Article: It’s time to mock this absurd war


It’s time to mock this absurd war
The cost of the war in Iraq comes to more than $700bn. But next to its other costs, the wasted money looks well spent by comparison
By Bill Bonner

“Go tell the Cretins you who read; We took their orders, and are dead.” Based on inscription at Thermopylae, with apologies.

The Bush administration is hoping the film 300 will give the ‘troop surge’ a lift with the public. The film glorifies the sacrifice of 300 Spartan warriors who held back an army of over 100,000 Persians in 480 BC. According to the thinkers, if you can call them that, of today’s neoconservative movement, we are once again involved in an epic struggle – a clash of civilisations – between the free West and the tyrannical East. Paul Wolfowitz, Douglas Feith, Richard Perle, Philip Zelikow – this handful of hallucinators, probably no more than 300 – pushed a bright, shining war on a dim president. They saw themselves like Leonides at the Pass of Thermopylae – guarding our Western way of life, without getting their suits dirty. The sacrifice – of others – was worthwhile, they thought. But now, after four years with neither victory nor defeat, it is too late for earnest criticism; the time has come for gratuitous ridicule.

Against whom the war is being fought, or why, has yet to be fully clarified. Every question on the subject brings a response that only deepens the mystery. But the costs are becoming clearer every day. So far, the Ministry of Defence admits to having spent £5bn on the war in direct costs. Indirect costs are sure to be many times that figure. America’s total is much larger – $505bn of ‘taxpayers’ money’ has been spent or approved. Neither the UK taxpayer nor his US counterpart have any spare money; their taxes were already anyone is keeping score, may top half a million. George W Bush asked Congress for the latest $100bn “without strings and without delay”. Or else the war may have to be called off, he seemed to warn. The politicians checked under the cushions, but the spare change they found was nowhere near $100bn. They already face budget deficits of half a trillion over the next two years. Where would the extra money come from? What would the extra strain do to the nation’s finances? To the dollar? No one knew – or even asked.

But as for the strings, everyone knew exactly what the chief executive was talking about – including the chief executive, for once. Lawmakers have come to see the war not as a real war, but merely as just another spending opportunity, with live ammunition. To the latest demand for cash, the politicians have attached a number of ‘pork barrel’ provisions, including $25m for spinach growers, $100m for citrus growers, $74m for peanut storage, $4bn for “emergency payments” to farmers, and $283m for milk subsidies. Thus has the US congress managed to improve upon the old Roman formula, by combining bread, circuses and war in a single spending bill.

Every war has its profiteers. Neither in love nor in war do you stop to count the costs. But a phony war is a bigger opportunity than most, because there is no need to win. Unlike the Spartans, the Cretins know Iraq poses no real danger to the homeland. So everyone gets in the spirit of the war as it really is. Halliburton, Lockheed and Bechtel inflate prices, take money for nothing, gouge taxpayers for useless weapons and unnecessary supplies. In one report, truckers said they were asked to drive empty trucks back and forth across the desert, delivering ‘sailboat fuel’, so that contractors could bill the government for delivery. A total of $9bn is officially lost or unaccounted for.

War critics complain about the ‘waste’ of money involved. They will point to this week’s polls, showing the war so ineffective that the average Iraqi now views democracy as suspicious and finds it ‘acceptable’ to kill US and British troops. Given the deadly drift of things, wasted spending may turn out to be the least harmful of all. “There will be good days and there will be bad days,” said the US president, stoically. Yes, but they won’t be shared out equally. The spinach growers, milk producers, and weapons contractors will get the good days. The poor grunts, the Iraqis and the taxpayers will get the bad ones. Money ‘wasted’ in Iraq may be the best money spent there.


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