Saturday, September 20, 2008

Beast of the Month - June 2008

Beast of the Month - June 2008
Robert Gates, Defense Secretary

"I yam an anti-Christ..."
John Lydon (aka Johnny Rotten) of The Sex Pistols, "Anarchy in the UK"

"But they got a lot of forks n' knives,
And they gotta cut somethin'."
Bob Dylan, "Talkin' New York"

Was it really five years ago that George W. Bush pranced on an aircraft like a member of the Village People with "Mission Accomplished" boastfully on full display in the background? Why, it only seems like yesterday. Then again, that's just to us at the Konformist, writing about it from our air-conditioned office. Somehow we suspect to the troops that are stuck in Iraq, it has seemed like way too long already.

Deservedly, Iraq is the albatross around the neck of George W. Bush and the GOP. The numbers speak for themselves: over 4,000 dead and 30,000 wounded, and that's just among American soldiers. Among the Iraqi population, the numbers are more shocking. The website Iraq Body Count lists the total number of deaths at over 90,000, yet that number is admitted to be an understatement by IBC itself, as it includes only deaths mentioned in media reports. How much is it an understatement? In October 2006, a survey published by the respected British medical journal Lancet estimated the death toll to be 655,000, with an upper estimate of 943,000. The survey was lambasted by the political establishment and ignored by the mainstream media, even though the survey was done with the normal scientific methodology in estimating war deaths that has never been disputed in the past. Two reports of surveys by Opinion Research Business, published in September 2007 and January 2008, seemed not only to confirm the Lancet numbers but imply they were underestimates. Both reports by the ORB estimated the total deaths to be over a million, one with an upper estimate of over 1.4 million. Whether it is 1.4 million, 655K or even 90 grand, the butchery in Iraq is a mass murder that has turned Team USA increasingly into an international pariah. (Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo haven't helped in this regard.)

Of course, blood is cheap, especially when we're dealing with the blood of dead Iraqis. In dollars, how costly has the Iraq War been? To the US government, direct costs to the US Treasury after five years is $845 billion, but this is also a gross understatement. Noble Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz has calculated the actual costs of the Iraq War to be $3 trillion dollars. This number, he admits, understates the total as well: when adding interest on debt and future borrowing, the price of a continued military presence in Iraq and lifetime health-care costs for veterans, Iraq may cost up to $7 trillion. Meanwhile, WWII, even adjusted for inflation, cost an estimated $5 trillion. Suddenly, Iraq isn't just an albatross around Bush and the Republican's neck: it's the albatross for the entire US economy.

Still, while the albatross metaphor for Iraq is very fitting for the Bush Administration, The Konformist prefers to think of it as the Scooby Doo Mystery Machine for Bushco. After all, had it not been for that darn Iraq War (and its mangy mutt) Bush and his minions would've gotten away with it all, and they'd still be treated with pathetic fawning by the korporate media. But now Shaggy and the gang have pulled the mask off, and Donald "Redrum" Rumsfeld is no longer the snuggly guy who seems so lovable when he repeatedly uses the word "kill" during press conferences.

To his credit, Bush got the clue: after the GOP got drubbed in the 2006 election, he immediately fired Rummy's ass as Pentagon chief and replaced him with Robert Gates, The Konformist Beast of the Month. Replacing Rumsfeld with Gates - an Iran-Contra figure who served as CIA Director under George H. W. Bush - was a classic Dubya move: when in doubt, go to your daddy's friends to bail you out. And on a superficial level, Gates has been an improvement of Redrum. But in reality, Gates is more like "Meet the new boss, same as the old boss."

Specifically, Gates has implemented a strategy of more of the same. This is the essence of "the surge" in Iraq, the plan of adding US troops to Iraq in January 2007, increasing the total from 132,000 to 168,000. Led by GOP prez candidate John McCain, a mantra talking point of the GOP is that "the surge is working" - a talking point that the Democrats have predictably been unwilling to challenge. It's a pretty easy assertion to reply to: 2007 was the deadliest year for US troops in Iraq since the war began (with 899 dead) and, according to the Iraq Ministry of Health, the bloodiest year for the Iraqi people. But even if one ignores the death toll again, in perhaps the greatest measure of success or failure, the surge has not helped bring about an endgame plan for Iraq, even five years after Bush first boasted "Mission Accomplished" to great fanfare.

