Who knows where the money goes?

During a recent intervention I started to think about money. More so, I was forced to think about money by a group of teary-eyed and supposedly concerned friends and colleagues who felt it was their responsibility to lock me in a broom closet and ruin my good time.

The rhetoric began in a familiar way – you’ve been to one intervention you’ve been to them all – and I was getting ready to drift off when someone made a point that suddenly struck home not in concurrence with my own life, but rather concerning our current situation in Iraq.

“Think about the money you’ve wasted,” admonished a tough-talking local priest. “Think about what you could have bought with that!”

The situation in Iraq is a morally touchy subject. Tempers flare and polite conversation tends to dissolve when the subject is broached. I’m not looking for a debate on ethics – that horse has been beaten. Let’s take a moment and look closely at the financial ramifications of President Bush’s crusade.

By the time you read this, the cost to U.S. citizens for the occupation of Iraq will have topped $140 billion and the number just keeps growing. The cost Multnomah County alone is paying is well above the $225 million mark. With no signs of balance on the horizon and President Bush’s seemingly endless ability to attain funding, it is fair to assume that epic number won’t be leveling out anytime soon.

But with a budget deficit nearing $477 billion and recently implemented tax cuts promising to raise that amount to a staggering $2 trillion in the next ten years, the costs of Iraq seem piddling in comparison. Besides, to those of us scrounging sofa change for a trip to Taco Bell these numbers represent nothing but another abstraction doted upon by those wealthy enough to have time to care.

But let’s put these numbers to the test. I’m not talking about the epic humanitarian needs that could have been satiated with the money spent on the Iraq war, but more so the cultural implications of that kind of cash.

Take for instance China’s recent preparations for the 2008 Olympics. Together, they are the largest urban renewal project in history, covering at least one aspect or another of almost all of Beijing’s 6500 miles and bringing in the best architects in the world to design some of the most grandiose stadiums and event halls in history. China is rehashing their entire subway system and creating mile after mile of luxury apartments throughout the city.

The plan has, due to its high cost, generated its fair share of controversy among the traditionally conservative Chinese government, but the overall cultural and historic significance of the project has taken precedence. The controversial cost of this monstrous undertaking is $37 billion, less than a third the amount already spent in Iraq.

And to what end? To bring democracy to Iraq? To leave its citizens without water or electricity? The United States could have leveled and rebuilt Baghdad into a modernist paradise three times over by now. For a mere $2,700,000 we could cover all 81 square miles of Baghdad with beautiful ready-to-lay Hemse flooring from IKEA, complete with oak stave effect.

Sure, the residents of Iraq resent the occupation now, but by the time they see their new Herman Miller lounge chairs and Bose stereo systems they’ll forget all about that old Koran and its silly, antique implications.

If you want people to love the United States, you’ve got to get them to live the U.S. lifestyle. It’s a surefire way to curb the insurgency: satiate Iraq the same way we satiate the United States. Who’s got time to blow up police stations when Ellen Degeneres and Wayne Brady are on back-to-back?