The Iraq War Will Cost Us $3 Trillion, and Much More
By Linda J. Bilmes and Joseph E. Stiglitz
Sunday, March 9, 2008
There is no such thing as a free lunch, and there is no such thing as a free war. The
Iraq adventure has seriously weakened the U.S. economy, whose woes now go far
beyond loose mortgage lending. You can't spend $3 trillion -- yes, $3 trillion -- on
a failed war abroad and not feel the pain at home.
Some people will scoff at that number, but we've done the math. Senior Bush
administration aides certainly pooh-poohed worrisome estimates in the run-up to
the war. Former White House economic adviser Lawrence Lindsey reckoned that
the conflict would cost $100 billion to $200 billion; Defense Secretary Donald H.
Rumsfeld later called his estimate "baloney." Administration officials insisted that
the costs would be more like $50 billion to $60 billion. In April 2003, Andrew S.
Natsios, the thoughtful head of the U.S. Agency for International Development,
said on "Nightline" that reconstructing Iraq would cost the American taxpayer just
$1.7 billion. Ted Koppel, in disbelief, pressed Natsios on the question, but Natsios
stuck to his guns. Others in the administration, such as Deputy Defense Secretary
Paul D. Wolfowitz, hoped that U.S. partners would chip in, as they had in the 1991
Persian Gulf War, or that Iraq's oil would pay for the damages.
The end result of all this wishful thinking? As we approach the fifth anniversary of
the invasion, Iraq is not only the second longest war in U.S. history (after
Vietnam), it is also the second most costly -- surpassed only by World War II.
Why doesn't the public understand the staggering scale of our expenditures? In part
because the administration talks only about the upfront costs, which are mostly
handled by emergency appropriations. (Iraq funding is apparently still an
emergency five years after the war began.) These costs, by our calculations, are
now running at $12 billion a month -- $16 billion if you include Afghanistan. By
the time you add in the costs hidden in the defense budget, the money we'll have to
spend to help future veterans, and money to refurbish a military whose equipment
and materiel have been greatly depleted, the total tab to the federal government
will almost surely exceed $1.5 trillion.
But the costs to our society and economy are far greater. When a young soldier is