The moderate, conservative, and neoconservative estimates of the cost of the war on Iraq
January 8, 2006 8:40 PM   Subscribe

What is the cost of the war on Iraq? [more inside]
posted by edverb (48 comments total)
In October 2002, Republican leaders scoffed when White House economic advisor Larry Lindsey suggested the war would cost between $100-$200B, an estimate for which Lindsey was fired.. Budget Director Mitch Daniels was more conservative, at $50-60B total, and estimate which matched that of the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office. "There’s just no reason that this can’t be an affordable endeavor”, said Daniels.

Still, the White House downplayed those figures. Then-undersecretary Paul Wolfowitz famously suggested that "we’re dealing with a country that can really finance its own reconstruction, and relatively soon." Pressed for a figure by Congress, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was elusive. “I don’t know that there is much reconstruction to do.”

Less than two months after "Mission Accomplished", senior administration officials were congratulating themselves on a "short war", speaking of Iraq in the past tense. "The business plan for the war was roughly as successful as the military plan," Mitch Daniels said in July 2003. "The projections look pretty darn good.". In this context, Rumsfeld estimated a cost of $6B per month.

Almost three years later, a congressional timeline of Iraq and Afghanistan funding entitled "Iraq on the Installment Plan" outlines the various budget and emergency supplementals requested by the White House, which in May of 2005 exceeded the $200B dollar mark. Through November 2006, Congress has appropriated approximately $357B for total costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

These estimates and tallies only account for monies appropriated by the Congress to fund operations. They reflect the price tag, but not the costs -- which include the monetary value of lost human lives, disability pay and medical care for returning veterans, interest payments on debt incurred, and costs to the American economy.

In a paper examining both the direct and macroeconomic costs of the war on Iraq, assessing both conservative and moderate scenarios, former CFO and Assistant Secretary for Management and Budget at the US Department of Commerce Linda Bilmes, and former chief economist of the World Bank and Nobel prize winner Joseph Stiglitz have estimated the true cost of the Iraq War to be between $1 and $2 trillion dollars.
posted by edverb at 8:42 PM on January 8, 2006

Remember, these are conservative estimates.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:44 PM on January 8, 2006

9/11 changed everything
posted by rxrfrx at 8:45 PM on January 8, 2006

"the government values a life of a prime age male at around $6 million, so that the cost of the American soldiers who have already lost their lives adds up to around $12 billion"

apparently you can place a dollar tag on human life.
posted by Like the Reef at 8:47 PM on January 8, 2006

The last link, the true cost of the Iraq War says that the $375B is only through November 2005.
posted by cytherea at 8:54 PM on January 8, 2006

um, $375B
posted by cytherea at 8:54 PM on January 8, 2006

I saw somewhere the other day, if you count disability payments to injured soldiers over their entire lifetime, as well as the costs of treating their injuries, it actually comes out to $1-2T USD over the next 50 years or so.
posted by SirOmega at 8:55 PM on January 8, 2006

OMG. Sorry, $357B.
posted by cytherea at 8:55 PM on January 8, 2006

So could Larry Lindsey sue?

You can place a dollar tag on how much it costs to train a US soldier assuming surplus manpower.
posted by BrotherCaine at 8:56 PM on January 8, 2006

Yeah, this is nice, but 9/11.
posted by Rothko at 9:05 PM on January 8, 2006

Though in context, it's peanuts, what it represents is impossible to quantify except to say it cost too much...what is the true cost of the first $700 million?
“And there's this low boil on Iraq until the day before Thanksgiving, Nov. 21, 2001. This is 72 days after 9/11. This is part of this secret history. President Bush, after a National Security Council meeting, takes Don Rumsfeld aside, collars him physically, and takes him into a little cubbyhole room and closes the door and says, ‘What have you got in terms of plans for Iraq? What is the status of the war plan? I want you to get on it. I want you to keep it secret.’"

Woodward says immediately after that, Rumsfeld told Gen. Tommy Franks to develop a war plan to invade Iraq and remove Saddam - and that Rumsfeld gave Franks a blank check.

”Rumsfeld and Franks work out a deal essentially where Franks can spend any money he needs. And so he starts building runways and pipelines and doing all the preparations in Kuwait, specifically to make war possible,” says Woodward.

