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March 15, 2013 2:23 PM Costs of a “War of Choice”

By Ed Kilgore

Next week will mark the tenth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, and will naturally spur some assessments of the costs and benefits of that “war of choice.”

The benefits, if any, are almost entirely speculative. But the costs have been very concrete, as documented by a new study from Brown University.

Most Americans are vaguely familiar with the number of U.S. combat troops killed in Iraq: 4,488. Less well-known is that another 3,418 U.S. contractors were killed, plus 318 troops from other allied countries, and 10,819 Iraqi government troops. Maybe Americans don’t care about the 36,400 Iraqi insurgents killed, but we should care about the 134,000 Iraqi civilians who perished, which doesn’t count the hundreds of thousands who died of war-related diseases. All told the direct human costs of the war are estimated at 189,000.

The Brown study predicted the ultimate cost of the war to U.S. taxpayers at $2.2 trillion dollars—a bit higher than the initial U.S. government estimates of $50 to $60 billion issued in 2002—and that doesn’t count another $1.7 trillion in interest costs associated with borrowing to cover war spending.

The eyes tend to glaze at these numbers, reflecting not just the human desire to forget nightmares but fatigue over the whole wretched mess (if the Vietnam War is any indication, a serious national re-evaluation of the Iraq War could be another decade away). But it’s worth focusing on right now in view of the fond wishes of some leading Americans to have another war in the region, with a much larger country. Who knows: if things had turned out differently last November 6, the war drums might be beating as we speak.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

Comments

  • Josef K on March 15, 2013 2:38 PM:

    Probably the most memorable image from that era will be W strutting around in his aviator's suit (outsized codpiece in prominent display) when he declared "Mission Accomplished".

    With Vietnam it was children running from napalm attacks, dead American students at Kent State (my grad school), Buddhist monks immolating themselves in protest, and a South Vietnamese officer executing a handcuffed Viet Cong by shooting him in the head.

    If there is ever any national soul-searching to be done, it won't be because we've actually had to confront the consequences of this Gordonesque march into Babylon. More is the pity, as the next Republican will find some new excuse to invade some country or region in the world.

  • j on March 15, 2013 2:42 PM:

    Could someone please point out these numbers to the next rethug who calls Obama a big spender?

  • boatboy_srq on March 15, 2013 2:49 PM:

    The Brown study predicted the ultimate cost of the war to U.S. taxpayers at $2.2 trillion dollars—a bit higher than the initial U.S. government estimates of $50 to $60 billion issued in 2002—and that doesn’t count another $1.7 trillion in interest costs associated with borrowing to cover war spending.

    Ignoring, for the moment, that one of the first dismissals of this study will be it's Secular-Humanist Gawdless Soshulist Liberal "Higher Education" source, that $1.7T in interest just begs to be brought up to the "We're Broke", "Fiscal Responsibility" GOTea as proof positive that "Tax-and-Spend" - especially the Spend part - is far more a trait of the modern Republican than anyone might have guessed. I'm curious whether they'll insist that Iraqi oil was supposed to pay for the war somehow (in which case, wouldn't the Treasury have seen those "payments" in higher taxes on Big Oil?); or shrug their shoulders in irresponsible Hoocoodanode Know-Nothingism to explain how the number got that big (Dereliction of Duty springs to mind as part of the next question there); or if this "Fiscal Responsibility" of theirs is some sudden, new, mystically-acquired conviction (in which case, TABMITWH explains that a lot more than a sudden Road-to-Damascus conversion to spending tax dollars like adults).

    [I]t’s worth focusing on right now in view of the fond wishes of some leading Americans to have another war in the region, with a much larger country. Who knows: if things had turned out differently last November 6, the war drums might be beating as we speak.

    Indeed. And if that had happened, then dollars to doughnuts we'd be hearing "deficits don't matter" just like we did ten years ago, and from the same people beating the Austerity drums now.

  • boatboy_srq on March 15, 2013 2:51 PM:

    Afterthought:

    We have always been able to afford to go to war with Eastasia.

  • fostert on March 15, 2013 2:55 PM:

    The going rate for hit man is about $10K, we spent $10 million for every person we killed. Maybe we should get rid of the military and hire the Mafia instead.

  • Jack Lindahl on March 15, 2013 3:44 PM:

    Why aren't Bush, Cheney, et al. in jail? You'd think lying the country into war would have some kind of consequences for the liars. I guess not.

  • angryspittle on March 15, 2013 3:45 PM:

    I doubt those numbers. It is probably more like a million dead as a direct result of this crime and as many as 5 million displaced. And this created a situation in Iraq in which the living just might be envious if the dead.

  • MuddyLee on March 15, 2013 3:46 PM:

    A couple of things left out of this cost analysis of the Iraq War. I have read that about 1 million people in Iraq were displaced due to the war and upheaval during reconstruction and that religious persecution of Christians and Mandeans (basically followers of John the Baptist) which was not allowed under Saddam Hussein became common after the American invasion. When will the Republicans apologize to the American voters and to the world for the Iraq War? How about a surtax on everybody who voted for Bush and Cheney to pay for this mess?

  • wihntr on March 15, 2013 4:29 PM:

    Does this calculus include the ultimate cost of having hundreds of thousands of vets with PTSD, TBI, missing limbs,etc? I doubt it. That is a cost that is so large and with such great ripple effects as to be virtually incalculable.

  • abc on March 15, 2013 5:45 PM:

    I seem to recall seeing footage of Paul Wolfowitz' testimony to Congress estimating the total cost would be "$10 to $20 billion" all repaid by oil sales.

  • golack on March 15, 2013 9:43 PM:

    my brother-in-law's cousin, was injured in the war of choice. Brain damage. Blind, with occasional seizures. He has a seeing eye dog/companion and his parents job is now to take care of him.

    Why?


    After 9/11, he felt compelled to serve.

    Iraq was not involved in 9/11.

    Why?

    Why war? Why Iraq?

    Why?

    Why aren't Bush and Cheney on trail as war criminals?

    Why?