Academics at Brown University have estimated the total cost in financial terms of America’s military operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.
The wars and other military operations are set to cost over4 trillion dollars once total spending by the Pentagon is calculated, including the costs of interest payments on money borrowed to finance operations and 400 billion dollars spent on the domestic “war on terror.”
The costing also took into account estimatedf uture military spending related to the wars, including the costs of caringfor veterans.
Back in 2008, a study by former Nobel economics laureate, Joseph Stiglitz,and Harvard economist Linda Bilmes estimated the cost of the wars at over3 trillion dollars.The revised, higher figure cited in the Brown University study comes at a time when America’s financial position has deteriorated notably and the country is beleaguered by a federal budget deficit of 1.5 trillion dollars annually.
The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were atypical in America’s military history in that they were financed by borrowed money. Those loans have to be repaid in a context where the US is already struggling economically.
The study also counted the cost of the wars in human lives. Most of us would say that lives lost count for an awful lot more than dollars spent. Around 250,000 people are estimated to have been killed in the wars. Around 2.5% of thosedeaths – 6,100 fatalities – were US soldiers killed in battle.Civilian deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan are estimated at 125,000 and 14,000 respectively. (There are no reliable estimates for deaths in Pakistan.)
In addition, the wars are estimated to have created around 7.8 million refugees, fleeing the conflicts, and many “indirect” fatalities as a result of injury. Figures are not given for those wounded and maimed.
How will America and Americans determine whether the wars were cost-effective – whether the results justify the massive costs in lives and dollars? The Taliban regime in Afghanistan and the Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein were destroyed. Progress has apparently been made against al-Qa’ida. Iraq and Afghanistan remain strangers to democracy however and Iran’s position in the region is, for the moment, stronger. It is also hard to imagine that America is made safer by the existence of millions of refugees and hundreds of thousands of people bereaved and injured as a result of the wars. Many of those people will undoubedly view America as their sworn enemy.
After President George W Bush declared war, he estimated the cost of waging war to depose the Iraqi regime at around 55 billiion dollars. As it turns out, the true cost – over 4 trillion – is on a par with the cost of the Second World War – 4.1 trillion dollars in today’s prices.
Nations sacrifice money and lives in war when they think the outcome demands such losses. The Brown University study has added up the financial and human costs of war in Iraq and Afghanistan. Only the American people can decide if the result is worth it.