Gets to a point where in July, the end of July 2002, they need $700 million, a large amount of money for all these tasks. And the president approves it. But Congress doesn't know and it is done. They get the money from a supplemental appropriation for the Afghan War, which Congress has approved. …Some people are gonna look at a document called the Constitution which says that no money will be drawn from the Treasury unless appropriated by Congress. Congress was totally in the dark on this."
[emphasis mine]
posted by edverb at 9:10 PM on January 8, 2006

the costs cannot be measured.
posted by brandz at 9:14 PM on January 8, 2006

Nice job, edverb. Thorough and well researched.
posted by Farengast at 9:14 PM on January 8, 2006

Nice job, edverb.

Thank you.
posted by edverb at 9:20 PM on January 8, 2006

Can you really put a price on our national security?
posted by StrasbourgSecaucus at 9:27 PM on January 8, 2006

We certainly can't put THIS price on national security, all of this cost has gone towards making us less secure and not more. Well have to find out the cost of a war that actually made us SAFER to put a price on national security.
posted by Farengast at 9:32 PM on January 8, 2006

Can you really put a price on our insatiable thirst for oil?
posted by crunchland at 9:47 PM on January 8, 2006

Can you really put a price on our national security?

Yes, you can. After all, how much of the budget (in percentage terms) would you want to be spent on national security? Surely there has to be a limit - if at any point you say, "No, spending x% of the budget is too much" then you've admitted that spending on national security has limits and has to be costed. After a point you get diminishing returns.

And that's still completely ignoring the actual quality of the national security outcomes. Throwing billions of dollars at a proposed solution had better generate some pretty visible, serious outcomes.

I've often thought that, with similar amounts of money, you could send tens of thousands of US soldiers out to the homes of every family in the regions we are concerned about - each soldier can buy and deliver useful things to the family, toys for the children, food, share a meal, write them letters after they've left. This would, in the long term, probably have a better "national security outcome" in terms of reducing the creation of terrorists and improving good will towards the US around the world than flattening countries then paying for them to rebuilt.
posted by Jimbob at 9:49 PM on January 8, 2006

What happens when it reaches 100% of one year's GDP?
That would be enough to carpet every square inch of Iraq in $100 bills, with money left over to wallpaper every (left) standing building and wrap every vehicle.

Does anyone here even realize just how much 3 trillion is?
It's more than every star you can see with the naked eye.
It's more than every blade of grass and leaf on every tree you could see in a weeks jaunt across the country.

It's a whole fuckload.
posted by Balisong at 10:16 PM on January 8, 2006

It's a depressing amount of money, that's what it is. Thanks, Ralph.
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 10:26 PM on January 8, 2006

StrasbourgSecaucus writes "Can you really put a price on our national security?"

Yes, it's called a defense budget, but we're borrowing most of it from China. At some point, the debt has to be paid. That being said, it's not clear that every action undertaken in the name of national security is beneficial to our security. But we'll pay for it for a long, long time.
posted by krinklyfig at 10:36 PM on January 8, 2006

Since it's borrowed money, the ~$350B we've spent so far is coming out of our paychecks as interest payments on the debt, ~$16B/yr, or ~0.5% of our federal tax burden. So a guy making $60k in the 20% bracket will be paying $80/yr, forever, and ever. So will his children, and grandchildren, too. The good news is that we're going to inflate away this debt eventually, so $80 will may buy a starbucks or something later this century.
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 10:37 PM on January 8, 2006

ooh, syncronicity
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 10:37 PM on January 8, 2006

Nicely put together post.

I'd say thank god I'm not an American taxpayer, but somehow I think I'll manage to pay my share.
posted by wilful at 10:40 PM on January 8, 2006

Does anyone here even realize just how much 3 trillion is?

In the "too much f*cking perspective" department...if you were to count out one dollar per second, it would take until the year 65382 AD to reach $2 trillion.
posted by edverb at 10:43 PM on January 8, 2006

That would be enough to carpet every square inch of Iraq in $100 bills

Christ, I actually worked out if this was right. Covering Iraq in $100 bills would cost 4,227 trillion dollars.
posted by cillit bang at 10:47 PM on January 8, 2006

$3 trillion is a million good-paying ($150k/yr gross) jobs, for 30 years.
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 10:48 PM on January 8, 2006

cillit, yeah I was looking at that too. I got 41.55 trillion bills to cover Iraq (wasn't counting the water area since that's silly).
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 10:49 PM on January 8, 2006

OK, I misspoke.
You could do it with $1 bills, tho.
posted by Balisong at 11:01 PM on January 8, 2006

