August 17, 2007
The Nation

The Enormous Cost of War

Katrina Vanden Heuvel

The National Priorities Project (NPP), a research organization that analyzes and clarifies federal data so that people can understand how their tax dollars are spent, continues to be an invaluable resource when it comes to translating the costs of the Iraq War.

$456 billion has now been appropriated for the war through September 30, and that's a difficult number to get a handle on. But as I've written previously, NPP spells out exactly what every state and district has paid towards this catastrophe and describes the spending priorities that could have been met with those same resources.

For example, $456 billion could have provided over 48 million children with health care coverage for the length of the War; built 3.5 million affordable housing units; 45,800 elementary schools; hired 8 million additional public school teachers for a year; paid for nearly 60 million kids to attend Head Start; or awarded 22 million 4-year scholarships at public universities. Instead, we find our nation speeding towards what Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz estimated as a final price tag - somewhere between $1 trillion and $2 trillion [between $3333 and $6666 for each U.S citizen]. . . .


Smedley Butler, "'War is a Racket'," 1933

VIDEO: John Pilger, "Paying The Price: Killing The Children Of Iraq," ITV, March 6, 2000

[To measure actual spending by the United States on defense, take the federal budget number for the Pentagon and double it.--David R. Francis, "Hidden defense costs add up to double trouble," Christian Science Monitor, February 23, 2004]

"War Has Cost 655,000 Iraqi Lives," The Wisdom Fund, July 9, 2003

Chalmers Johnson, "America's Empire of Bases," Nation Institute, January 15, 2004

Peter Beaumont and Joanna Walters, "Greenspan admits Iraq was about oil, as deaths put at 1.2m," Guardian, September 16, 2007

[So we are speaking of some 1.2 million people who have been killed in this way, and that does not count the numbers that were killed during the invasion itself for the crime of having attempted to oppose invading foreign troops, or the 500,000 children and old people killed by the US-UN anti-civilian sanctions in the 10 previous years.

It was the US that turned this country into a killing field. Why won't we face this? Why won't we take responsibility? The reason has to do with this mysterious thing called nationalism, which makes an ideological religion of the nation's wars. We are god-like liberators. They are devil-like terrorists. No amount of data or contrary information seems to make a dent in this irreligious faith.--Llewellyn H. Rockwell, Jr., "None Dare Call It Genocide,", September 18, 2007]

Editorial: "Civil liberties under threat: The real price of freedom," Economist, September 20, 2007

[The money spent on one day of the Iraq war could buy homes for almost 6,500 families or health care for 423,529 children, or could outfit 1.27 million homes with renewable electricity, according to the American Friends Service Committee, which displayed those statistics on large banners in cities nationwide Thursday and Friday.

The war is costing $720 million a day or $500,000 a minute, according to the group's analysis of the work of Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph E. Stiglitz and Harvard public finance lecturer Linda J. Bilmes.--Kari Lydersen, "War Costing $720 Million Each Day, Group Says," Washington Post, September 22, 2007]

[The administration showed its cards on Wednesday when it asked Congress for an additional $42.3 billion in "emergency" funding for Iraq and Afghanistan. This comes on top of the original 2008 spending request, which was made before Mr. Bush announced his so-called "new strategy" of partial withdrawal. It would bring the 2008 war bill to nearly $190 billion, the largest single-year total for the wars and an increase of 15 percent from 2007.

And here are a few more facts to put the voracious war machine in context: By year's end, the cost for both conflicts since Sept. 11, 2001, is projected to reach more than $800 billion. Iraq alone has cost the United States more in inflation-adjusted dollars than the Gulf War and the Korean War and will probably surpass the Vietnam War by the end of next year, according to the nonpartisan Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments.--Editorial: "Runaway (Spending) Train," New York Times, September 28, 2007]

Jeff Donn and Kimberly Hefling, "Wounded vets from Iraq, and families, now suffer economically; 185,000 seek help so far," Associated Press, September 29, 2007

[The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan could cost as much as $2.4 trillion through the next decade, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said Wednesday. The White House brushed off the analysis as "speculation."--Anne Flaherty, "Wars May Cost $2.4 Trillion Over Decade," Associated Press, October 24, 2007]

[What would this money have bought if we had spent it on other things? U.S. aid to all of Africa has been hovering around $5 billion a year, the equivalent of less than two weeks of direct Iraq-war expenditures. The president made a big deal out of the financial problems facing Social Security, but the system could have been repaired for a century with what we have bled into the sands of Iraq. Had even a fraction of that $2 trillion been spent on investments in education and technology, or improving our infrastructure, the country would be in a far better position economically to meet the challenges it faces in the future, including threats from abroad. For a sliver of that $2 trillion we could have provided guaranteed access to higher education for all qualified Americans. . . .

