War costs. It costs the lives and the limbs of young men and women sent into battle. Their families, their loved ones, their communities and their nation lose the potential of some of its best citizens. For the Iraq war, that total already exceeds 3,300 dead and nearly 25,000 wounded, with tens of thousands more scarred psychologically, often permanently, from the horrors they witnessed. War costs. It squanders billions on destruction that might be devoted to construction. Best estimates are the Iraq war -- which has already consumed about $425 billion -- will end costing about $2 trillion when the cost of veterans health care, disability payments, replacing the weapons and rebuilding the military is counted. That's $2 trillion -- largely debt left to our children to pay -- that will not be available to move this nation to energy independence, rebuild our cities, ensure that every child has a healthy start, make our schools the best in the world, keep college affordable, or renovate our collapsing infrastructure in everything from sewers to communications to subways.
War costs. One of its great costs was on display in the presidential debates. War consumes our attention. Each day the papers are filled with reports from the front line. The president, House and Senate focus their attention on the war. The presidential candidates and their debates devote most time to the war. Busy Americans devote a large part of the time they have to talk about national concerns to the war.
Other things drop from the agenda. When Katrina hit and exposed the shame of American poverty, we vowed that we would never forget. The president belatedly traveled to New Orleans to commit himself to the rebuilding of New Orleans and the Gulf and to the broader challenge of poverty.
That was then. Now, the lights are still off in many poor neighborhoods in New Orleans. Thousands are still dispersed around the country with no progress made on rebuilding their homes. The lethal failure of rescue during Katrina has been made worse by the unforgivable failure of reconstruction after Katrina.
The focus? Iraq, of course, and the "war on terror." War has not only squandered American lives and dollars, it also understandably has consumed our attention. And in doing so, it simply blinds us to the looming challenges we face at home.
The Rev. Martin Luther King opposed the Vietnam War in part because he saw that as the war escalated, the war on poverty was abandoned. "A nation," Dr. King warned, "that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death."
War -- even failed war -- feeds on itself. The violence it generates fosters hatred, vengeance and more violence. The Iraq war, our own intelligence services report, has been the best recruiting tool for al-Qaida.
The commitment of the military generates demand for more military. We spend almost as much as the rest of the world combined on the military. The Pentagon now consumes more than half of the U.S. discretionary budget -- the budget Congress appropriates each year, about $3,700 per household each year. Yet every major candidate in both parties is committed to spending even more on the military.
The failed occupation in Iraq is costing this country lives, resources and security. It consumes our attention. Some have and will pay with their lives. The nation will pay for it with our future, with hope deferred and possibility foreclosed. These terrible costs cannot be recovered.
© 2007 The Chicago Sun-Times