War in Iraq or $1,075?

“What Would You Rather Have: The War in Iraq, or $1,075?”

That’s the question asked by CATO’s Justin Logan in a post linking to a UPI report that the war’s expenses have totaled that amount per citizen. Ezra Klein seconds the question.

Frankly, I’m astounded that the cost is that low. Indeed, let’s rephrase the question: “What Would You Rather Have: 26,783,383 Iraqis free to chose their own government or a new Dell desktop?” Or perhaps, “What Would You Rather Have: Saddam Hussein killing thousands of people a year or a new transmission for the minivan?”

Given the chaos that has followed the regime change phase of our operation, there are many good reasons to wonder whether having gone into Iraq was a great idea. The economic hit to the taxpayer is not among them.

UPDATE: Andrew Daniller joins several commenters below in wondering how democratic Iraq really is: “Iraqis are not free to choose their own government (they’re too busy avoiding militias; chaos isn’t democracy), and thousands of people are dying right now.”

As I note in my very short post, it’s an open question of whether the war was a good thing or bad thing. If things continue on their present course, probably the latter.

Still, one can’t deny that there have now been a succession of free elections in Iraq. With legitimate candidates and people legitimately free to choose those they preferred. And with high turnout despite threats of violence.

One can have democracy and chaos simultaneously. France did on multiple occasions in the century or so after their Revolution. India has, too, off and on since independence.

Had the question been posed as “What would you rather have: Saddam in power or tens of thousands of dead Iraqis?” it would have been much more difficult to answer. With the outcome as uncertain as it is, I’d have to say the former. But, weighed only against a few day’s take-home pay, I’d have to say the cost has been worth the potential payoff.

FILED UNDER: Democracy, Economics and Business, Iraq War, , , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Anderson says:

    26,783,383 Iraqis free to chose their own government

    Oh, and when do we get this?

    Saddam Hussein killing thousands of people a year

    Much better to be killed by a militia, surely.

    The economic angle is certainly not to be ignored, though I’m not sure the alternative is a rebate check to each taxpayer. We could pay off a goodly sum of the national debt, or have Afghanistan securely under wraps, for what we’ve blown on the Iraq adventure.

  2. anjin-san says:

    How about taking that $1,075 per taxpayer and spending it on something that actually enhanced national security? Look at the panic and clear unpreparedness at airports following the recently foiled terror plot. 5 years out from 9.11 and homeland security is not in good shape.

    But Iraq has a sovereign government now, unless of course, they tell us to get out. Then we will find out who is really in charge.

  3. Mark says:

    Somehow I do not think the Democrats will be incorporating this into their campaign:

    Vote for the Democrats! We will retreat from Iraq and send each person $1000!

    Ain’t. Gonna. Happen.

  4. LJD says:

    Much better to be killed by a militia, surely.

    That’s just stupid.

  5. tom says:

    If the Democrats don’t like the bill, then they shouldn’t have given the President a blank check in the Senate!

  6. bc says:

    What’s dumb is the suggestion that $1,075 per American citizen has bought us anything but a humanitarian disaster in Iraq.

  7. lily says:

    I don’t think the baby democracy in Iraq is a free country. It might be someday, but it isn’t now, and the trends are not good. The people live under threat of violence not only from the insurgents but also from the government troops who function as death squads, and from religious fanatics who are using violence to impose extreme variations of sharia law. A country where a Christian woman is afraid to go to her church and must wear a scarf to conform with the standards of a different religion is not free.
    Iraq’s democracy is a very tentative one and might already be gone in substance, if not in form. There is no proof that the Shiites wanted their country to be governed on democratic principals in the first place; it is likely that many Shiites wanted democracy only as a means of getting themselves elected to power. The ideas in the constitution reflect what some Iraqis wanted but only some. The secularists are losing power in Iraq, in fact many of them are simply leaving, and in the long run it is likely that Iraq will be a very conservatively religious country with ties to Iran and little that Americans would recognize as freedom.