For $2 trillion dollars, we could have handed every man, woman and child in Iraq almost $77, amount equal to 128 years wages for the average pre-invasion Iraqi. Talk about winning hearts and minds.
posted by edverb at 11:11 PM on January 8, 2006

Actually, using the US GDP and the Square miles of Iraq and using 18 square inches per surface of each bill, and Square mile in square inches, you could still do it in $5 bills.
posted by Balisong at 11:13 PM on January 8, 2006

LA Times, June 22, 2005:
WASHINGTON — It weighed 28 tons and took up as much room as 74 washing machines. It was $2.4 billion in $100 bills, and Baghdad needed it ASAP.

The initial request from U.S. officials in charge of Iraq required the Federal Reserve Bank of New York to decide whether it could open its vault on a Sunday, a day banks aren't usually open.

"Just when you think you've seen it all," read one e-mail from an exasperated Fed official.

"Pocket change," said another e-mail.

Then, when the shipment date changed, officials had to scramble to line up U.S. Air Force C-130 cargo planes to hold the money. They did, and the $2,401,600,000 was delivered to Baghdad on June 22, 2004.

It was the largest one-time cash transfer in the history of the New York Fed.

Disclosure of the frantic transfer in the final days of U.S. control over Iraq came during a daylong hearing Tuesday that indicated growing worry from Congress over U.S. oversight of spending in Iraq.

Both Republicans and Democrats appeared taken aback by the volume of cash sent to Iraq: nearly $12 billion over the course of the U.S. occupation from March 2003 to June 2004, said a report by Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Los Angeles), who had reviewed e-mails and documents subpoenaed from the bank.

The cash — a total of 363 tons, generated mostly from oil revenues — was Iraqi funds that had been held in trust by the Federal Reserve under the terms of a United Nations resolution.

The June 2004 money transfer was needed to run the country as the interim Iraqi government took over from the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority, officials said.

Rep. Christopher Shays ( R-Conn.), chairman of the House national security subcommittee, criticized the Pentagon's handling of the money known as the Development Fund for Iraq.

"It's very clear that … we didn't have systems in place to account" for the funds, he said.

"It doesn't mean they weren't spent well, but, given my sense of human temptation, I suspect some of it was, frankly, taken," Shays said.

"I can't believe that all this cash just floating around all went perfectly to the right place."
Gee, ya think?
posted by edverb at 11:26 PM on January 8, 2006

How bad does it have to get before America starts acting like a democracy?
posted by disgruntled at 12:20 AM on January 9, 2006

How bad does it have to get before America starts acting like a democracy?

Even our vaunted Founding Fathers had a fucked-up democratic party transition between the republicans and the federalists in 1800. That's what Marbury vs. Madison was about, Marshall decided the SCOTUS had to step in and be the grown-up arm of gov't:

During the campaign, Federalists attacked Jefferson as an un-Christian deist, tainted by his sympathy for the increasingly bloody French Revolution. Republicans (1) criticized the Adams administration's foreign, defense, and internal security policies; (2) opposed the Federalist naval buildup and the creation of a standing army under Alexander Hamilton; (3) sounded a call for freedom of speech, Republican editors having been targeted for prosecution under the Alien and Sedition Acts; and (4) denounced deficit spending by the federal government as a backhanded method of taxation without representation.

That was the election of 1800, and it's been all downhill since then.
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 12:56 AM on January 9, 2006

In response to 9/11, Afghanistan made sense so I'll not argue the spending there (although by many accounts it could have been carried out more effectively).

Iraq, on the other hand, is a trillion dollar self-inflicted wound.

As for things that might reduce support for the Islamic fundamentalists who are waging war on U.S. interests:Of course, money spent by USAID helping folks out and winning goodwill isn't as cool as money spent warfighting with GBU-31 JDAMS.
posted by moonbiter at 1:09 AM on January 9, 2006

Next time round why not just give Halliburton et al, say, 10% of the estimated costs up front for doing nothing and then not bother invading? This has the benefits of being a) transparently honest and b) remarkably cost effective.
posted by rhymer at 1:21 AM on January 9, 2006

interesting, no one brings up the cost of war for iraqis. how much damages was / is inflicted on iraq, as we speak? not just in buildings and roads, but human resources, mental damage and other stuff? and who's gonna pay for that?
posted by sundaymag at 1:26 AM on January 9, 2006

I liked Bush a lot better back when he said "I'm not so sure the role of the United States is to go around the world and say, 'This is the way it's got to be.'", and when he called for U.S. troops to be withdrawn from NATO peacekeeping missions in the Balkans.

