Published on Wednesday, June 29, 2011 by Reuters
US Cost of War at Least $3.7 Trillion and Counting
by Daniel Trotta
When President Barack Obama cited cost as a reason to bring troops home from
The final bill will run at least $3.7 trillion and could reach as high as $4.4 trillion, according to the research project "Costs of War" by Brown University's Watson Institute for International Studies.
In the 10 years since
Those numbers will continue to soar when considering often overlooked costs such as long-term obligations to wounded veterans and projected war spending from 2012 through 2020. The estimates do not include at least $1 trillion more in interest payments coming due and many billions more in expenses that cannot be counted, according to the study.
In human terms, 224,000 to 258,000 people have died directly from warfare, including 125,000 civilians in
"Costs of War" brought together more than 20 academics to uncover the expense of war in lives and dollars, a daunting task given the inconsistent recording of lives lost and what the report called opaque and sloppy accounting by the U.S. Congress and the Pentagon.
The report underlines the extent to which war will continue to stretch the
It also raises the question of what the
"I hope that when we look back, whenever this ends, something very good has come out of it," Senator Bob Corker, a Republican from
SEPT 11, 2001
In one sense, the report measures the cost of 9/11, the American shorthand for the events of September 11, 2001. Nineteen hijackers plus other al Qaeda plotters spent an estimated $400,000 to $500,000 on the plane attacks that killed 2,995 people and caused $50 billion to $100 billion in economic damages.
What followed were three wars in which $50 billion amounts to a rounding error. For every person killed on September 11, another 73 have been killed since.
Was it worth it? That is a question many people want answered, said Catherine Lutz, head of the anthropology department at Brown and co-director of the study.
"We decided we needed to do this kind of rigorous assessment of what it cost to make those choices to go to war," she said. "Politicians, we assumed, were not going to do that kind of assessment."
The report arrives as Congress debates how to cut a
What did the
Strategically, the results for the
"Al Qaeda in
Economically, the results are also mixed. War spending may be adding half a percentage point a year to growth in the gross domestic product but that has been more than offset by the negative effects of deficit spending, the report concludes.
A ground-breaking private estimate was published in the 2008 book "The Three Trillion Dollar War," by Linda Bilmes, a member of the Watson Institute team, and Nobel-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz. That work revealed how much cost was added by interest on deficit spending and medical care for veterans.
The report draws on those sources and pieces together many others for a more comprehensive picture.
The report also makes special note of
Politicians throughout history have underestimated the costs of war, believing they will be shorter and less deadly than reality, said Neta Crawford, the other co-director of the report and a political science professor at
The report said former President George W. Bush's administration was "shamelessly politically driven" in underestimating
Most official sources continue to overlook costs, largely because of a focus on just Pentagon spending, Crawford said.
"Over the last decade, we have spent a trillion dollars on war," Obama said in last week's speech on reducing
"I don't know what the president knows, but I wish it were a trillion," Crawford said. "It would be better if it were a trillion."
In theory, adding up the dollars spent and lives lost should be a statistical errand. The U.S. Congress appropriates the money, and a life lost on battlefield should have a death certificate and a casket to match.
The team quickly discovered, however, the task was far more complicated.
Specific war spending over the past 10 years, when expressed in 2011 dollars, comes to $1.3 trillion, the "Costs of War" project found. When it comes to accounting for every dollar, that $1.3 trillion is merely a good start.
Since the wars have been financed by deficit spending, interest must be paid -- $185 billion of accumulated so far.
The Pentagon has received an additional $326 billion to $652 billion beyond what can be attributed to the war appropriations, the study found.
Homeland security spending has totaled another $401 billion so far that can be traced to September 11. War-related foreign aid
Then comes caring for
Those costs will soar over the next 40 years as veterans age. The report estimates the
So far, those numbers add up to a low estimate of $2.9 trillion and a moderate estimate of $3.6 trillion in costs to the U.S. Treasury. No high estimate was offered.
"We feel a conservative measure of costs is plenty large to attract attention," said report contributor Ryan Edwards, an economist who studied the war impact on deficit spending.
Those numbers leave out hundreds of billions in social costs not born by the
That's a running total through fiscal 2011. Add another $453 billion in war-related spending projected for 2012 to 2020 and the total grows to $3.668 trillion to $4.444 trillion.
THE HUMAN TOLL
If the financial costs are elusive, so too is the human toll.
The report estimates between 224,475 and 257,655 have been killed in
The civilian death toll in
"We don't do body counts," Tommy Franks, the
The numbers only consider direct deaths -- people killed by bombs or bullets. Estimates for indirect deaths in war vary so much that researchers considered them too arbitrary to report.
"When the fighting stops, the indirect dying continues. It's in fact worse than land mines. The healthcare system is still in bad shape. People are still suffering the effects of malnutrition and so on," Crawford said.
Even where the
"The rate of chaotic behavior," she said, "is high."
(Additional reporting by Susan Cornwell, Missy Ryan, Brett Gering, Laura MacInnis and Sharon Reich; Editing by Doina Chiacu)
© 2011 Reuters
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"The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose--especially their lives." Eugene Victor Debs