The Cost Of America’s Wars: $4.4 Trillion

A new study puts the full cost of America’s wars at a far higher than many of us had thought of before:

The final bill for U.S. military involvement in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan could be as high as $4.4 trillion, according to a comprehensive new report Tuesday.

In the 10 years since American troops were sent into Afghanistan, the federal government has already spent between $2.3 trillion and $2.7 trillion, say the authors of the study by Brown University’s Watson Institute for International Studies.

The report calculates not only direct spending on the conflicts but also the long-term costs of caring for wounded veterans and projected war spending from 2012 to 2020.

At a minimum, say the authors of the study, the final cost for these military engagements will be $3.7 trillion. But the report also points out that their estimates do not include at least $1 trillion more in interest payments and other costs that cannot yet be quantified. Indeed, the report criticized the U.S. Congress and the Pentagon for poor accounting.

Although the number of U.S. soldiers killed in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have been made public, the report notes, it is not yet clear how many soldiers return to the United States with injuries and illnesses. New disability claims are being submitted on an ongoing basis, and many injuries among U.S. contractors have not been made public, further complicating calculations of the costs of war.

Even as President Obama recently announced plans for a withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan, the report asserts that conflict in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan will continue through the decade, adding to both financial and human cost.

The report puts the number of civilian deaths to date at approximately 137,000, and the total number of deaths attributable to military conflict in these countries, in uniform or out of uniform, to around 225,000. The study also suggests that the number of war refugees and displaced persons now number around 7.8 million.

I’m sure it was all worth it, right?

FILED UNDER: Military Affairs, National Security, Quick Takes, US Politics
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Franklin says:

    Nope, this is clearly incorrect. You’re telling me that every man, woman, and child is on the hook for some $15,000 (not to mention a few soldiers)?

    Well, at least we know the solution – LOWER TAXES!

  2. john personna says:

    I thought Steglitz (sp?) made a good case for $3T years ago. Pretty sad how his analysis was filtered by people who just didn’t want to believe it.

  3. jukeboxgrad says:

    Here’s a link for the Stiglitz work: “The true cost of the Iraq war: $3 trillion and beyond” (http://wapo.st/bkwlX7). That’s 50 times greater than the cost estimate delivered by Daniels in 2002 (http://bit.ly/kEjh2v). A colossal cost overrun, even by government standards.

  4. george says:

    So once again untaxed wars (ie wars whose cost isn’t covered by raising taxes) are having a negative impact on the economy.

    What happened to the days when being a fiscal conservative meant paying for expenses like wars as they happened?

  5. PJ says:

    The wars will pay for themselves, with Iraqi oil and Afghanistani rocks!

  6. Steve Verdon says:

    Its okay we need the stimulus, in fact, lets invade yet one more country!

  7. F.N Kafka says:

    In foreign affairs, we are so casual with our cash. Is our condition closer to home not a casualty of our ambition abroad?

  8. mike says:

    that is a lot of schools, bridges, roads. hell, that is a lot of a lot of things. It is sure a good thing we have a lot to show for it. Iraq doing so well now, with opium production being up so high in Afghanistan and such a good exit plan in place and all in both countries.

  9. Dave Schuler says:

    If you need to subject it to a cost-benefit analysis, you shouldn’t have gone to war in the first place.

  10. Davebo says:

    If you need to subject it to a cost-benefit analysis, you shouldn’t have gone to war in the first place.

    Perhaps the most clever thing said here Steve. I’m a bit old and remember when talking about things costing Billions was a big deal. Sadly today we spend more money on air conditioning in war zones than we spend on NASA.

    And we do it under administrations run by both Republicans and Democrats.

    Perhaps I should buy a triangular hat and take to the streets.

  11. PJ says:

    @mike

    Iraq doing so well now, with opium production being up so high in Afghanistan and such a good exit plan in place and all in both countries.

    Perhaps we can pay for the war in Afghanistan with their opium? I bet you get more for that than rocks.

  12. mike says:

    Good thinking PJ. You should run for office. Rocks are too heavy to efficiently transport even though they make great pets. I hope that the price of opium has at least come down. My god at least someone had better get a good deal out of it.

  13. jukeboxgrad says:

    Here’s a fun way to look at it. Figure the Iraq war cost $3 trillion (like Stiglitz said). Iraq has a population of about 30,000,000. That means we could have handed a hundred grand to every Iraqi man, woman and child. Keep in mind that per capita income in Iraq is about $4,000. That means we would be giving each person the equivalent of 25 years of income.

    Do you think that would have been enough to buy them as deeply motivated allies, forever and ever? I do.

    Next time we find ourselves in a similar situation, we should just bomb them with cash.

  14. PJ says:

    @jukeboxgrad:

    Next time we find ourselves in a similar situation, we should just bomb them with cash.

    Maybe they tried that? Maybe that’s what happened with all those lost billions? They tried to bomb with it and the wind blew it into the Persian Gulf? Or perhaps they just added explosives to them and actually blew them up?

  15. Dave Schuler says:

    Next time we find ourselves in a similar situation, we should just bomb them with cash.

    I recall Allen Ginsburg making a suggestion somewhat along these lines 40 years ago WRT Viet Nam.

  16. jukeboxgrad says:

    pj:

    Maybe that’s what happened with all those lost billions?

    Yes, good point, I didn’t mention that. We lost track of hundreds of tons of cash, I think about $10 billion. But that seems like a pittance now, compared to the total bill.

    dave:

    I recall Allen Ginsburg making a suggestion somewhat along these lines 40 years ago WRT Viet Nam.

    That’s interesting, I didn’t know. That sounds like him. I wonder if maybe I’ve heard that somewhere, without remembering it consciously, and I’m just unconsciously channeling his idea. Could be.