By Meteor Blades
I'm only a sometimes fan of Nicholas Kristof, and like many of his columns, today's number is a partial winner. It's behind the NYT firewall:
For every additional second we stay in Iraq, we taxpayers will end up paying an additional $6,300.
So aside from the rising body counts and all the other good reasons to adopt a timetable for withdrawal from Iraq, here's another: We are spending vast sums there that would be better spent rescuing the American health care system, developing alternative forms of energy and making a serious effort to reduce global poverty.
In the run-up to the Iraq war, Donald Rumsfeld estimated that the overall cost would be under $50 billion. Paul Wolfowitz argued that Iraq could use its oil to "finance its own reconstruction."
But now several careful studies have attempted to tote up various costs, and they suggest that the tab will be more than $1 trillion -- perhaps more than $2 trillion. The higher sum would amount to $6,600 per American man, woman and child.
Just to put that $2 trillion in perspective, it is four times the additional cost needed to provide health insurance for all uninsured Americans for the next decade. It is 1,600 times Mr. Bush's financing for his vaunted hydrogen energy project.
Kristof notes that there are other hidden costs not included in that per capita figure:
* $600,000 to $5 million over the lifetime of the 3,000 U.S. Iraq War veterans (so far) with severe head injuries
* Disability payments for the next 50 years for an unknown - but large - number of Iraq War veterans
* Re-enlistment bonuses, some as high as $150,000
* Replacing armor, aircraft, et cetera
* Interest costs of the war being paid for by borrowing from China, et al., estimated at $264 billion to $308 billion
* Higher oil costs, possibly a half-trillion-dollar drag on the economy
The bottom line is that not only have we squandered 2,800 American lives and considerable American prestige in Iraq, but we're also paying $18,000 per household to do so. ...
We're spending $380,000 for every extra minute we stay in Iraq, and we can find better ways to spend that money.
Unsurprisingly, not every agrees with all the underlying assumptions that go into those numbers. You can read The Economic Costs of the Iraq War, the oft-cited study put together 10 months ago by Joseph Stiglitz and Linda Bilmes, which Kristof references. And you can adjust the assumptions on your own at this site.
Looking at the cost of this concocted war solely in terms dollars and American blood, as Kristof does, misses one obvious factor: the cost to Iraqis, who have been displaced, maimed and killed, and had their economy crunched for probably two decades into the future.
As George McGovern and William R. Polk cogently argue in the October issue of Harper's (subscription only), a withdrawal of troops (to be completed at the end of 2007) would not only save American lives but tens of billions of dollars. A hefty chunk of that savings, they say, should be spent on compensating those Iraqis who were tortured or lost family in the war, rebuilding the public health system, de-mining and cleaning up depleted uranium from artillery shells, and rebuilding pieces of the infrastructure using Iraqi contractors. They suggest this might be done for $17.25 billion. That sounds a tad light. I'd call it double that. But what they propose is the right thing to do. Which is something the Bush Regime hasn't managed in Iraq since it dropped the first bomb 43 months ago.