Iraq War Cost Less Than Stimulus!

FOX reports that the entire combat phase of the Iraq War will cost less than President Obama's stimulus. That's not a useful comparison.

The FOX headline “CBO: Eight Years of Iraq War Cost Less Than Stimulus Act” is causing the desired splash.

As President Obama prepares to tie a bow on U.S. combat operations in Iraq, Congressional Budget Office numbers show that the total cost of the eight-year war was less than the stimulus bill passed by the Democratic-led Congress in 2009.

According to CBO numbers in its Budget and Economic Outlook published this month, the cost of Operation Iraqi Freedom was $709 billion for military and related activities, including training of Iraqi forces and diplomatic operations.

The projected cost of the stimulus, which passed in February 2009, and is expected to have a shelf life of two years, was $862 billion.

The U.S. deficit for fiscal year 2010 is expected to be $1.3 trillion, according to CBO. That compares to a 2007 deficit of $160.7 billion and a 2008 deficit of $458.6 billion, according to data provided by the U.S. Office of Management and Budget.

Dave Weigel thinks this both insensitive and misleading, noting that the cost of the war in Iraq also included “thousands of combat deaths and life-altering injuries” and that the announced ending of the combat phase doesn’t mean that the costs won’t continue to mount.  And James B. Webb notes that the stimulus costs are “projected,” and could in fact be wildly less than this.  (Not noted: They could also be wildly more.)

Fair points, all.

But, while I supported the Iraq War and opposed the stimulus package (although not the idea of stimulus per se) the greater point is the fact that the comparison is immensely silly.

First, different kinds of activity often have wildly different costs associated with them.  My monthly satellite television bill dwarfs my monthly water bill.  Yet, forced to choose, I’d rather have water!

Second, while the issue of deficit spending was indeed one of the key objections to the stimulus, it was a virtual non-issue in the Iraq War debate.  Opponents had a variety of reasons with the impact on the national debt was very low on the list, indeed.

FILED UNDER: Economics and Business, Iraq War, US Politics
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Brummagem Joe says:

    Well at least you’re on the side of the angels on this one Jim. Quite apart from the fact that the estimate of military and diplomatic costs doesn’t include hundreds of billions of other costs including nation building and some of which we’ll be paying for the next forty years, there’s the little matter of nearly five thousand American and 150,000 Iraqi dead. 

  2. Tano says:

    What does that tell you about out priorities? Spending a huge chunk of money to stimulate the economy when it is in danger of freefalling into a depression, so that such an economic disaster can be avoided – that will be questioned and opposed by many because they fear it might cost too much (ignoring the cost of not doing it).  But going to the other side of the world, invading a country that had nothing to do with the recent attack on our homeland – the cost side of the equation is hardly considered.
     
    I think it obvious that the benefits to our country were to be maximized by doing the former and not doing the latter.

  3. steve says:

    Seems a bit disingenuous to leave out the long term costs of the Iraq war, especially the treatment and disability costs. There will also be lot of equipment turnover that will not be attributed directly to the war. At any rate, you are correct. It is a silly comparison. Different goals.
     
    Steve

  4. Ugh says:

    Next on Foxnews:  Setting $10,000 on fire will cost LESS THAN HALF the price of a new Prius!  What are the environmentalists not telling you?  We report, you decide.

  5. Vast Variety says:

    When you put it in terms of dollars, sure the war may have cost less than the stimulus. But dollars are not the true cost of the war, lives are.

  6. Wayne says:

    Re “Second, while the issue of deficit spending was indeed one of the key objections to the stimulus, it was a virtual non-issue in the Iraq War debate”
     
    Where have you been for the last 8 years? Every time somebody brings up getting control of the deficit, the left brings up the cost of the wars. Many of them act as if it is the only reason we have been running a deficit. Every time the left want to spend money and the right objects they bring up spending money on the war. Go back read posts on deficit spending and I you will likely see it was brought up.
    Spending on the Iraq War has been a virtual non-issue.  Give me a break.

  7. JKB says:

    Well, both depend on suppositions of the consequences of not spending the money.  Had we not removed Saddam, would we be fat dumb and happy now or looking at two hostile powers in the region with WMDs, with al queda operating with impunity from their territory?  Had we not spent the stimulus money would we have had the 8% unemployment projected and deep dark depression or would we have people thinking we could pull ourselves out since the debt was manageable?
     
    In the end it comes down to there is no perfume like success.  Iraq, successful.  Stimulus, not so much (perhaps needing a yet on the end of that assessment).  Had this comparison been made before Bush kicked in the Surge, well the subjective assessment would be different.  Perhaps in a year or two, the stimulus will be lauded as a good idea even if slow in impact.

