The economist Joseph Stiglitz on what the Iraq war has really cost (podcast will not be available for long- so download now)
The Three Trillion Dollar War: The True Cost of the Iraq Conflict
by Joseph E. Stiglitz , Linda J. Bilmes
Iraq’s 100-Year Mortgage
March 19 marks the fifth anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq. The American death toll—nearly 4,000 soldiers in Iraq and almost 500 in Afghanistan—is well known. Much less attention has been paid to the enormous number of troops who have survived and returned home with serious injuries. Here, the numbers are truly staggering. More than 70,000 have been wounded in combat, injured in accidents, or airlifted out of the region for emergency medical care. More than a third of the 750,000 troops discharged from the military so far have required treatment at medical facilities, including at least 100,000 with mental health conditions and 52,000 with post-traumatic stress disorder. According to a recent U.S. Army estimate, as many as 20 percent of returning soldiers have suffered mild brain injuries, such as concussions. More than 20,000 troops have survived amputations, severe burns, or head, spinal, and other serious injuries.
These numbers are largely due to the extraordinary advances in battlefield medicine in recent years. Far more soldiers are surviving even grievous injuries than in previous conflicts. The ratio of wounded in combat to killed in Iraq is 7 to 1; in Vietnam, it was 2.6 to 1, and in World War II, 2 to 1. If all injuries are included, such as those from road accidents or debilitating illnesses, Iraq has produced 15 wounded for every single fatality. This higher survival rate is, of course, welcome news, but it leaves the United States with a legacy of providing medical care and paying disability benefits to an enormous number of veterans and their dependents for many decades to come. During the past six years, more than 1.6 million troops have been deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. Even in the most optimistic scenario, assuming that the majority of U.S. troops are withdrawn by the end of 2009, the cost of providing for Iraq War veterans will match what we have spent waging the war: approximately $500 billion. If U.S. forces remain deployed at a higher level, the cost of caring for veterans will eventually exceed $700 billion.
When we think about the costs of war, we tend to focus on the here and now. But in what is already the second-most expensive conflict in U.S. history, after World War II, the costs of Iraq will persist long after the last shot is fired. Benefits were still being paid to World War I veterans until January 2007, when the last veteran receiving compensation died, nearly 90 years after the war ended. The United States pays more than $12 billion each year in disability benefits to Vietnam veterans, a figure that continues to climb, 35 years after the U.S. pullout. If these past wars are any guide, Americans will undoubtedly be paying for Iraq for at least the next 50 years.