We now have an estimate of the cost of the Iraq war. Remember when our administration was blithely proposing that it would require a few billion dollars?
The authors present a damning “Nightline” transcript in which one official, Andrew Natsios, blandly told Ted Koppel that Iraq could be completely reconstructed for only $1.7 billion. (With the war now costing $12.5 billion a month, Natsios’ estimate would have been accurate if he had stipulated that it would pay for four days’ worth of reconstruction. Which, considering the delusional nature of most of the Bush administration’s pre-invasion estimates, may have been how long it thought it would take to rebuild the country.) Other officials settled on a figure of $50 billion to $60 billion. Larry Lindsey, Bush’s economic advisor, went way out on a limb, suggesting that the war might cost $200 billion — a figure derided by then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld as “baloney.”
So how much has it cost? $3 trillion. That’s a bit of money.
In 2005, the Congressional Budget Office estimated that the war had so far cost about $500 billion. That figure was obviously far higher than initial Bush administration estimates, but Stiglitz and Bilmes suspected it was still much too low. After researching the issue, they published a paper in January 2006 that conservatively estimated that the true cost of the war would be between $1 trillion and $2 trillion. Even at the time, they regarded that estimate as excessively conservative, but didn’t want to appear extreme. Stiglitz and Bilmes’ book, which is based on that paper, doubles their earlier estimates to $3 trillion, making Iraq the second most expensive war in U.S. history, trailing only World War II, which cost an adjusted $5 trillion (and in which 16.3 million Americans served in the armed forces, with 400,000 dying). But the authors regard even their new figure as conservative: Their estimates range from $2 trillion, in the best-case scenario in which the U.S. withdraws all combat troops by 2012 and fewer veterans need medical and disability pay, to more than $5 trillion. Add in the cost to the rest of the world, and the price tag could exceed $6 trillion.
Bush was the evil incompetent who got this wasted effort started, but I can’t blame him alone: anyone remember that immense principled effort the Democratic party made to oppose the ramp-up to war? Nah, neither do I.