Monday, January 15, 2007

Iraq War and Larger Terror Conflict Most Costly Ever

The costs of the Iraq War and the overall war on terror may be higher than that from any of America's previous conflicts, according to this Los Angeles Times story:

By the time the Vietnam war ended in 1975, it had become America's longest war, shadowed the legacies of four presidents, killed 58,000 Americans along with many thousands more Vietnamese, and cost the U.S. more than $660 billion in today's dollars.

By the time the bill for World War II passed the $600-billion mark, in mid-1943, the United States had driven German forces out of North Africa, devastated the Japanese fleet in the Battle of Midway, and launched the vast offensives that would liberate Europe and the South Pacific.

The Iraq war is far smaller and narrower than those conflicts, and it has not extended beyond the tenure of a single president. But its price tag is beginning to reach historic proportions, and the budgetary "burn rate" for Iraq may be greater than in some periods in past wars.

If U.S. involvement continues on the current scale, the funding for the Iraq war — combined with the conflict in Afghanistan and other foreign fronts in the war on terrorism — is projected to surpass this country's Vietnam spending next year.

And the accumulating cost is adding to resistance to President Bush's war policy in Congress as well as in public opinion, even though concern about the cost in human lives, the war's impact on America's place in the world and other such factors loom larger.

Last week, when Bush unveiled his new war plan — which included sending an additional 21,500 U.S. troops to Iraq and launching another effort to provide jobs and public services in Baghdad — the cost issue was raised by Republicans as well as Democrats.
The piece cites the spending levels from the Vietnam War for comparison:

From the beginning of President Lyndon B. Johnson's troop buildup in 1965 to the fall of Saigon in 1975, the United States spent the equivalent of $662 billion in 2007 dollars, according to the Congressional Research Service. The war in Iraq is harder to measure because its costs tend to be mixed up with those of the war in Afghanistan and Bush's broader global war on terrorism, says Steven Kosiak, director of budget studies at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments in Washington.

Starting with the anti-terrorism appropriation enacted a week after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Kosiak figures the United States had spent $400 billion fighting terrorism through fiscal 2006, which ended Sept. 30.

For fiscal 2007, Congress has so far approved $70 billion. The president is expected to ask Congress for $100 billion more.

Even if the fighting stopped soon, which few expect, the bills would continue to accumulate as the Pentagon pushed to restore what the war had cost in troops and material.
The obvious question is whether the expenditures so far have been worth it -- that is, are we safer today than before the terrorists attacks of September 2001?

The quick response is that while we've had successes in Afghanistan, with the denuclearization of Libya, and with various pro-democracy efforts worldwide, American difficulties in Iraq have placed strains on America's global military position and have shown that defeating the insurgency there is by no means certain. Growing global dangers -- like the threats from Iran and North Korea -- raise fundamental challenges to U.S. security going forward.

Yet, the global War on Terror itself is not like a traditional military conflict, with the defeat of nations and the capture of territories signaling military victory. The War on Terror is analogous to the Cold War, the long period of U.S.-Soviet antagonism over the future of world leadership and security. The U.S. prevailed in the Cold War, with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. The total cost to the U.S.
has been estimated at $8 trillion dollars in military spending, and more than 100,000 lives were lost in the Korean and Vietnam wars.

The current terror war is akin to the long, twilight struggle of the Cold War, which endured for roughly 45 years. The costs to the U.S. so far have been far below that of the earlier conflict, a struggle in which victory was never assured. And today, while victory against the newer forces of extremism have eluded our grasp, the battle against terrorism is one in which the U.S. must engage. The Bush administration's approach may have alienated allies, and we may have squandered American moral authority -- which may require some diplomatic repair work --
but the rightness and worth of the cause should never be in doubt.

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