The high cost of war

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$62 billion.


That’s a lot of money. And a story on the website for The Atlantic magazine pointed out last week that $62 billion is the amount that public colleges and universities in the United States collected in tuition from students in 2012. With some caveats attached, according to The Atlantic, that’s roughly what it would cost if the federal government decided it wanted to make tuition free at the hundreds of public campuses across the country, from California University of Pennsylvania to California State University in Long Beach.


Of course, in today’s political climate, there’s a snowball’s chance of that occurring. But it’s not necessarily a complete fantasy – state colleges and universities were tuition-free in California, aside from a nominal fee, until the 1960s, and the City University of New York managed to do the same until 1976. Removing – or, at least, easing – the burden of higher-education costs and debt would take a particularly tenacious monkey off the backs of many students and their families.


Contrast that with the money we spent fighting in Iraq. A report from Brown University released last March to mark the 10th anniversary of the conflict’s initiation, found that $1.7 trillion was put on America’s tab to go into the country, topple Saddam Hussein and ferret out weapons of mass destruction that, lo and behold, were not there in the first place. The Brown study also found that $490 billion was owed to veterans of that war and that the total cost, over 40 years, could end up being $6 trillion.


That would have paid an awful lot of college tuition.


And we can’t help but wonder where those folks were in 2003 who now obsess over how every food stamp is used, how every dollar of unemployment benefits is spent and work assiduously to portray the Affordable Care Act as a money-draining boondoggle and “socialism.” Why were they so silent then?


Despite all the money that was poured into Iraq, American taxpayers have ample reason to wonder what they got to show for the expenditure, especially in light of recent events in that part of the world. Sectarian violence between Sunnis and Shiites, which first erupted after Saddam’s ironfisted regime was toppled, has flared again. Attacks on Sunday killed at least 15 people and injured dozens more. This follows attacks on Christmas Day when two car bombs in southern Baghdad targeting Christians killed at least 38 people and injured about 70 more. The United States is reportedly going to send Hellfire rockets and drones to assist the Iraqi government, but Secretary of State John Kerry vowed in the aftermath of the latest bombing that U.S. troops would not be returning to the country.


“We’re not contemplating putting boots on the ground,” Kerry said. “This is (Iraq)’s fight, but we’re going to help them in their fight.” Let’s hope this is a promise the Obama administration keeps.


The cauldron of violence bubbling in Iraq shows how illusory the assurances were from George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld that Iraq would be easily pacified and it would set in motion a series of events that would lead democracy and comity to bloom in the Middle East. It also can’t be forgotten that the Bush administration once confidently predicted that the whole engagement in Iraq would cost no more than $50 billion to $60 billion.


Think about that when the next tuition increase or reduction in student aid is announced.


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