According to this paper, the Occupation of Iraq is costing us between $3,500 and $6,300 per United States citizen, or between $39,500 and $71,000 per Iraqi citizen. I can't help but think that there were better uses for the money.
posted by I Love Tacos at 1:39 AM on January 9, 2006

Dear Saddam, here's a trillion for you and £39,500 for each citizen, can we have your country please?
posted by biffa at 2:10 AM on January 9, 2006

What Jimbob said...

...with similar amounts of money, you could send tens of thousands of US soldiers out to the homes of every family in the regions we are concerned about - each soldier can buy and deliver useful things to the family..."

I mean, where's the creativity? Where is that "good ol' American ingenuity?"
posted by jaronson at 4:10 AM on January 9, 2006

Oil sure is expensive.
posted by srboisvert at 4:38 AM on January 9, 2006

"According to some estimates
we cannot track $2.3 trillion in transactions"
—Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of Defense
CBS News, January 2002
posted by Balisong at 10:51 PM PST on January 8 [!]

More on the missing cash

During their town hall meeting on C-span [at 1:06:20], a young woman asked about the Pentagon missing TRILLIONS, which was announced by Rumsfeld at a press conference on Sept 10, 2001. (Funny timing, eh)

Both Moran and Murtha don’t even know about it… they say she must be talking about Billions

To the "9/11 changes things" group - Please explain exactly how YOU are offering to pay MORE taxes to pay for the actions you are supporting? If you ain't willing to step up and pay more, why you asking for more from your government?

Oil sure is expensive.

Yup. Borrowing from the past to live fast today....always expensive.
posted by rough ashlar at 6:46 AM on January 9, 2006

How bad does it have to get before America starts acting like a democracy?
posted by disgruntled at 12:20 AM PST on January 9 [!]

Never! The US of a is a Constitution-based federal republic

cost of war for iraqis..... and who's gonna pay for that?

One of the links in the past 2 weeks had made an announcement that the US was cutting reconstruction funding - so I guess the answer is "not the US of A", assuming the source was right.

And for your consideration I offer:
Is NATO now a Iraq war cost?
posted by rough ashlar at 6:58 AM on January 9, 2006

Don't you all worry. As soon as we've bankrupted the government and turned all functions over to the private sector, you'll see that this was all money well burned spent.
Starve the beast, y'know.
posted by Thorzdad at 7:07 AM on January 9, 2006

I am ever so thankful that our Canadian system has a built-in mechanism for removing any mad men that become Prime Minister. As we're seeing with the US, it's insane to not have a "reboot" button.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:21 AM on January 9, 2006

“Can you really put a price on our national security?” - posted by StrasbourgSecaucus

Heh heh. I am enjoying the contrarianism. Reminds me of the cartrage family Simpson’s episode:

Homer decides to get some better security. He calls out a man from "Ex-Con Security".

Looks like you called me just in time. (He pockets several things from the living room.) This home isn't secure at all.

What did I tell ya, Marge?

Intruders could come down the chimney, through the mail slot, even hidden in your groceries. Did you change the locks when you moved in? I thought not. All the previous owners of this house could still be in here somewhere.

What do you recommend?

Well, a lot of companies would put in a pretty system that looks good, but doesn't provide any real protection.

Oh, let's get that.

...But if you want to sleep easy at night, I recommend sealing off every door and window with bullet-proof Lucite.

Wouldn't we all suffocate?

(laughing) Well, I should hope not.

Let's get that - the suffocation thing.

And you can have it all for only five hundred dollars.

Five hundred dollars? Aw, forget it.

He pushes the salesman to the door.

But surely, you can't put a price on your family's lives?

I wouldn't have thought so either, but here we are.


Yeah. I’m a little pissed at where the money is going and I’m not seeing any returns. I used to be pissed at folks who - for example - sucker people into timeshare seminars and the like. But I’m getting so I can’t blame them if people are willing to let it all go this easily.
posted by Smedleyman at 10:37 AM on January 9, 2006

Wars, it seems, cost a lot of money. Surprise?
posted by monocyte at 11:19 AM on January 9, 2006

« Older A million little peices of BS.   |   100 photos from the playa Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments