Magazine article Foreign Policy

Blood vs. Treasure: For a President, the Real Cost of War Is Dollars, Hot Deaths

Magazine article Foreign Policy

Blood vs. Treasure: For a President, the Real Cost of War Is Dollars, Hot Deaths

Article excerpt

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Whatever their domestic achievements, the legacies of American wartime leaders are largely defined by their wars--think Lyndon Johnson and Vietnam or George W. Bush and Iraq. While U.S. presidents tend to enjoy a patriotic bump at war's outset, long, costly military engagements nearly always drag down their popularity over time.

The more interesting question, according to economist Benny Geys of Berlin's Social Science Research Center, is what, exactly, it is about war that tends to make Americans turn against their presidents. Public-opinion researchers have traditionally used combat deaths to measure the amount of "pain" a war inflicts on society, but this doesn't quite fit: The unpopularity of the Iraq War during the Bush administration matched--and at some points even exceeded--opposition to the Vietnam War, despite the fact that more than 58,000 U.S. troops were killed in Vietnam versus fewer than 5,000 to date in Iraq.

For this reason, Geys views treasure--not blood--as the more relevant indicator. In the case of the Korean War, Geys shows that defense costs alone accounted for a nearly 5-point dip in Harry Truman's popularity. …

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