  8. Steve Plunk says:

    It’s very useful information when combating the “Bush deficits” nonsense the Left uses to excuse Obama’s spending insanity.  The war has been and will be very expensive in both treasure and lives but Obama’s big government/crony stimulus will come near to bankrupt the country unless it’s stopped.
     
    The comparison is about fiscal issues rather than the moral issues of war.  The congress approved it and the American people supported it so the question of whether or not we should have gone to war is moot at this point.

  9. Brummagem Joe says:

    “looking at two hostile powers in the region with WMDs, with al queda operating with impunity from their territory?……Iraq, successful. ”

    Still playing the wrong tunes. Iraq didn’t have any WMD’s nor the means to make them and Al Quaeda wasn’t in Iraq. If Iraq is a “success” then I’d hate to hear your definition of failure.  

  10. Brummagem Joe says:

    ” and the American people supported it so the question of whether or not we should have gone to war is moot at this point.”

    Well that was because they were sold a bill of goods. They now realize it of course, and the extent of the debacle it became, and now “un-support” it by around 70%. 

  11. Brummagem Joe says:

    “Many of them act as if it is the only reason we have been running a deficit. ”

    True, there were the tax cuts, the totally unfunded prescription drug benefit, a mass of other increases in public spending, and the costs of cleaning up the biggest financial and economic bust since the thirties.

  12. Herb says:

    “Iraq, successful.”
     
    Keep telling yourself that….

  13. sam says:

    @JKB
    “Had we not removed Saddam, would we be fat dumb and happy now or looking at two hostile powers in the region with WMDs, with al queda operating with impunity from their territory?”
    For one, as we found out, Saddam had no WMDs. But let’s assume, arguendo, he would have ended up with them. Whom do you think they would be pointed at? I’ll give you a hint, the country’s name has four letters and starts with I and ends with N, or have you forgotten the long, bloody war they fought?. I suspect Iran and Iraq would have been in shooting competition for hegemony in the Middle East. If the Shia think the Sunni are heretics (and vice versa), they, that is, Iran, thought that Saddam was Shaitan himself. In fact, we might have removed the only real counter to Iranian ambitions when we deposed Saddam.  As for Al Quaeda, since it’s predominantly a Sunni organization, and Iran is Shiite, it’s unlikely it would be operating in Iran. Iraq, just maybe, but that’s doubtful, too, if one takes the Quaeda commitment to the Caliphate seriously. That kind of stuff seems not to have been to Saddam’s liking.
     
    Finally, “Iraq, successful.” It ain’t over, yet, and the outcome is in some doubt. See, U.S. Commander Fears Political Stalemate in Iraq (http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/30/world/middleeast/30iraq.html?_r=1&scp=3&sq=iraq&st=cse)

  14. ponce says:

    Iraq was successful in that it got Bush re-elected.
     
    Mission Accomplished.

  15. Wayne says:

    Brum
    True there was much more that contribute to the Bush deficits. The over spending by the Reps was part of it. Remember though the Dems wanted to spend a great deal more and they did once they took control.   That doesn’t excuse the Reps. Also those that keep pretending the war is the only reason we ran deficits are nuts.
     It is one thing to treat opinions and conclusions as facts i.e. Bush’s x is good, bad, etc is one thing but to not acknowledge basic facts i.e Obama is President or Beck rally was much larger than Sharpton’s  is asinine.  We can argue what expenditures were wise and which one were not. However to act like cost of the wars have been non-issue is ignoring reality.

  16. Wayne says:

    Re “For one, as we found out, Saddam had no WMDs”
     
    Actually we did find some, just not in significant quantity. We as most of the world did believe he had them. Many of the ME countries sure were worried about them before we kick off operations. They couldn’t get enough of the Patriot III missiles and assurance for plans to help out if they got hit by some.  Military wise we thought he would use stay behind WMD but that another story.

  17. ponce says:

    “We as most of the world did believe he had them.”
    “We” did nothing to verify that he had them.
    Instead, “We” relied on the word of drunkards, idiots and charlatans….because “We” weren’t really interested in the truth.

  18. Herb says:

    We as most of the world did believe he had them.

    I’ve heard this a time or two over the years, and really so what?  Bush and the whole world believed Hussein had them…..and they were wrong.  And hey, I understand….with so many people saying, “Bush lied, People died,” there’s got to be some kind of response.  But you’ve gotta realize, “Bush didn’t lie….he just exercised colossally bad judgment” is not much of a defense.

