Iraq's $3 trillion catastrophe - Democrats want to withdraw  

By Neil Behrmann

The human and financial costs of the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts have grown to staggering proportions and America and Britain should pull out as soon as possible.

In their book “The Three Trillion Dollar War” (Allen Lane), Nobel prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz and Linda Bilmes, Public Policy lecturer at Harvard University, spell out this view in no uncertain terms. Indeed Stiglitz disclosed during a talk in London that Barack Obama had approached him to be an advisor. Hilary Clinton has also indicated that America should withdraw and Stiglitz was a former Chairman of President Clinton's Council of Advisors. Whoever succeeds in winning the Democrat presidential nomination, will draw on the expertise of the authors. If the Democrats win the Presidential Election, withdrawal becomes likely.

“President Bush and his advisers expected a quick, inexpensive conflict. Instead, we have a war that is costing more than anyone could have imagined,” says Professor Stiglitz. The “conservative estimate” of $3 trillion is sixty times more than the Bush Administration’s original budget in 2003.

“The cost of direct US military operations - not even including long-term costs such as taking care of wounded veterans - already exceeds the 12-year war in Vietnam and is more than double the cost of the Korean War.”

Even in the best case scenario, these costs are projected to be almost ten times the expense of the first Gulf War, almost a third more than the Vietnam War, and twice that of the First World War. The only war in US history, which cost more in current dollars was the Second World War. The war has been catastrophic for Iraq, furthered instability and terrorism in the Middle East and has had a negative impact on Asian and other oil importers. The authors estimate that more than a third of record oil prices is the direct result of Middle Eastern instability brought on by the war. The global cost is estimated to be more than US$1 trillion. The only winners have been the armaments and reconstruction companies that have benefited from huge expenditure and uncompetitive bidding for contracts.

Soldiers paying awful price

Nearly 4,000 US troops have been killed in Iraq and a further 58,000 have been wounded, injured or fallen seriously ill. The wounded and sick in Afghanistan have reached 7,300. About 100,000 US soldiers have returned from the war with serious mental disorders. Some 263,000 veterans who have returned home have received medical treatment, including more than 50,000 with post traumatic stress disorder.

Iraq's trauma

For the Iraqi nation it has been a horror story. By December 2007, the official tally of civilian casualties was almost 40,000, but a more likely assessment is around 100,000. The absence of clean water, sanitation, electricity and exodus of doctors have lead to outbreaks of cholera and other diseases. Almost 8,000 Iraqi soldiers have been killed and 24,000 are estimated to have been wounded. By late 2007, 4.6 million Iraquis had been uprooted from their homes and about half these people had fled the country. The economy has only recently revived to the depressed levels under Saddam Hussein and unemployment is at extreme levels. President Bush’s aim of Western style democracy in Iraq has been a failure.

Budgetary costs of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars ($billions)

Best case


Total operations to date



Future operations



Future veterans cost –medical/disability, social security



Other military costs



Total without interest



Interest on borrowings to finance war



Total with interest*



* The Iraq war accounts for 75% of total costs


Most Americans have yet to feel the costs as the war has been financed entirely by borrowing. But interest on the debt is mounting. On the eve of war, Larry Lindsey, President Bush's economic adviser and head of the National Economic Council, suggested that war costs might reach $200 billion. This estimate was dismissed as “baloney” by the Defence Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, who claimed that $50 to $60 billion was the correct figure.

As the fifth year of the war draws to a close, operating costs (spending on the war itself) for 2008 are projected to exceed US$12.5 billion a month for Iraq alone, up from US$4.4 billion in 2003, and with Afghanistan the total is US$16 billion a month. This excludes the $500 billion the US already spends per year on the regular expenses of the Defence Department. Nor does it include other hidden expenditures, such as intelligence gathering, or funds mixed in with the budgets of other departments.

Social costs of the war

Because there are so many costs that the Administration does not count, the total cost of the war is higher than the official number. The costs to society are obviously far larger than the numbers that show up on the government's budget. The allocation of resources ot an unpopular war that was predicted to be a failure could have gone on health, education, research and aid to poor countries.

From the chronic underestimates of the resources required to prosecute the war, the authors have attempted to identify how much the US has been spending - and how much, in the end, it is likely to spend.

“Our calculations are based on conservative assumptions. They are conceptually simple, even if occasionally technically complicated. A $3 trillion figure for the total cost strikes us as judicious, and probably errs on the low side,” says Professor Stiglitz. “Needless to say, this number represents the cost only to the United States. It does not reflect the enormous cost to the rest of the world, or to Iraq. The cost for the UK are estimated at $40 billion, compared with the original budget of $2 billion.

In addition, the social costs in the UK are similar to those in the US - families who leave jobs to care for wounded soldiers, and diminished quality of life for those thousands left with disabilities.

See also: War kills and destroys but some thrive on it

Neil Behrmann is the author of an anti-war children's novel, 'Butterfly Battle - The Story of the Great Insect War' (Readmore Books:

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