Some portion of the damage done by the Bush administration could be rectified quickly. A large portion will take decades to fix - and that's assuming the political will to do so exists both in the White House and in Congress. Think of the interest we are paying, year after year, on the almost $4 trillion of increased debt burden - even at 5 percent, that's an annual payment of $200 billion, two Iraq wars a year forever. Think of the taxes that future governments will have to levy to repay even a fraction of the debt we have accumulated. And think of the widening divide between rich and poor in America, a phenomenon that goes beyond economics and speaks to the very future of the American Dream.--Joseph E. Stiglitz, "The Economic Consequences of Mr. Bush," Vanity Fair, December, 2007]

William E. Odom, "The war and the recession: a connection?," Nieman Watchdog, February 14, 2008

Joseph Stiglitz and Linda Bilmes, "The three trillion dollar war," Times, February 23, 2008

VIDEO: "The Three Trillion Dollar War,", February 29, 2008

Erik Leaver and Jenny Shin, "The Mounting Costs of the Iraq War," Foreign Policy in Focus, March 4, 2008

Larry Elliott, "America was conned - who will pay," Guardian, March 17 2008

[ . . . a $4 or $5 trillion tag would be more reasonable.--Joseph Stiglitz and Linda Bilmes, "$3 trillion may be too low," Guardian, April 6, 2008]

Pauline Jelinek, "300,000 US veterans have mental problem, 320,000 had brain injuries," Associated Press, April 17, 2008

[The number that the House sent to the Senate for "defense" - $612 billion for the coming year - is eye-popping. . . .

That number's a sham, however. The budget calls for $68.6 billion for the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan in 2009. War costs this year totaled $182 billion, according to the Federation of American Scientists. . . .

Throw in a bit more than $50 billion for Homeland Security, around $20 billion for the nuclear arsenal in the Department of Energy's budget, about $10 billion for the Coast Guard, a similar number for foreign "security assistance" and maybe another $125 billion - according to one estimate - in other defense-related programs scattered throughout the federal budget.

Of course, very little of this is "defense." This is empire spending, pure and simple--Joshua Holland, "With All Eyes on the Bailout, House Passes Trillion-Dollar Defense Bill," AlterNet, September 26, 2008]

[The U.S. Empire of Bases - at $102 billion a year already the world's costliest military enterprise - just got a good deal more expensive. As a start, on May 27th, we learned that the State Department will build a new "embassy" in Islamabad, Pakistan, which at $736 million will be the second priciest ever constructed, only $4 million less, if cost overruns don't occur, than the Vatican-City-sized one the Bush administration put up in Baghdad.--Chalmers Johnson, "How to Deal with America's Empire of Bases,", July 2, 2009]

[ . . . the rough formula used by the White House, of about $1 million per soldier a year, appears almost constant.--Christopher Drew, "High Costs Weigh on Troop Debate for Afghan War," New York Times, November 15, 2009]

Dave Lindorff, "More Than 53% of Your Tax Payment Goes to the Military,", April 13, 2010

[Adding this interest component to the previous all-agency total, the grand total comes to $1,027.8 billion, which is 61.5 percent greater than the Pentagon's outlays alone.--Robert Higgs, "Defense Spending Is Much Greater than You Think," Independent, April 17, 2010]

[Obama has asked for $33 billion more to help fund 30,000 extra U.S. soldiers being sent to Afghanistan this year. . . . Congress has approved $345 billion so far for the war in Afghanistan--"Factbox: A look at costs of Afghan war to U.S. taxpayers," Reuters, May 10, 2010]

[In 2008, the most recent year for which figures are available, the U.S. expenditure was 696.3 billion dollars, followed by Russia's 86 billion and China's 83.5 billion.

The U.S. defense budget is 15 times that of Japan, 47 times that of Israel, and nearly 73 times that of Iran.--Amanda Bransford, "US Military Spending Far Outpaces Rest of the World," Reuters, May 29, 2010]

Matthew Nasuti, "American Military Casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan Now Exceed 500,000: Pentagon Fudges the Numbers to Placate Public,", June 18, 2010

["Figuring in macro economic costs and interest - the [Iraq] war has been funded with much borrowed money - the cost rises to $4.5 trillion; add Afghanistan, and the bill tops $7 trillion." . . .

Unfortunately, the authors and reviewers have left out the most damaging cost of all: that wars are used to maintain the oppression of the state against the people.--Bob Adelmann, "The Real Costs of the Wars,", October 1, 2010]

Kimberly Dozier, "Total US intelligence bill tops $80 billion," AP News, October 28, 2010

Winslow T. Wheeler, "The Defense Budget and the Deficit: How the Various Plans Compare,", November 26, 2010

[The Pentagon's budget has more than doubled in the past decade, to some $700 billion per year. All told, the ostensible imperatives of national security thereby consume roughly half of all federal discretionary dollars. Even more astonishing, annual U.S. military outlays now approximate those of all other nations, friends as well as foes, combined.--Andrew J. Bacevich, "The Tyranny of Defense Inc,", January/February 2011]

[The military budget doubled from 1998 to 2008 in the biggest explosion of military spending since the early 1950s - and now accounts for 56 percent of discretionary federal spending.--Gareth Porter, "50 Years After Ike's Speech: From Military-Industrial Complex to Permanent War State,", January 18, 2011]