  19. sam says:

    @Wayne
    “However to act like cost of the wars have been non-issue is ignoring reality.”
     
    Wayne, was the cost of the wars an issue within the Republican Party?

  20. spencer says:

    Says — please provide some evidence to support  your claims that we found any WMDs.

  21. spencer says:

    While we are at can anyone provide any evidence that the US is more secure because of the Iraq war?

  22. Brummagem Joe says:

    “We as most of the world did believe he had them.”

    What a pity this didn’t include the heads of Britain’s internal and external intelligence agencies MI 5 and MI 6 as they have both testified to the Chilcot inquiry, Hans Blix or Mohammed El Baradei and other informed people. 

  23. Brummagem Joe says:

    “and they did once they took control.”

    In what way precisely did Democrats increase spending when they took control of congress. The die was cast. The tax cuts made, the wars started, the Pentagon and intelligence budgets enlarged, the drug benefit passed. So how exactly did the Democrats on their own initiative substantially increase spending. On the contrary they tried to rein it in by the passage of paygo, reduction of earmarks etc. And btw I never acted “like cost of the wars have been non-issue.” Anyway I await your list of all the new spending the democrats initiated in 2006.

  24. sam says:

    We could not know then, though if we had been wiser we might have guessed, the scale of the toll the invasion would unleash: the tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians who would die; the nearly 4,500 American soldiers who would be killed; the nearly 35,000 soldiers who would return home wounded; the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis who would flee abroad as refugees; the $750 billion in direct war costs that would burden the United States; the bitterness that would seep into American politics; the anti-Americanism that would become a commonplace around the world.
     

    John F. Burns, A Long-Awaited Day, http://atwar.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/08/31/a-long-awaited-day/
     
     

  25. john personna says:

    Second, while the issue of deficit spending was indeed one of the key objections to the stimulus, it was a virtual non-issue in the Iraq War debate.  Opponents had a variety of reasons with the impact on the national debt was very low on the list, indeed.

    Remember, the war was not presented with a $1T estimate.  I’m remembering something like $60B and someone (Wolfowitz?) saying it would pay for itself once oil started flowing.

    Ah, a sad blast from the past here:

    http://www.cnn.com/2003/ALLPOLITICS/01/01/sproject.irq.war.cost/

  26. Wayne says:

    The 500 munitions discovered throughout Iraq since 2003 and discussed in a National Ground Intelligence Center report meet the criteria of weapons of mass destruction, the center’s commander said here today.
    These are chemical weapons as defined under the Chemical Weapons Convention, and yes … they do constitute weapons of mass destruction,” Army Col. John Chu told the House Armed Services Committee.
    http://www.defense.gov/news/newsarticle.aspx?id=15918
    http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,200499,00.html

  27. Wayne says:

    Sam
    Are you saying that it must be an issue within the Republican Party to be an issue?
    And yes some of the war expenditures have been issue within the Party.

  28. Wayne says:

    And by the chance you miss it in the defense article, the 500 found was as of “June 2006”.

  29. john personna says:

    Wayne, your defense.gov link says:
     

    The munitions addressed in the report were produced in the 1980s, Maples said. Badly corroded, they could not currently be used as originally intended, Chu added.

    Good to hear we were protected from corroded, unusable, munitions.

  30. Brummagem Joe says:

    Wayne says:

    Tuesday, August 31, 2010 at 16:45

    “The 500 munitions discovered throughout Iraq since 2003 and discussed in a National Ground Intelligence Center report meet the criteria of weapons of mass destruction, the center’s commander said here today.”

    These were rusting, buried, gas filled artillery shells. How exactly were they going to become WMD’s delivered in attacks on anyone, let alone the US six thousand miles away.

  31. sam says:

    @Wayne

    Sam
    Are you saying that it must be an issue within the Republican Party to be an issue?
    And yes some of the war expenditures have been issue within the Party.
     

    Wayne, I’m asking if,  that during the time George Bush was president, the cost of the war(s) was was ever an issue within the Republican party in Congress.

  32. reid says:

    These were rusting, buried, gas filled artillery shells. How exactly were they going to become WMD’s delivered in attacks on anyone, let alone the US six thousand miles away.

    Especially when the rhetoric of the day was most definitely in the context of a “mushroom cloud”.  Aging nerve gas shells just doesn’t carry the same weight when you’re trying to drum up support for a war….
     

