Tracking the Cost of War

Minneapolis Star Tribune

The war in Iraq is sure to evoke strong reactions among Americans. Some are for it, some against, some not sure. It’s hard to be nonpartisan when discussing U.S. involvement in Iraq, but that’s exactly what some websites try to do, as a new Twin Cities-based online project reminds us.
The United States has spent more than $427 billion so far on the war in Iraq, but how much of that is coming out of your pocket? That’s the motivating question behind Jim Cousins and Don Raleigh’s, which went live last week. Enter your annual income for 2003 to 2006, and the site will show what your federal taxes are contributing to the war. (You remain anonymous, no registration is required and nothing is recorded.) For a single person who made $30,000 in 2006, for example, the war will cost $1,201.36, according to the site. “People in the military, their friends and family keep track of the war, but everyone else seems disconnected,” Cousins said by phone. “This site is to show that we are all connected by what the taxes we pay are used to support.” Cousins, an account executive at a Minneapolis ad agency, added that he and Raleigh, a Gulf War veteran and computer guru, are on opposite sides of the political spectrum when it comes to the war. But the site “is intentionally nonpartisan and only informational,” he said. “You draw your own conclusions; this site simply provides the data to inform you of your financial participation.” The figures provided by are based on a broader cost-of-war study by economists Joseph Stiglitz and Linda Bilmes, who Cousins said vetted his and Raleigh’s work. “Because the war spending numbers are so huge, it’s important for people to understand approximately what they pay at an individual level,” Bilmes said through the site.

Cost of War
For spending on the war at the state and city level, there’s Cost of War. According to this site, the war has cost $10.3 billion for Minnesota and a total of $1.1 billion for Minneapolis and St. Paul. You can compare those figures to federal spending on public housing, education and more as part of the National Priorities Project.

“Should the U.S. have attacked Iraq?” Now, there’s a controversial question. Enter to answer it — in a fashion. Like, the site aims to avoid partisanship by being strictly informational. It lists hot topics related to the war and presents quotes and published statements representing various positions in the debate — from one- and five-minute overviews to lengthy discourses. For example, on the question of whether oil was a reason for invading Iraq, it notes that U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, believes that this is true based “on the fact that there is $5 trillion worth of oil above and in the ground in Iraq, that individuals involved in the administration have been involved in the oil industry, [and] that the oil industry certainly would benefit from having the administration control Iraq.” On the other side is ChevronTexaco Chairman Dave O’Reilly: “If it was a war for oil, we wouldn’t have done it. Because if you look at the consequences — Iraq is now producing less oil, it’s more unstable — it has led to disruptions in the market.” Wade through all the rhetoric, check out related facts and figures and then decide how you feel.

Operation Truth
Some might not see Operation Truth, which is run by the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, as a nonpartisan site, because it has a military affiliation. But war issues of all kinds, pro and con, are reported, and the site’s forum (registration required) allows veterans to speak freely about their experiences. The site’s overriding mission simply is to make sure that the nation’s military has the proper resources, whatever its mission, and that veterans’ needs are met. It also seeks continually to remind Americans that the nation has thousands of military men and women deployed overseas, as exemplified in the site’s posting of a recent quote by veteran and author Paul Rieckhoff in the New York Times: “The president can say we’re a country at war all he wants. We’re not. The military is at war. And the military families are at war. Everybody else is shopping.”

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