Low-balling the Cost of War: CBO Assumes No Casualties

In a surprisingly rosy cost estimate of something which can’t be accurately estimated, the Congressional Budget Office Monday released an analysis of what Gulf War II might cost in real dollars paid by U.S. taxpayers. Only they left out the most important part: the casualties.

Actually, as a former tank crewman who has seen combat first-hand, if the situation wasn’t so serious, the CBO estimate would be seen by reasonable people as a cruel hoax on the American public and Congress.

The CBO estimate is naïve and unrealistic when you consider the kind of war we are preparing to enter – an open-ended war of regime-change and occupation and empire building that may involve heavy casualties in an urban setting such as Baghdad.

The CBO report is illuminating and instructive for what it avoids.

CBO uses the word “assume” 30 times, “uncertain” 8 times, “unknown” 4 times. Finally, twice it says there is “no basis” for an estimate on key items. In other words, it’s a wild guess: kind of like taking your broker’s advice to buy Enron or WorldCom last summer.

CBO states up front: “CBO has no basis for estimating the number of casualties from the conflict,” therefore, any discussion of casualties was simply excluded.

The result is actually useless, despite the heavy coverage of the CBO report on “all-war all-the-time” Fox News.

What the report tells us is that if the U.S. uses an arbitrary size force a fraction the size of that deployed for Gulf War I, then Gulf War II might cost somewhere between $9 and $13 billion to simply transport our troops and equipment to the region.

Then tack on another $6 to $9 billion every month to conduct the war well into the future, and watch the money pour down the sewers, filling the cups of the waiting defense contactors like Halliburton, which already made a bonanza off Afghanistan.

Remember, CBO neglected to estimate the financial cost of casualties. Chaos, battles, combat and death are the fundamental ingredients of war.

According to VFW Magazine (January 2001), most of the 1991 Gulf War Killed-in-Action occurred in just a few incidents.

· 28 U.S. soldiers were killed when their barracks was destroyed by an Iraqi missile on February 25, 1991.

· 26 U.S. soldiers were killed during the Battle for Khafji when Iraq mounted a short-lived offensive against Saudi Arabia.

· 10 U.S. soldiers killed when a 1st infantry Division Black Hawk helicopter was shot down over Iraq on February 27

· 5 U.S. soldiers killed from the 101st Infantry Division in a similar incident the same day.

· Seven soldiers from the 27th Engineer Battalion were killed at As Salman on February 26.

And the list goes on.
These casualties were taken under near ideal circumstances: open terrain, fighting against a demoralized enemy, tactical surprise on most of the battlefield, and no urban fighting, with the exception of Khafji, where we took heavy losses.

More recent experience shows similar results:

· 241 U.S. Marines killed in their barracks Beirut, Lebanon in 1983.

· 18 U.S. soldiers killed in Mogadishu, Somalia in 1993.

· 17 U.S. soldiers killed aboard the U.S.S. Cole in Aden, Yemen in 2000.

· 6 U.S. soldiers killed in heavy fighting on March 6, 2002 in Afghanistan, where Osama bin Laden escaped (remember him?).

A war in Iraq, fought in urban environments to throw out an entrenched government against soldiers defending their home towns, will certainly result in similar casualties, and quite likely much higher.
Throw in a battlefield already contaminated with 300 tons of cancer-causing depleted uranium radioactive dust from Gulf War I, and the potential for high casualties and financial disaster is clear.

Here are some numbers we need to add to the report. To date, more than 400 U.S. soldiers died in Southwest Asia since 1990. If the U.S. loses an additional 500 service members, not an unlikely number, most will be entitled to $200,000 life insurance, totaling $100 million. That’s if casualties are very low.

That’s not all, of course. The financial toll from the 1991 Gulf War continues. Disability compensation payments to Gulf War veterans – excluding any Gulf War veterans who also served in Vietnam – amounted to $1.8 billion last year, according to a recent report on the Department of Veterans Affairs web site.

U.S. taxpayers are still paying $3 billion a year to World War Two veterans. If we take the Gulf War as a basis, and assume $1.8 billion per year for disability to Gulf War II veterans for the next fifty years, add $90 billion to the overall tab for Gulf War II.

Current U.S. taxpayers will be paying for Gulf War II for the rest of their lives.

Of course, what everyone avoids discussing is the pain and suffering faced by the warriors who will die on the battlefield, those injured, and their families.

There is also the emotional toll on veterans (and their families) who return home, their lives shattered by incredible violence. According to a study of Vietnam veterans published in the Federal Practitioner (March 1995), over twenty thousand Vietnam veterans have committed suicide. Some estimates place the numbers much higher.

Then there is the enormous price of the lives of the people the U.S. intends to “liberate” from the tyranny of Saddam Hussein by killing them.

So let’s be candid and serious: there will be enormous financial and social costs of another Gulf war.

The tragedy is these costs pale in comparison to the trillions of dollars in profits oil companies stand to gain when a “pro-Western dictator” is installed, as Congressman Tom Lantos has suggested, and all of Iraq’s oil reserves are opened up to campaign donors.

But that’s another story.

Isn’t war is easy when it’s someone else’s kid doing the fighting and dying for someone else’s pocketbook?

Charles Sheehan-Miles, a decorated Gulf War combat veteran, is the author of “Prayer at Rumayla” (XLibris, 2001) and is a former President of the National Gulf War Resource Center. He can be contacted at http://www.sheehanmiles.com. He is working with a group of Gulf War veterans to bring full debate to the issue of Iraq – more information is available at http://www.veteransforcommonsense.org

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