  33. Wayne says:

    Since there seem to be a problem with memory here is a little recap.
    Wayne says
    Re “For one, as we found out, Saddam had no WMDs”
     
    Actually we did find some, just not in significant quantity.
    Spencer says
    Says — please provide some evidence to support  your claims that we found any WMDs.
    Wayne says
    http://www.defense.gov/news/newsarticle.aspx?id=15918
    end of recap.
    Just to be clear on what I claimed.
    JP
    Read the part of the article that doesn’t fit your agenda. They went on to claim that the munitions were still quite dangerous.
    “While that’s reassuring, the agent remaining in the weapons would be very valuable to terrorists and insurgents, Maples said. “We’re talking chemical agents here that could be packaged in a different format and have a great effect,””
     
    Re “How exactly were they going to become WMD’s delivered in attacks on anyone”
    It doesn’t take a genius to figure that one out. Repackage the material and deliver it by air, land or sea.  It is not like our borders aren’t porous as hell. I’m not even sure if our current “commercial” airline security would detect different chemical agents.
     
     On a tangent of that” what the hell is this with Obama bragging about expecting all “southbound” trains?  The only country that protects is Mexico but he is probably more concern with their will being then ours.

  34. G.A.Phillips says:

    Did undermining the Iraq war make us or our troops any safer? And why have you stopped for the last year and a half? hmm liberals, I’m happy that you have to tell you the truth….

  35. john personna says:

    Wayne, as others have pointed out, the case for war in Iraq was built on “imminent threat.”  Kinda dumb to say it’s “my agenda” to say that buried and forgotten weapons were not an imminent threat.
     
    Of course that was the game back in the day, wasn’t it?  Build any shred of evidence into a palpable fear for the susceptible.  Then tell those susceptible that the only way to protect them was war.
     
    The only way to protect us from buried and forgotten weapons was … war!
     
     

  36. Wayne says:

    Sam
    What is your point?
     I answer your question now how about answering mine especially “Are you saying that it must be an issue within the Republican Party to be an issue?’
     
    Once again spending on the war wisely and prudent had been even in the Bush years an issue within the Republican Party.  Yes almost all Rep thought we needed to fund the war and intelligence agencies with those expenditures should be a priority. However many of them thought it was unwise to just throw a bunch of money anytime a news agency came out with a sob story.
    I not going into it deeper because it is distracting from the main point of the “left” having issues with the war cost.

     

     

  37. john personna says:

    That’s democracy for you, GA.  If you want to live in a fundamentalist republic, you know where to find them.

  38. Wayne says:

    JP
    My original point was the claim that no WMD were found was false.
    .  I didn’t make an argument in that post for or against the war. I was just trying to establish fact that many refuse to acknowledge.

     
    What was your point of your statement of?
    “The munitions addressed in the report were produced in the 1980s, Maples said. Badly corroded, they could not currently be used as originally intended, Chu added.
    Good to hear we were protected from corroded, unusable, munitions.”

  39. André Kenji says:

    In fact, that´s a very low estimate for the costs of the war.

  40. ratufa says:

    When counting the costs of the stimulus package, should the 200+ billion in tax breaks be counted as costs? On one hand, they do contribute to the deficit. On the other hand, you could consider the tax cuts as letting people keep their own money. On the other other hand, “to spend is to tax” and we did the opposite of cutting spending. On yet another hand, if the stimulus consisted solely of capital gains, estate, and other tax cuts, I suspect that the talking points we’d hear from Fox and Republicans about the “cost” of the stimulus would be vastly different.

    Reference for the 200+ billion number:

    http://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/statements/2010/feb/10/jon-stewart/stewart-claims-stimulus-bill-one-third-tax-cuts/

  41. sam says:

    @Wayne
    “My original point was the claim that no WMD were found was false.”
    Ok, yeah, but you will concede, I think, that the “WMDs” found were really, really, not the WMDs that Cheney and Co were claiming to be in Iraq, right? Those guys were pushing the Saddam-has-nukes line as hard and as far as possible, right?
    And btw, had they just said, “Saddam has chemical weapons…etc”, nobody would have said “No, he doesn’t.” But that wasn’t the gravamen of the case they presented against Saddam and much of the predicate for our invasion of Iraq. The fact that others agreed with this only makes them complicit. But so what, nearly everybody supporting the invasion was flat ass wrong on the justifications. It was a case of equal-opportunity fvckupery.
     
     

  42. john personna says:

    Wayne, do you think this is a points game?  And that corroded and unusable munitions have enough points to win the argument?
     
    Why else say “I didn’t make an argument in that post for or against the war.”