As we enter the 7th year of the Iraq War, the costs of the war grow higher every day and there is literally no end in sight.

First, there are the costs we have written about extensively: the cost of combat operations ($900bn), the cost in lives (4200),  the more than 70,000 young men and women who have been wounded, injured or contracted serious disease, and the 350,000 other troops who are seeking medical treatment from the Department of Veterans Affairs.  There is also the toll among the families, the skyrocketing suicide rates, the long delays in providing disability benefits to our veterans, and the 12% unemployment rate among troops returning from duty.  Then there is the palpable strain on our armed forces, which have been stretched terribly in terms of personnel, equipment, and training.  And of course, the enormous toll in Iraq itself, including hundreds of thousands dead and wounded, and millions whose lives have been disrupted.

Nor can we get out of this situation any time soon: the fixed costs of keeping anyone stationed in US military bases is so high, that we are unlikely to realize much in the way of cost savings when we withdraw a few brigades (like removing 20% of passengers from an airplane, the cost of flying the plane are pretty much the same). Moreover, we are likely to add more contractors and to spend much more on demobilization and veterans medical and disability costs, producing a net very small savings.  (This is what the British discovered when they withdrew more than 50% of their troops from Basra, but only saved 5% of costs).

But the bigger costs of the Iraq mistake are still becoming apparent.  First, there is the struggle for Afghanistan, where it is more expensive to deploy forces and to provide them with supplies in the mountainous terrain, much of it only accessible through dangerous supply routes.  The re-emergence of the Taliban in Afghanistan is a direct consequence of the fact that we diverted 80% of our military resources to Iraq for the past 6 years.  Meanwhile, the deterioration of Afghanistan has destablized and radicalized Pakistan, creating an even deeper quagmire for the region and the United States.  And finally, there are the economic consequences that we predicted in the Washington Post one year ago, when we argued that the Iraq war would weaken the US economy severely, add trillions to the US debt, and lead to high and volatile oil prices.

In short, the US has replaced an unpleasant, stable regime that was not a threat to us with a fragile, pro-Iranian regime that may or may not turn out to be an ally in the region.  To date, the cost of this transaction has been trillions of dollars in cash, thousands of lives, instability throughout the region, an incentive for Iran to develop nuclear deterrents, and a far weaker US military.  The public may differ on whether it was all worthwhile, but there is no doubt that the cost of the past 6 years is high and new costs continue to become apparent.


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