[ . . . total defense spending in 2012 will be in the neighborhood of $700 billion--Lawrence Korb and Laura Conley, "Obama's Pentagon cuts not what they seem,", February 11, 2011]

[The U.S. government spent $2 trillion combating bin Laden over the past decade, more than 20 percent of the nation's $9.68 trillion public debt.--David J. Lynch, "Bin Ladens Death Won't End His Toll on American Taxpayers, Poll Shows,", May 12, 2011]

[The deepest, ugliest problem is not the amount of American wealth that defense/security gulps down its maws every year. It is that nobody - the Pentagon included - has the foggiest idea where the money goes.--Peter Casey, "Where Have All the Missiles Gone?,", June 1, 2011]

[According to the Pentagon, there are approximately 865 US military bases abroad - over 1,000 if new bases in Iraq and Afghanistan are included. The cost? $102 billion annually - and that doesn't include the costs of the Iraq and Afghanistan bases.--Katrina vanden Heuvel, "Around the Globe, US Military Bases Generate Resentment, Not Security,", June 13, 2011]

[That is the conclusion of a study released by the Eisenhower Research Project, a group of scholars, diplomats and other experts based at Brown University's Watson Institute for International Studies.--Joe Conason, "$4 Trillion for War - and Counting,", July 1, 2011]

[Over the past decade, when we had no serious national adversaries, U.S. defense spending has gone from about a third of total worldwide defense spending to 50 percent.--Fareed Zakaria, "Why defense spending should be cut,", August 3, 2011]

["Costs of War" cites a Rand study of 268 terrorist groups, 1968 to 2006. In 83 percent of cases, Lutz said, resolution was reached through political accommodation, intelligence and policing. Military might succeeded in 7 percent of cases.--Bryan Rourke, "Brown University study examines cost of War on Terror,", October 7, 2011]

David Vine, "Picking up a $170 billion tab,", December 13, 2012

Matthew Yglesias, "There's Always Money in the Defense Budget,", January 8, 2013

John Basil Utley, "16 Ways to Cut Defense Spending,", February 22, 2013

Winslow T Wheeler, "America's $1 Trillion National Security Budget,", March 14, 2014

[A recent federal study put the collective price tag, over the next three decades, at up to a trillion dollars.--William J Broad and David E Sanger, "U.S. Ramping Up Major Renewal in Nuclear Arms,", April 24, 2014]

Sean McElwee, "The U.S. military is a national security threat,", May 24, 2015

[These figures do not include additional military-related spending by the VA, CIA, Homeland Security, Energy, Justice or State Departments, nor interest payments on past military spending, which combine to raise the true cost of U.S. militarism to about $1.3 trillion per year--Nicolas J S Davies, "The Record U.S. Military Budget,", October 2, 2015]

K K Rebecca Lai, "Is America's Military Big Enough?,", March 22, 2017

[The projected bill for just the 30-year nuclear modernization agenda comes to over $90 million a day, or almost $4 million an hour. The $1 trillion price tag for maintaining the nation's status as "the most powerful nation on Earth" for a single year amounts to roughly $2.74 billion a day, over $114 million an hour.--John W. Dower, "An American Century of Carnage,", March 28, 2017]

William D. Hartung, "The Trillion-Dollar National Security Budget,", July 25, 2017

Caroline Houck, "Paying Off Post-9/11 War Debt Could Cost $8 Trillion: Report,", November 9, 2017

Note: This chart does not include money hidden in other budgets.

[The United States remains the world's biggest military spender by far, accounting for 35 percent of global expenditures, more than the next seven highest-spending countries combined.--"Russian military spending falls, could affect operations: think-tank,", May 1, 2018]

[U.S. military . . . $716 billion . . . Russia's entire military budget totals only $61 billion. China, which boast the next most expensive military in the world after the United States, plans to spend about $175 billion this year.--Eric Boehm, "The Senate Just Gave the Pentagon an $82 Billion Boost. That's More Money Than Russia's Entire Military Budget,", June 21, 2018]

[Russia's military budget for 2018 was only $61 billion, . . . Russia has slipped to third place in military spending after the US, China and Saudi Arabia. The US and its wealthy allies account for two thirds of world military spending. In fact, the US total military budget (including for nuclear weapons and foreign wars) is about $1 trillion, 50% of total US government discretionary spending.--Eric Margolis, "Pay up you NATO deadbeats or else,", July 6, 2018]

Brian Cloughley, "NATO Is a Goldmine for the US/Military Industrial Complex,", August 7, 2018

Samuel Stebbins and Evan Comen, "Military spending: 20 companies profiting the most from war,", February 21, 2019

[U.S. defense spending when correctly tabulated exceeds the defense spending of the rest of the global community.--Melvin Goodman, "The Great Cost and Myth of U.S. Defense Spending,", August 30, 2019]

"Global military expenditure sees largest annual increase in a decade - says SIPRI - reaching $1917 billion in 2019,", April 27, 2020

"Mapping Militarism,", May 14, 2020

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