ERIC S. MARGOLIS Congressman David Obey, a Wisconsin Democrat who is chairman of the powerful House Appropriations Committee, has come up with a novel idea: American should pay for the wars they are waging. Obey's proposal, which is backed by 10 other congressmen, sounds startling - until one realises that both the Bush and Obama administrations have never properly financed their foreign wars by forcing Americans to pay for them through higher taxes. Instead, Washington has deferred the $1 trillion to date costs of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars by simply adding them to the national debt, and paying interest on the balance owing. But this kind of deceptive national accounting is becoming increasingly difficult in the face of Obama's $1.4 trillion deficit this year, and his impending decision to send 30,000 to 40,000 more US troops to Afghanistan. Each soldier in Afghanistan costs $1 million per annum, according to the US Congress Research Service. More US troops will thus cost $30 to $40 billion in additional war costs on top of the $200 billion annual cost of garrisoning Iraq and Afghanistan. Much of this money will have to be borrowed from China and Japan. Obey and his allies want to impose a graduated surtax on Americans of 1-5 percent, depending on their income level, to fund the actual costs of what are now Obama's wars. Otherwise, warns Obey, the huge cost of keeping up to 100,000 US troops in Afghanistan will "destroy the other things we are trying to do in our economy." Chief among which is health care. In a clear choice between guns or butter, Obey estimates 10 years of war in Afghanistan will cost the same $900 million as providing a comprehensive health plan for all Americans. Unfortunately, chances of a war surtax passing Congress are nil. While the wars are increasingly unpopular among Americans, a tax increase at a time of over 10 percent unemployment will ignite the same kind of furious reaction that met Obama's proposed national health plan, and endanger Democrats facing mid-term elections. As the administration appears set to plunge deeper into the Afghan morass, the real costs of Afghanistan and Iraq are still being concealed from the public and Congress. The $200 billion annual cost for both wars is only a part of the growing expenses faced by Washington. Washington spends $25 billion funding foreign armies, the bulk of which goes to the Mideast, Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan. Aid to Islamabad will rise to $15 billion over the next five years, including secret 'black' payments. It supports 168,000 'contractors' in Iraq, many of them gunmen. CIA runs 74,000 mercenaries in Afghanistan. The new fortified, 50 hectare US Embassy in Baghdad will cost $700 million; the new embassy in Islamabad, $800 billion. Add to these costs the expense of maintaining fleets in the Gulf and Indian Ocean, and military bases in the Gulf and Diego Garcia to support operations in Iraq and Afghanistan; hugely expensive military airlift; $100 per litre fuel delivered to US forces in Afghanistan; and, of course, financial inducements to many smaller nations to send handfuls of troops to Afghanistan and Iraq. Thus, the real cost of Afghanistan and Iraq is much higher than $200 billion annually. Yet Obama, heedless of such costs, appears determined to expand the Afghan War. It seems clear that 'peace candidate' Obama has fallen increasingly under the influence of America's powerful military-industrial-financial complex and neoconservative ideologues. In short, the same calculus of forces that guided the Bush administration Even America's mighty economy cannot for long support waging wars across the world. Unaffordable wars have been the ruin of many an empire and the American Raj seems headed in the same direction. - Khaleej Times