in Politics

The cost of war

From now until November I’ll probably be blogging more on American politics, both to refine my views and because this here is my little soapbox. You’ve been warned.

The Bush campaign’s assertion that “The world is a better place without Saddam” is absolutely true. Saddam is an evil man. But this statement looks only at the benefit of the Iraqi war and not the costs. We started a war to remove Saddam and find his weapons (the latter based on circumstantial evidence). We did remove Saddam and there were collateral benefits like scaring Syria into giving up it’s arms program. Both good things.

What is this worth to us? It’s hard to say, but the line has to be drawn somewhere. When I look at how much the war cost I think we crossed way over any reasonable person’s line.

First we should look at the cost in human life. The coalition fatalities number over 1,000. The estimates of Iraqi civilian fatalities range from 7,000 to between 21,700 and 55,000. Around 5000 Iraqi soldiers died. The “lucrative” contracts resulted in at least 111 contractors missing or dead. And at least 30 journalists are dead.

We might remember how utterly stunned we were at the nearly 3,000 deaths on September 11, 2001. If we multiply that number by four it still isn’t the at least 13,000 people killed in Iraq.

The Cost of War site has a great financial analysis (summary: $122 billion and counting). The figure of $1,700 cost per U.S. household is particulularly interesting when you compare it to the few hundred Bush gave each household in tax savings.

The Institute for Policy Studies’ costs of the war is a more complete list, including indirect costs on the economy, health, and international relations.

Update: Thinking more about this, I have to remember how evil Saddam was, and quantify it likewise. It’s thought that he has killed a million Iraqis, both through war and in terror, in a country of 22 million people. Comparing the numbers — as cold as that is — it seems worth it.

John Z. points out that we spent four times the gross national income of Iraq during the war, raising the idea of how we could’ve given that money to Iraqis to fix the problem instead. Technically it’s against international law to put a price on a national leader (not that international law has stopped the Bush administration), but some economic incentives to the Iraqi army might have done wonders to avoid any war at all. After all, we’re the capitalists, we should know how to spend this money better than anyone.