God forbid critics of the war on Iraq should compare it with the war
in Vietnam. But perhaps it is worth mentioning that the liberation of Iraq is
now costing more each month than the preservation of the Republic of South Vietnam
did more than 30 years ago.
As the admitted direct cost of the war reached $250 billion last week -- and
the White House asked for $120 billion more on Thursday -- new analyses estimate
that the invasion of Iraq could end up costing $2 trillion before it is over.
If you remember, the White House's own economic adviser, Lawrence Lindsey,
was fired for predicting, in September 2002, six months before the invasion,
that the total cost of the war might reach between $100 billion and $200 billion.
What I (and perhaps others who questioned the wisdom of the war before it began)
remember is the hundreds of e-mails and letters I received after I quoted Lindsey
and used the higher figure as more likely. "Moron" and "traitor"
were among the more polite epithets of the day.
Numbers can be misleading, of course. Some, such as the long-term cost of treating
damaged survivors of battle, can be exaggerated or minimized. Some can be hidden
in other budgets or drawn from confusing off-budget accounts. And even the most
accurate audits and projections, while they translate all the numbers into current
dollar amounts, rarely mention that the U.S. economy is much bigger than it
was in the 1960s and 1970s, so that while the Vietnam War at times was using
almost 10 percent of the gross national product, this one and the war in Afghanistan
might be in the 2 percent range.
But the exact figures are not the issue. The Washington issue is that the Bush
administration has been lying from day one about the cost of this "preventative"
war of choice. The original White House estimate of the total war cost was $75
billion, including the destruction of all Iraqi "weapons of mass destruction."
Undersecretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, whose fiscal acumen won him the presidency
of the World Bank, even offered the theory that the war would be self-financing,
paid for by Iraq's oil production. That's rich. And so are oil producers everywhere.
The war, in fact, is a factor in the escalating cost of petroleum products
here and everywhere else in the world. Leaving that aside as you watch the gas-pump
digits rise to Super Bowl numbers this weekend, two anti-war research institutes,
the International Relations Center and the Institute for Policy Studies, estimate
that the war's cost per citizen has reached $727 -- or close to $3,000 for a
family of four. By the end of this year, those figures should reach about $1,300
per citizen, or more than $5,000 for that family of four.
That calculation was based on a very conservative estimate of war costs to
date of $204 billion. But even with that low-balling, those billions could have
provided health care for 46 million Americans without health insurance, the
hiring of 3.5 million elementary school teachers, or the construction of 2 million
units of affordable housing. It's money lost in the fog of war -- or perhaps
it will be used to do wonderful things for us all by Halliburton and the other
defense contractors and private militaries being paid to make Iraq into Iowa
One final point. One of the lessons we supposedly learned in Vietnam was that
foreign intervention can no longer prevail in civil wars. I happened to run
into a couple of Americans just back from Iraq, one of whom had also served
as a U.S. Marine officer in Vietnam. Their verdict on what was happening in
Iraq now was: "Well, we're exactly where we were determined not to be.
We're in the middle of a civil war."