigorous assessment of what it cost to make those choices to go to war," she said. "Politicians, we assumed, were not going to do that kind of assessment."

The report arrives as Congress debates how to cut a U.S. deficit projected at $1.4 trillion this year, roughly a 10th of which can be attributed to direct war spending.

What did the United States gain for its trillions?

Strategically, the results for the United States are mixed. Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein are dead, but Iraq and Afghanistan are far from stable democracies. Iran has gained influence in the Gulf and the Taliban, though ousted from government, remain a viable military force in Afghanistan.

"The United States has been extremely successful in protecting the homeland," said George Friedman, founder of STRATFOR, a U.S.-based intelligence company.

"Al Qaeda in Afghanistan was capable of mounting very sophisticated, complex, operations on an intercontinental basis. That organization with that capability has not only been substantially reduced, it seems to have been shattered," Friedman said.

Economically, the results are also mixed. War spending may be adding half a percentage point a year to growth in the gross domestic product but that has been more than offset by the negative effects of deficit spending, the report concludes.

COMPREHENSIVE STUDY

Some U.S. government reports have attempted to assess the costs of war, notably a March 2011 Congressional Research Service report that estimated post-September 11 war funding at $1.4 trillion through 2012. The Congressional Budget Office projected war costs through 2021 at $1.8 trillion.

A ground-breaking private estimate was published in the 2008 book "The Three Trillion Dollar War," by Linda Bilmes, a member of the Watson Institute team, and Nobel-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz. That work revealed how much cost was added by interest on deficit spending and medical care for veterans.

The report draws on those sources and pieces together many others for a more comprehensive picture.

The report also makes special note of Pakistan, a front not generally mentioned along with Iraq and Afghanistan. War has probably killed more people in Pakistan than in neighboring Afghanistan, the report concludes.

Politicians throughout history have underestimated the costs of war, believing they will be shorter and less deadly than reality, said Neta Crawford, the other co-director of the report and a political science professor at Boston University.

The report said former President George W. Bush's administration was "shamelessly politically driven" in underestimating Iraq war costs before the 2003 invasion.

Most official sources continue to overlook costs, largely because of a focus on just Pentagon spending, Crawford said.

"Over the last decade, we have spent a trillion dollars on war," Obama said in last week's speech on reducing U.S. troop levels in Afghanistan. At the very least, he was rounding down by $200 billion to $300 billion, when counting U.S. congressional appropriations for the post 9/11 wars.

"I don't know what the president knows, but I wish it were a trillion," Crawford said. "It would be better if it were a trillion."

ELUSIVE NUMBER

In theory, adding up the dollars spent and lives lost should be a statistical errand. The U.S. Congress appropriates the money, and a life lost on battlefield should have a death certificate and a casket to match.

The team quickly discovered, however, the task was far more complicated.

Specific war spending over the past 10 years, when expressed in 2011 dollars, comes to $1.3 trillion, the "Costs of War" project found. When it comes to accounting for every dollar, that $1.3 trillion is merely a good start.

Since the wars have been financed by deficit spending, interest must be paid -- $185 billion of accumulated so far.

The Pentagon has received an additional $326 billion to $652 billion beyond what can be attributed to the war appropriations, the study found.

Homeland security spending has totaled another $401 billion so far that can be traced to September 11. War-related foreign aid: another $74 billion.

Then comes caring for U.S. veterans of war. Nearly half of the 1.25 million who have served in uniform in Iraq and Afghanistan have used their status as veterans to make health or disability claims at an expense of $32.6 billion to date.

Those costs will soar over the next 40 years as veterans age. The report estimates the U.S. obligations to the veterans will reach $589 billion to $934 billion through 2050.

So far, those numbers add up to a low estimate of $2.9 trillion and a moderate estimate of $3.6 trillion in costs to the U.S. Treasury. No high estimate was offered.

"We feel a conservative measure of costs is plenty large to attract attention," said report contributor Ryan Edwards, an economist who studied the war impact on deficit spending.

Those numbers leave out hundreds of billions in social costs not born by the U.S. taxpayer but by veterans and their families: another $295 billion to $400 billion, increasing the range of costs to date to some $3.2 trillion to $4 trillion.

That's a running total through fiscal 2011. Add another $453 billion in war-related spending projected for 2012 to 2020 and the total grows to $3.668 trillion to $4.444 trillion.

THE HUMAN TOLL

If the financial costs are elusive, so too is the human toll.

The report estimates between 224,475 and 257,655 have been killed in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, though those numbers give a false sense of precision. There are many sources of data on civilian deaths, most with different results.

The civilian death toll in Iraq -- 125,000 -- and the number of Saddam's security forces killed in invasion -- 10,000 -- are loose estimates. The U.S. military does not publish a thorough accounting.

"We don't do body counts," Tommy Franks, the U.S. commander in Iraq, famously said after the fall of Saddam in 2003.

In Afghanistan, the civilian death count ranges from 11,700 to 13,900. For Pakistan, where there is little access to the battlefield and the United States fights mostly through aerial drone attacks, the study found it impossible to distinguish between civilian and insurgent deaths.

The numbers only consider direct deaths -- people killed by bombs or bullets. Estimates for indirect deaths in war vary so much that researchers considered them too arbitrary to report.

"When the fighting stops, the indirect dying continues. It's in fact worse than land mines. The healthcare system is still in bad shape. People are still suffering the effects of malnutrition and so on," Crawford said.

Even where the United States does do body counts -- for the members of the military -- the numbers may come up short of reality, said Lutz, the study's co-director. When veterans return home, they are more likely to die in suicides and automobile accidents.

"The rate of chaotic behavior," she said, "is high."

(Additional reporting by Susan Cornwell, Missy Ryan, Brett Gering, Laura MacInnis and Sharon Reich; Editing by Doina Chiacu)

2011 Thomson Reuters


 
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