Cost of Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libyan Wars and the California Tradeoffs

By Ralph E. Stone
Sunday March 27, 2011 - 08:38:00 PM

The United States national debt exceeds $14 trillion and is climbing. Nearly 14 million Americans are unemployed, about 2.2 million in California. Americans continue to lose homes to foreclosure. Public health, education, social services, and police and fire departments are facing cutbacks. Yet, we can spend more than $1 trillion dollars in wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya. Yes, if we bomb and strafe Libya, we are at war with that country. Greed, uncontrolled corporate power, and our addiction to foreign oil have led us to perpetual war, and economic and moral decline.  

What is the cost of the Iraq and Afghanistan war so far and what are the tradeoffs? As of March 2011, 4,441 Americans have died in Iraq as have as many as 150,000 civilians, and another 4.5 million civilians have been displaced. In Afghanistan, 1,513 Americans have died and, although accurate counts are hard to come by, as many as 8,000 Afghan civilians have been killed and another 3.7 million refugees are internally displaced or living in neighboring countries.  

The cost of those who died in these wars is immeasurable, but the dollar tradeoffs can be calculated. 

The total dollar cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan so far exceeds $1.171 trillion. The taxpayers in California will pay $21.8 billion for proposed total Iraq and Afghanistan war spending for FY2011. To place this figure in perspective, this money could have provided 7.5 million low-income people with healthcare for one year or 14.7 million low-income children with healthcare for one year or 7.8 million homes with renewable electricity -- solar photovoltaic for one year or 2.5 million Head Start places for children for one year or 283,672 elementary school teachers for one year or 234,012 police or sheriff's patrol officers for one year or 2.6 million scholarships for university students for one year. 

There are also societal costs not included in the $1.171 trillion figure mentioned above. A 2008, RAND Corporation study found that one-in-five Iraq and Afghanistan veterans suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or major depression. The RAND study estimates the societal costs of PTSD and major depression for two years after deployment range from about $6,000 to more than $25,000 per case. The RAND study estimates the total society costs for two years range from $4 billion to $6.2 billion. If PTSD and depression go untreated or are under treated, there is the likelihood of drug use, suicide, marital problems, unemployment, and homelessness. There are an estimated 107,000 homeless veterans nationwide on any given night and another 1.5 million at risk of becoming homeless.  

Obviously we need to exit Iraq and Afghanistan so monies can be spent on desperately needed domestic programs and to prevent further expenses for veterans' assistance. We have an exit strategy for Iraq. President Obama has ordered the 138,000 U.S. troops in Iraq withdrawn in three phases. They'll leave major cities - including Baghdad, Mosul and Baquoba - by the end of June 2011. Combat operations will end by August of 2010 - leaving a force of up to 50,000 Americans, primarily to train Iraq's military. Supposedly, all U.S. troops will be out by the end of 2011.  

President Obama "hopes" that U.S. troops will start leaving Afghanistan in the summer of 2011. "Winning" in Afghanistan depends largely on Pakistan, our unreliable ally. Since 2001, the U.S. has given Pakistan about $22 billion in aid and then Pakistan refused to allow an audit on how the money was spent. That amount of money would almost erase California's budget deficit. Most of the money lined the pockets of Pakistani political and military leaders or was spent to fight an unlikely war with India, not as it was intended, to train and equip Pakistanis to fight al Qaeda.  

Remember, however, these exit strategies for Iraq and Afghanistan are targets only. Given the instability and corruption of both governments, these target dates are unlikely to be met.  

And in Afghanistan, President Hamid Karzai admitted that Afghanistan cannot win the war and was reportedly -- although he denied this -- seeking to broker a truce with the Taliban. The estimated $1 trillion in Afghanistan's reserves of iron, copper, cobalt, gold, and lithium makes the war more important and complicated. Will the Taliban give up so easily knowing it is worth the fight to control the country's immense potential wealth? 

In Libya, defense analysts estimate that the U.S. is spending $100 million per day. Just imposing a no-flight zone over the northern part of Libya could cost $400 million to $800 million for the initial strikes. It had also projected costs of $30 million to $100 million a week to patrol the area. Just one Tomahawk missile costs $1.4 million. More than 178 Tomahawk missiles were filed worth $250 million.  

We cannot continue these enormous war expenditures ad infinitum, especially with our faltering economy. The U.S. has lost its way.