The Hidden Costs of War

March 20, 2007 by barbara

Guest post by Perhansa

In his excellent book, A Short History of Progress, Ronald Wright observed, "Each time history repeats itself, the price goes up." As we begin year five of the Iraq version of "Groundhog Day" ("Operation Iraqi Freedom" in case anyone has misplaced or lost their yard sign), much of the country is taking stock of the war effort and its costs in lieu of continued funding. More.

Congress will provide funding through fiscal year 2008; whether it is linked to requirements (the administration calls these "strings") for results, benchmarks, or withdrawal remains to be seen. Anyone over the age of 18 should recognize that history is being repeated for the umpteenth time. (Arthur Koestler once said the most recurrent sound throughout human history is the sound of war drums.)

The obvious costs

So, just what are the costs for this "blunder," who is paying for it, and for how long? Some of the obvious costs have been aired on numerous occasions while others get less air time but are equally devastating. Let me recount just a couple of the obvious costs before discussing a few less visible.

The casualties keep climbing and will climb with the "surge," both in terms of American lives (more than 3,200 dead'"not including contract resources'"and 24,000 wounded), and Iraqi lives (at least 65,000 dead and given the Administration's penchant for underreporting bad news, it's surely higher).

With the funding before Congress right now, the cost of the Iraq conflict alone will reach $532 billion by October 1, 2008. Since September of 2000, the national debt has gone from $5.6 trillion to $8.8 trillion and is increasing by $1.91 billion per day (this under the leadership of the "conservatives").

That's a half a trillion dollars for the war and each American's share of the debt is now close to $30,000. I think I could find some better ways to spend that money. How about you?

The human cost

What about the costs not frequenting the daily headlines? The worst refugee crisis in the world today is taking place in Iraq.

According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (and reported in the March 7, 2007 Time Magazine,) the war has driven nearly four million Iraqis from their homes. That's about 16% of the Iraqi population. Two million Iraqis have fled their country and are now residing in neighboring countries, largely Jordan, Syria, and Iran, as well as, England, France and Sweden. Sweden has absorbed more than 11,000 Iraqi refugees since 2005.

An additional two million Iraqis have been displaced but remain in Iraq. As a context for these numbers, the UN estimates that 200,000 have died as a result of the genocide in Darfur and another two million Sudanese have been turned into refugees.

Those that remain in Iraq today live in the constant grip of unending fear. Every time they leave their home or place of business, they walk in fear. Every time they are stopped at a check point, they wonder if they will die. Every time they go to a market, they wonder if a suicide bomber will end their life. It's hard for us to even imagine it.

The breaking point

The cost to the military and our military families is also accumulating daily. The Defense budget reached a new milestone in 2006, passing the half trillion dollar mark for the first time in history. According to the Washington Times, the Defense budget has increased 7.4% between FY2001 and 2006 (compared to a 2.8% growth of the economy). However, the Christian Science Monitor, reporting on a classified briefing to the House Armed Services Committee, indicated that the US military is at the breaking point and needs immediate attention.

Our readiness to deal with a national disaster or attack due to the strain on resources is low. Nearly half the Army's ground equipment is in Iraq. National Guard units have been left with approximately a third of their equipment remaining. The Pentagon has estimated $60 billion in replacement costs over the next five years for equipment destroyed in the war.

About one in five US troops injured in Iraq sustained serious injuries requiring long-term medical care. The cost to care for our wounded vets has been estimated in the hundreds of billions of dollars over their lifetimes. The VA has requested nearly $3 billion for mental health spending in FY2008 (23% increase over 2006 spending) to help with the estimated 40,000 Iraq war veterans currently suffering (or who will suffer) from PTSD.

A better use of dollars

It's difficult to gain perspective on the tens (or hundreds) of billions of dollars being spent on the war. As a quick comparison, in 1998 the UN estimated that 40 billion US dollars, wisely spent, could provide clean water, sanitation, and basic needs for the poorest on earth. Across the globe, 25,000 die each day from contaminated water. Each year 20 million children are mentally impaired by malnourishment. The UN Millenium Project has estimated a cost to the US of $35 billion per year to help save 8 million lives from starvation (a large portion them being children under the age of 5 years).

America's global standing

According to Richard Eichenberg, a professor at Tufts University who has followed the impacts of the Iraq invasion on US global presence, America's standing in the world is by all measures at its lowest point in history. Time Magazine reported on a recent BBC poll conducted with more than 28,000 interviews in 27 different countries. The poll indicated that only 30% rated the US influence in the world as "positive" and the four countries viewed "most negatively" were, in order, Israel, Iran, US and North Korea.

The price of being the lone superpower is that the world is always watching how we act and how we spend our monetary and political capital. Choices have consequences.

Hitler once proclaimed, "What luck for the rulers that the people do not think." Which raises this question: What price to the people when they think but don't act?

Posted in


Barbara replies (not verified) | March 20, 2007 - 4:22pm

I was looking at a chart today that illustrated multiple factors of the U.S. economic situation, compared to that of China. Biggest contrast was the whopping U.S. trade deficit compared to China's enormous surplus. The operative word is deficit and its cousin, deficient. Just take another read through Perhansa's stats. It's beyond chilling. Economic and human capital being spent far beyond this country's means. Squandering dollars, squandering lives. Many of the conservatives I know say they are liberal in the things of social justice but conservative economically. And I would like to know how anything this administration has done qualifies by either standard as conservative. Conserve. To save. As in lives and money? I think not.


MLS (not verified) | March 20, 2007 - 5:30pm

...and then there is GWB who Acts but doesn't Think.


susan | March 21, 2007 - 10:59am

And then there is susan who is neither thinking nor acting, trying to take the brain out of the Bush skillet for a week and appreciate the rest of the -- kitchen. But thanks, Perhansa, for this savvy post.


MLS (not verified) | March 22, 2007 - 3:39pm

Well, Susan, you will have quite a load of laundry upon your return from vacation, right?


susan | March 22, 2007 - 3:52pm

Yep, a whole stinky duffel full. Will have to give it a long pre-soak before I can even start to handle it.