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Media Beat

War without refund: Sticking us with the bill



You’d probably like your $8,000 spent some other way.

That’s the average amount of money for current wars that is likely to come out of the hide of each American during the next 10 years.

“The cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan,” USA Today reported on Oct. 24, “could total $2.4 trillion through the next decade, or nearly $8,000 per man, woman and child in the country, according to a Congressional Budget Office estimate.”

So far in the 21st century, fiscal accountability is no more fashionable than the lava lamp and the eight-track tape deck. Though media outlets seem to delight in pointing to specific congressional earmarks that look wasteful or foolish, the overarching big-picture magnitude of military spending gets scant attention.

Before a war gets started, one of the key aspects of media spin is the avoidance of coming to terms with true financial costs. During the final run-up to the invasion of Iraq, then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld assured questioners on Capitol Hill that oil revenues from the invaded country would soon foot the bill: “So the money’s going to come from Iraqi oil revenue, as everyone has said. They think it’s going to be something like $2 billion this year. They think it might be something like 15, 12 (billion dollars) next year.”

Promoting rosy hype that few in the Washington press corps challenged, administration officials insisted that the economic burden of the war was a nonissue. Pentagon official Paul Wolfowitz looked into his neo-con crystal ball and saw Iraq as “a country that can really finance its own reconstruction and relatively soon.”

Overall, the costs for U.S. taxpayers were downplayed to the point of absurdity. Before the invasion in March 2003, the Bush administration pegged the Iraq War’s total bill at a maximum of $50 billion.

Fast forward nearly five years, and “downspin” continues. When the updated CBO estimate of war costs reached journalists a few days ago, the presidential lowball reflex was on display. Speaking for the White House budget office, Sean Kevelighan declared: “Congress should stop playing politics with our troops by trying to artificially inflate war funding levels.” To be on the safe side, though, he refused to provide a White House estimate of those levels.

Obfuscation is a fancy word for this kind of media strategy. More direct terms would be along the lines of deception and dishonest equivocation. But whatever you call it, the standard approach when war-makers try to spin the press is to dodge the true consequences of war, from the U.S. Treasury and the 1040 Form to hospital bed and graveside.

War thrives on abstraction in the media arena. But for people who fight and die in war, there’s nothing abstract about it. This disconnect – between how media outlets routinely portray war and how people directly experience it – lies at the crux of propaganda for launching and continuing warfare.

In a society that is largely insulated from clear effects of war being waged in our names with our tax dollars, the disconnections provide distance that facilitates the process. One way or another, Americans pay a war bill that is not itemized.

Meanwhile, most of the dirty and bloody work done by a relatively small part of the U.S. population, in far-away battle zones, is filtered by news media before we learn about it. The coverage strains out so many real aspects of what’s going on that the filtration leaves America’s media environment and political process almost clueless about what’s happening in human terms.

You’ll be paying thousands of dollars for a war that you probably don’t favor. But it’s a war that you continue to support with checks to the Internal Revenue Service. And the financial costs are just the beginning of the unspeakable tolls.

©2007 Creators Syndicate, Inc.

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