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18 August, 2009

Winners and losers of America’s Iraq War

SHERWOOD ROSS
Countercurrents.org

“On my last day in Iraq,” veteran McClatchy News correspondent Leila Fadel wrote August 9th, “as on my first day in Iraq, I couldn’t see what the United States and its allies had accomplished. …I couldn’t understand what thousands of American soldiers had died for and why hundreds of thousands of Iraqis had been killed.”

Quite a few oil company CEO’s and “defense” industry executives, however, do have a pretty good idea of why that war is being fought. As Michael Cherkasky, president of Kroll Inc., said a year after the Iraq invasion boosted his security firm’s profits 231 percent: “It’s the Gold Rush.” What follows is a brief look at some of the outfits that cashed in, and at the multitudes that got took.

“Defense Earnings Continue to Soar,” Renae Merle wrote in The Washington Post on July 30, 2007. “Several of Washington’s largest defense contractors said last week that they continue to benefit from a boom in spending on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan…” Merle added, “Profit reports from Northrop Grumman, General Dynamics and Lockheed Martin showed particularly strong results in operations in the region.” More recently, Boeing’s second-quarter earnings this year rose 17 percent, Associated Press reported, in part because of what AP called “robust defense sales.”

But war, it turns out, is not only unhealthy for human beings, it is not uniformly good for the economy. Many sectors suffer, including non-defense employment, as a war can destroy more jobs than it creates. While the makers of warplanes may be flying high, these are “Tough Times For Commercial Aerospace,” Business Week reported July 13th. “The sector is contending with the deepening global recession, declining air traffic, capacity cuts by airlines, and reduced availability of financing for aircraft purchases.”

The general public suffers, too. “As President Bush tried to fight the war without increasing taxes, the Iraq war has displaced private investment and/or government expenditures, including investments in infrastructure, R&D and education: they are less than they would otherwise have been,” write Joseph Stiglitz and Linda Bilmes in “The Three Trillion Dollar War”(Norton).

Stiglitz holds a Nobel Prize in economics and Bilmes is former assistant secretary of the U.S. Department of Commerce. They say government money spent in Iraq does not stimulate the economy in the way that the same amounts spent at home would.

The war has also starved countless firms for expansion bucks. “Higher borrowing costs for business since the beginning of the Iraq war are bleeding manufacturing investment,” Greg Palast wrote in “Armed Madhouse”(Plume). And when entrepreneurs---who hire so many---lack growth capital, job creation takes a real hit.

We might recall too, the millions abroad who filled the streets to protest President Bush’s impending attack on Iraq and who have quit buying U.S. products, further reducing sales and employment. “American firms, especially those that have become icons, like McDonald’s and Coca-Cola, may also suffer, not so much from explicit boycotts as from a broader sense of dislike of all things American,” Stiglitz and Bilmes write. “America’s standing in the world has never been lower,” they say, noting that in 2007, U.S. “favorable” ratings plunged to 29 percent in Indonesia and nine percent in Turkey. “Large numbers of wealthy people in the Middle East---where the oil money and inequality put individual wealth in the billions---have shifted banking from America to elsewhere,” they say.

Because the Iraq war crippled that country’s oil industry, output fell, supplies tightened, and, according to Palast, “World prices leaped to reflect the shortfall…” What’s more, he points out, after the Iraq invasion the Saudis withheld more than a million barrels of oil a day from the market. “The one-year 121% post-invasion jump in the price of crude, from under $30 a barrel to over $60, sucked that $120 billion windfall to the Saudis from SUV drivers and factory owners in the West.” Count the Saudis among the big winners.

The oil spike subtracted 1.2% from the gross domestic product, “costing the USA just over one million jobs,” Palast reckoned. Stiglitz and Bilmes said the oil price spike means “American families have had to spend about 5 percent more of their income on gasoline and heating than before.” Last year, the Iraq and Afghan wars cost each American household $138 per month in taxes, they estimated. Count the Joneses among the big losers.

The rest of the article can be read at the Countercurrents website: Winners and Losers in the American Warfare State

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