The Seattle Times published an article yesterday on "What will war cost? Studies weigh oil prices, lost produtivity, more", based on two recent studies on the topic:
- "The Economic Costs of the Iraq War: An Appraisal Three Years after the Beginning of the Conflict" by Linda Bilmes (The John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University) and Joseph E. Stiglitz (Columbia University)
- "The Economic Costs of the War in Iraq", an AEI-Brookings Joint Center for Regulatory Studies report by Scott Wallsten and Katrina Kosec
The Seattle Times article reports that Congress appropriated $357B between 2002 and the end of 2005 for the war in Iraq (and Afghanistan), but these two studies estimate the true cost of the Iraq war as being between $657B and $2T[rillion] (!), when other factors are taken into consideration, e.g., lost productivity of troops wounded or killed in the conflict, the lost productivity of National Guard troops who are taken away from their jobs (and families), the higher costs for military recruitment (and, I imagine, retention). One of the many disturbing issues raised in the article is the lack of evidence that the Bush Administration did any cost estimate for the war, and that when one of its members, Lawrence Lindsey, when he was Director of the White House National Economic Council, finally did offer an estimate, the person was ejected (one of many examples of the administration's preference for loyalty over competence and its zero tolerance for dissent).
Another study, "The Iraq Quagmire: The Mounting Costs of War and the Case for Bringing Home the Troops", an Institute for Policy Studies report by Phyllis Bennis and Erik Leaver, compares the cost of the Iraq war (see above) to the cost of the Vietnam war ($600B, adjusted for inflation), highlights the human, social and economic costs to Iraq (give that 10 times more Iraqis than Americans have been killed ... so far), and enumerates the dimensions of costs to the world (with respect to diversion of attention and other resources, and the undermining of global law, security and alliances).
Then, of course, there are the opportunity costs to this war. What if the United States had applied this much attention, energy and money in other ways? I earlier wrote about the diversion of funds from repairing New Orleans levees to fighting the war in Iraq, but that $250M is just a drop in the bucket when one considers these larger cost figures. The Center for American Progress published a report on "The Opportunity Costs of the Iraq War" back in August 2004 (when most cost estimates were considerably lower), enumerating 18 different projects to enhance U.S. national security that all could have been funded with the amount of money allocated for Iraq (which then was a mere $144B). These projects include
- Adding two new divisions to the Army
- Putting 100,000 new police officers on the nation's streets
- Doubling the size of the Firefighters Grant Program
- Doubling America's Special Operations forces
- Undertaking significant improvements to safeguard ports
- Funding important initiatives to safeguard loose nuclear weapons
But I think the larger opportunity costs are not the other national security projects that have gone unfunded, but a wide range of other projects that could help make the world a better place. The National Priorities Project has a page devoted to the opportunity costs to the war in Iraq that shows a real-time counter of the money being spent so far on Iraq (which appears to increase by approximatel $2K every second) as well as pages that show how much impact this money could have had if it were instead allocated to a number of other programs, including:
- Kid's health
- Public education
- College scholarships
- Public housing
- World hunger
- AIDS epidemic
- World immunization
A while back, I wrote about a report that more than half (57%) of Americans believe that "before the war Iraq was providing substantial support to al Qaeda", due (in part) to key members of the Bush administration repeatedly mentioning "9/11" or "al Qaeda" in the same sentence with "Saddam Hussein". Maybe if we get enough people to mention "9/11" or "al Qaeda" in the same sentence as, say, "world hunger", we can get as many people in the U.S. thinking that world hunger is responsible for 9/11, and we can muster more support for reallocating resources toward toppling world hunger, and/or other, more humanitarian, purposes.
Put that in your podcast and smoke it.