War in Iraq is a Costly Crime


Randall G. Shelden


The latest estimate of the cost of war in Iraq has now passed the $234 billion mark, as of January 19, 2006.  As noted on the main page of my web site, that’s enough money to provide just over 31 million children with pre-school education, provide 140 million kids with health care, pay for the salaries of 4 million teachers, provide college scholarships to around 11 million students, pay for just over 2 million housing units for the poor, fund world hunger efforts for 9 years, provide funding for anti-Aids programs for 23 years and insured that every child in the world was provided with immunization against diseases for 75 years.


But this may be the proverbial “tip of the iceberg.”  According to estimates provided at the annual meeting of the American Economic Association (“War's stunning price tag,” Los Angeles Times, January 17, 2006, Linda Bilmes, former assistant secretary of Commerce and Joseph Stiglitz, winner of the Nobel Prize in economics in 2001), the final bill for this war may end up being between $1 trillion and $2 trillion!  These estimates are much higher than official estimates (and especially estimates given prior to invading Iraq) because, in the words of the authors of this article “the full costs of the war are still largely hidden below the surface.”  These estimates also “include lifetime healthcare and disability benefits for returning veterans and special round-the-clock medical attention for many of the 16,300 Americans who already have been seriously wounded.”  Also, they include “the increased cost of replacing military hardware” and the fact that “the military must pay large reenlistment bonuses and offer higher benefits to reenlist reluctant soldiers.”  Moreover, since the war is financed by borrowing money (mostly from abroad), “there is a rising interest cost on the extra debt.”


These costs are incredibly higher than the $60 billion originally claimed by the president’s budget office and even higher than the $200 billion revised estimates by White House economic advisor Lawrence Lindsey.


Bilmes and Stiglitz offer this sobering conclusion concerning the rush to war, instead of waiting for the inspectors to do their job (which would have resulted in the obvious lack of weapons of mass destruction): “Had we waited, the value of the information we would have learned from the inspectors would arguably have saved the nation at least $1 trillion — enough money to fix Social Security for the next 75 years twice over.”


None of these revelations should come as a surprise.  This is, to put it bluntly, criminal.  By profession I am engaged in the study of crime and criminal behavior, but any honest examination of this subject requires covering behaviors not normally considered “criminal.”  Indeed, historically the field of criminology has had its subject matter dictated by the state – meaning only crimes against the state (or “the people”) are worthy of examination.  When it comes to crimes committed by the state, examination is considered taboo.  But the crimes by the state are far greater than any other crimes. 


In the case of this war, the biggest crime has obviously been the war itself, since the invasion of Iraq clearly violated international law and many other laws governing the behavior of nations toward one another.  Also, since it was based on several lies, one could reasonably conclude that a gigantic fraud has been committed against the American people.  Then, too, the wasted money, which could be used for all sorts of needs in this and other countries, must be considered.  It has been grand larceny on the largest possible scale, since American tax dollars have been squandered.


In a recent study called “War, Aggression, and State Crime: A Criminological Analysis of the Invasion and Occupation of Iraq,” Ronald Kramer (Western Michigan University) and Raymond Michalowski (Northern Arizona University) place the war in Iraq within the framework of what many call “state crime.”  They define state crime as follows:


State crime is any action that violates public international law, international criminal law, or domestic law when these actions are committed by individuals acting in official or covert capacity as agents of the state pursuant to expressed or implied orders of the state, or resulting from state failure to exercise due diligence over the actions of its agents.


With the current death toll that exceeds an estimated 100,000 or more innocent civilians, “armed attacks on residential neighborhoods, home invasions, arrests and detention without probable cause or due process, and the torture and abuse of prisoners are clear violations of existing human rights standards” the war in Iraq clearly fits the definition of “state crime.”


Kramer and Michalowski further point to the United Nations Charter of 1945, Article 2 (4), which states that “All members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or [behave] in any other manner inconsistent with the purposes of the United Nations.” While both the U.S. and Britain claim the exception to this article – specifically Article 51 of the UN Charter that says a nation can engage in “self-defense in the face of an armed attack” – this clearly does not apply as Iraq posed no threat to the US, nor had any connection to the 9/11 attack nor to Al Qaeda.


The authors of this study offer the following sober conclusion:


The invasion and occupation of Iraq by the United States and its allies is a violation of international law, and as such constitutes a state crime. It is a state crime, however, over which there is no effective social control, and for which there is no likelihood of formal sanction. As the most militarily and economically powerful nation in the world system, it appears that the United States and its leaders can, if they choose, violate international law with relative impunity. Unpunishability, however, does not render illegal acts legal, nor should it place them beyond criminological scrutiny.


Would it be too much of an exaggeration to call this a “criminal state”?



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