More Costly Than 'The War to End All Wars'

Article excerpt

Despite the relatively small number of American armed forces in Iraq and Afghanistan (140,000), the war effort is rapidly shaping up to be the third-most expensive war in United States history.

This conflict has already cost each American at least $850 in military and reconstruction costs since October 2001.

If the war lasts another five years, it will cost nearly $1.4 trillion, calculates Linda Bilmes, who teaches budgeting at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. That's nearly $4,745 per capita. Her estimate is thorough. She includes not only the military cost but also such things as veterans' benefits and additional interest on the federal debt.

But even in stripped-down terms, looking only at military costs and using current dollars, the war's cost for the US already exceeds that of World War I.

That's in money, not in blood and tears. Fatalities from the combined Afghanistan-Iraq conflict now exceed 2,000. American participation in 1917-18 in World War I, a war infamous for its trench-warfare slaughter, resulted in 53,513 US deaths.

In constant inflation-adjusted dollars, the current conflict is the fourth most costly US war, behind World War II, Vietnam, and Korea. (See chart below.)

By the end of September, its projected military cost will be $252 billion. The amount spent on the war in Iraq ($186 billion) and Afghanistan ($66 billion) is "inching up" on the cost of the Korean War, says Steven Kosiak, an analyst at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessment in Washington. CSBA provided the estimate based on government data.

The chart below, researched by Yale University economist William Nordhaus just before President Bush launched the Iraq war (and now updated for inflation), estimates Korea's military cost at $361 billion.

Given the Iraq-Afghanistan war is costing from $80 billion to $100 billion a year, its price is likely to exceed that of the Korean War by late 2006 or 2007 - if it lasts that long.

Last week, President Bush told the Veterans of Foreign Wars that the US will "finish the task" in Afghanistan and Iraq to honor those already fallen. Some analysts say Bush's statement implies that he anticipates the war lasting a long time. …