March 19 is the fifth anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq.
Martha Stewart Living suggests celebrating fifth anniversaries by planting two saplings next to one another so that, when they graduate to treehood, a hammock can be strung between them.
I think the doily-pushing ex-con is on to something. With possible future prez Sen. John McCain saying he'd be happy to see U.S. troops in Iraq for 100 years, we can plant the trees now and, sometime around 2015, I can whisper my Iraq war anniversary columns in your ear while we're snuggling on the hammock.
Before we commence digging, however, I'd like to have a look at what the war has cost the United States, Iraq and the world.
The death toll inflicted on Iraqis since the U.S. invasion is incalculable. Literally. No one can calculate it.
Even though White House and Pentagon officials like to remind the world that American "smart" weapons spare innocent lives, neither the White House nor the Pentagon has released a count of how many civilians have been killed in Iraq. "We don't do body counts on other people" is how former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld put it on Fox News in November 2003.
Iraq Body Count tallies Iraqi deaths reported in the media. As of March 7, it put Iraqi civilian deaths between 81,632 and 89,103.
A World Health Organization study puts the civilian death toll between March 2003 and June 2006 at 151,000.
A Johns Hopkins study published in the British medical journal the Lancet put the death toll over roughly the same period at 655,000.
Iraq is a small country. Its population is roughly 1/12 of the United States'. Even the lowest Iraqi civilian death estimate, 81,632, is the equivalent of 980,000 Americans. When 3,000 Americans died on 9/11, Bush correctly called it a great tragedy. Iraq's civilian population has been ravaged on a scale Americans cannot imagine. Bush calls that progress.
In Iraq, 3,794 American soldiers have been killed. The Pentagon will not come clean about wounded Americans. One estimate I read recently put the count at 29,300 wounded. That estimate doesn't include any of the 20,000 troops who were not listed by the Pentagon as wounded even though they showed signs of brain injuries.
How much will the war cost Americans?
Before the war, Bush & Co. hinted it would cost about $60 billion. Cakewalk. Greeted as liberators. Reconstruction will be paid for by Iraqi oil. Troops home by the end of 2003. Blah blah blah.
A rogue White House economic adviser, Lawrence Lindsey, suggested in 2002 the war would cost between $100 billion and $200 billion. The White House disowned his remarks and fired him for being, in their estimation, way off-base.
Lindsey was wrong. He wasn't off-base. He wasn't even near the ballpark.
According to Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz and Harvard professor of economics Linda Bilmes, the war will cost Americans between $3 trillion and $5 trillion.
In their new book, The Three Trillion Dollar War, they say prewar estimates of the war's cost are off by four zeroes. Equipment, troop salaries and bonuses, damage to the economy done by the postwar spike in oil prices, long-term health care spending for veterans, and the cost of producing half a dozen new nonfiction titles about the Iraq war each week has already cost $1.2 trillion.
Taxpayer spending on health care for World War II veterans did not peak until 1993, or 48 years after the Germans and Japanese surrendered. Taxpayer spending on benefits for Vietnam vets hasn't yet peaked, even though we're 30 years past the fall of Saigon and 21 years past the release of Full Metal Jacket.
And the United States pays about $4.3 billion in annual benefits to Gulf War veterans. The Gulf War lasted about 60 days. One hundred forty-eight U.S. soldiers were killed in direct combat and 467 were wounded in the Gulf War.
Stiglitz and Bilmes say the nation can expect to pay for the care of roughly 800,000 veterans of the Iraq war.