Costs of a “War of Choice”

Next week will mark the tenth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, and will naturally spur some assessments of the costs and benefits of that “war of choice.”

The benefits, if any, are almost entirely speculative. But the costs have been very concrete, as documented by a new study from Brown University.

Most Americans are vaguely familiar with the number of U.S. combat troops killed in Iraq: 4,488. Less well-known is that another 3,418 U.S. contractors were killed, plus 318 troops from other allied countries, and 10,819 Iraqi government troops. Maybe Americans don’t care about the 36,400 Iraqi insurgents killed, but we should care about the 134,000 Iraqi civilians who perished, which doesn’t count the hundreds of thousands who died of war-related diseases. All told the direct human costs of the war are estimated at 189,000.

The Brown study predicted the ultimate cost of the war to U.S. taxpayers at $2.2 trillion dollars–a bit higher than the initial U.S. government estimates of $50 to $60 billion issued in 2002–and that doesn’t count another $1.7 trillion in interest costs associated with borrowing to cover war spending.

The eyes tend to glaze at these numbers, reflecting not just the human desire to forget nightmares but fatigue over the whole wretched mess (if the Vietnam War is any indication, a serious national re-evaluation of the Iraq War could be another decade away). But it’s worth focusing on right now in view of the fond wishes of some leading Americans to have another war in the region, with a much larger country. Who knows: if things had turned out differently last November 6, the war drums might be beating as we speak.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.