I was inspired by a fantastic article published by the Sietch Blog called Bending Swords Into Wind Turbines, so I decided to bring together some data to share on the opportunity costs associated with the ongoing war in Iraq.
Just to be clear, I’m not espousing any political position. I’m only interested in coming to an understanding of what alternatives we are forgoing by spending money, effort and lives in Iraq as opposed to spending them on something else. We’re talking about a whole boatload of money here, so it’s nice to know what else we could be getting for our dollar.
Just to get this out of the way, some of the human costs (which I do recognize are most important) that are not as easy to translate directly into monetary terms are1:
- 3,653 U.S. soldiers dead
- 26,953 U.S. soldiers wounded
- 1 in 5 returning U.S. soldiers suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder
- Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis dead
- 2 million Iraqis displaced in Iraq
- 2 million Iraqi refugees in other countries
We should also remember that losing 3,653 citizens and injuring 26,953 more translates to financial losses from lack of future productivity, but as I already stated it would be hard to calculate the lifetime impact to the US economy.
Now as far as the real costs we can count, the U.S. alone has already allocated $456 Billion on the war in Iraq. This is the money we know we have already spent, and does not include future expenditures or expenditures in Afghanistan and other Global War on Terror operations since 9/11 (which incidentally total $610 Billion)2. Estimates place the total including post-war expenses in the $1.5-2 Trillion range.
Compare the real-time counter at the top of the page to this chart3, which is from 2005 so hasn’t been updated recently, and you’ll see that the Iraq war is already the 3rd most costly in US history. These are inflation adjusted numbers by the way.
There are, of course, other things that we could have done with the money. If we look at it from a security perspective, we could have done ALL of the following4:
- $7.5 billion to safeguard our ports.
- $4 billion to expedite upgrading the Coast Guard fleet.
- $2 billion to improve cargo security.
- $10 billion to protect all U.S. commercial airliners from shoulder-fired missiles.
- $5 billion to purchase state-of-the-art baggage screening machines.
- $240 million to equip the airports with walk-through explosive detectors.
- $7 billion to put 100,000 police officers the nation’s streets.
- $2.5 billion to increase funding for fire departments.
- $350 million for integrating emergency radio systems nationwide.
- $3 billion to secure major roads and rails.
- $30.5 billion to secure from theft the world’s nuclear weapons-grade material.
- $2.25 billion to expedite the work of the Nunn-Lugar Threat Reduction program.
- $24 billion to add two divisions to the Army.
- $15.5 billion to double the number of active-duty troops in the Special Operations Forces.
- $8.6 billion to rebuild Afghanistan.
- $11 billion to buy Afghanistan’s opium crop.
- $10 billion to increase U.S. development assistance to the neediest countries.
- $775 million to dramatically increase public diplomacy.
And we’d still have spent just a little over $200 billion, or less than half of the current running total.
From a general perspective we could have done one of the following with the funds spent to date on the war:
- The cost of the Iraq war has exceeded the anticipated cost of the Kyoto Protocol to control greenhouse gases ($300 Billion)
- Provided 48.6 million children with health care coverage for the length of the Iraq War
- The US could be generating 15% of its electricity supply in renewable energy (wind or solar) for the same or less money.
- Built 3.5 million affordable housing units
- 18% of the dwelling units in the United States could have a 2.5 kW photo-voltaic system – assuming no drops in price or increases in technology.
- Built 45,800 elementary schools
The New York Times reports these alternatives to the annual expenditures:
And… what the heck, here is Senator Obama throwing out a few statistics as well:
One final thing to think about for comparison purposes. The United Nations’ Global Fund seeks US$10 billion a year to halt the ravages of AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria, and total development assistance from all donor nations to “least developed countries” stands at about US$6 billion a year.
More details can be found at any of the following:
- 1Congressional Research Service report on Cost of the war in Iraq, Afghanistan and other Global War on Terror operations since 9/11
- 2State and Congressional district costs of the Iraq War at the National Priorities Project
- 3More costly than ‘the war to end all wars’ at Christian Science Monitor
- 4The Opportunity Costs of the Iraq War at Center for American Progress
- What $1.2 Trillion Can Buy from The New York Times
- Economists say cost of war could top $2 trillion at the Boston Globe
- Eyes Wide Open – An exhibition on the human cost of the iraq war