The surge brings up another important issue: US troops do no grow magically on trees. How is the US military going to keep getting soldiers when it already promises to get G.I. Joe stuck in one long pointless war, with another one planned in Iran? Legislation proposed by populist Senator Jim Webb of Virginia offered one possibility: modeled after the WWII GI Bill, it would guarantee a complete scholarship for service members to any in-state public university. It would require only a three year commitment for the benefits to kick in. Needless to say, the DOD opposed the bill, claiming it would do more damage in reducing retention levels than it would in luring more recruits. In other words, the Pentagon believes it can trap more poor working class kids in the military by keeping the benefits lower and limiting their options than it could by offering them deserved rewards for their patriotism. Tellingly, Bush has already threatened to veto the bill, and it is opposed by McCain as well.

Of course, even without the Iraq War, the US military has become a massive drain on the US economy thanks to the post-9/11 defense buildup hysteria. The 2007 DOD budget was $500 billion, and that doesn't include the $170 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Meanwhile, Robert Higgs (who, it should be noted, is a conservative economist with ties to the Hoover Institute rather than a progressive with an axe to grind) added the costs of the DOE for nuclear weapons and environmental cleanup, Department of Veteran Affairs and Homeland Security, and costs within the State Department, DOJ, Treasury and NASA that are really defense spending, along with over $200 billion in net interest. He concluded that the actual 2007 defense budget is over one trillion dollars.

Don't expect that to end in 2009: McCain certainly isn't interested in cutting bloated defense spending, and neither are Obama or Hillary. Don't expect the Iraq fiasco to end any time soon either: McCain has stated he doesn't see troops returning from Baghdad until 2013. To his credit, at least he's being honest. Jack Keane, a retired four-star general and co-creator of the surge strategy, is, according to a New York Sun interview, convinced Hillary "would hold off on authorizing a large-scale immediate withdrawal of American soldiers from Iraq." As he has worked with her since 2001, he is an insider who knows what he's talking about, and is hardly making the claim as an attack. Meanwhile, though Obama has made his claim to fame by opposing the Iraq War (even though he did while serving a primarily African-American state Senate district, which hardly made it a daring position) former advisor Samantha Power admitted that his 16-month "plan" to withdraw troops from Iraq is a "best case scenario" in a BBC interview. (There is reason to believe it was this - and not calling Hillary a "monster" - that forced her "resignation" from the Obama campaign.) So much for Democrats as an anti-war party.

In any case, we salute Robert Gates as Beast of the Month. Congratulations, and keep up the great work, Bobby!!!


Bumiller, Elisabeth. "McCain Sees Troops Coming Home by 2013." New York Times 15 May 2008 <>.

Burnham, Gilbert, Lafta, Riyadh, Doocy, Shannon and Roberts, Les. "Mortality After the 2003 Invasion of Iraq." The Lancet 11 October 2006.

Doster, Adam. "December Gains Promising, but 2007 Was Deadliest Year in Iraq. The Raw Story 1 January 2008 <>.

Griffis, Margaret. "Casualties in Iraq." <>.

Hall, Kevin G. "Nobel Laureate Estimates Wars' Cost at More Than $3 Trillion." McClatchy Newspapers 27 February 2008 <>.

Higgs, Robert. "The Trillion-Dollar Defense Budget Is Already Here." The Independent Institute 15 March 2007 <>.

Iraq Body Count. <>.

"Iraq Coalition Casualty Count." iCasualties <>.

Lake, Eli. "Clinton's Hawkishness Ruffles Feathers in Obama Camp." New York Sun 4 March 2008 <>

"More Than 1,000,000 Iraqis Murdered." Opinion Research Business September 2007 <>.

"Pentagon Balks at New G.I. Education Bill." CBS News 13 May 2008 <>.

Smith, Ben. "Power on Obama's Iraq Plan: 'Best Case Scenario.'" Politico 7 March 2008 <>.

Stiglitz, Joseph E. and Bilmes, Linda J. The Three Trillion Dollar War: The True Cost of the Iraq Conflict. New York: W. W. Norton, 2008

Trotta, Daniel. "Iraq War Hits U.S. Economy: Nobel Winner." Reuter 2 March 2008 <>.

"2007 Becomes Deadliest Yet for U.S. in Iraq." MSNBC 6 November 2007 <>.

"Update on Iraqi Casualty Data." Opinion Research Business January 2008.

Waldman, Paul. "The Colossus." The American Prospect 31 January 2008 <>.

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