    Also this war has cost the US the loss of our prestige and influence, the rise of Iranian influence, and increased supp port for fundamentalists and terrorists throughout the region. We have already failed at every goal presented for this war.

    Would I rather have one thousand dollars than the unnecessary loss of life for nonexistent WMD’s, a conservative pro-Iranian government that persecutes its religious minorities, and increase in support for terrorism, and a loss of American influence?


  8. madmatt says:

    Thats just the financial cost, lets not for get the billions that will be spent caring for the wounded for years to come, the shattered families here and in Iraq….all in all we should of left Saddam in office…I am sure most Iraqis living in a war zone would agree with that as well.

  9. M1EK says:

    A hearty me-too to the people taking issue with the claim that we’ve brought anything resembling ‘freedom’ to the Iraqis with this ‘investment’. Stop drinking the Kool-Aid, man.

  10. Michael says:

    What Would You Rather Have: Saddam Hussein killing thousands of people a year or a new transmission for the minivan?”

    When that minivan belongs to a single mom who needs transportation to her minimum wage job so she can feed her kids, how much do you think she’s gonna care about people she’ll never know living in a country she’ll never visit?

    Seriously, when did the right’s motivation change from patriotic justice to altruistic sacrifice? How many Republican voters would accept a $1,075/year tax increase to help the poor, sick and dying right here in the USA? How many Republican politicians would sponsor such a bill? You’ll forgive me for not believing that this was ever about those poor oppressed Iraqis.

  11. Triumph says:

    “What Would You Rather Have: The War in Iraq, or $1,075?”

    This is an idiotic question.

    The cost of the war could provide comprehensive health insurance to 185 million children. Or we could have given 15 million scholarships for American students to go to college.

    It would be much better to invest in AMERICAN CITIZENS than in a bunch of ungrateful Iraqis who can’t even form a stable government.

    If anyone read our Ambassador to Iraq’s–an immigrant who happens to actually be a Sunni Moselm (like Osama Bin Laden)–Oped in the Wall Street Journal the other day, he laid out what is going on with “reconstrction” and it is basically a socialist project with the US footing the bill.

    I am generally an anti-socialist, but if the government is going to be spending our money, I’d rather that they were spending it on Americans rather than Iraqis.

  12. McGehee says:

    Seriously, when did the right’s motivation change from patriotic justice to altruistic sacrifice?

    When did the Left let us steal that motivation from them?

  13. An Interested Party says:

    It isn’t so much a matter of stealing as it is of using that rationalization after all the other ones have failed…I’ve never seen so many different reasons frantically given for a war… we did it for WMD…no, wait, there is an al-Qaeda/Saddam link…no, wait, we did it because the road to Israeli/Palestinian peace goes through Baghdad…no, wait, we are, suddenly, for democracy…really, if they thought that it would be plausible to argue that they invaded Iraq to fight tooth decay, they would…

  14. gnatman says:

    You mean to tell me it cost only a little over a thousand dollars just to give most of Iraq to Iran. I’m glad my tax money is being used so responsibly.

  15. chris says:

    One can have democracy and chaos simultaneously. France did on multiple occasions in the century or so after their Revolution. India has, too, off and on since independence.

    I seem to recall a little civil unrest in the 1860s here in the U.S. It’s sad, and frightening, the short attention span and lack of historic perspective that most Americans share today. There is no understanding of the bigger picture.

    I’m not standing up as a proud supporter of the war or anything, but geez it is kind of valuable to view the war’s impact to the region over the long term, not by the casualties piled in one day, one week or even one month. You have to try and visualize the effects 3 years from now, not 3 days from now.

    I do find it startling that now it seems, based on the posts here, that some liberals are backing away from even thinking Saddam needed to be ousted. Sounds to me like people would be happy to have Saddam back in there if American soldiers could be pulled out of Iraq. That is scary thinking.

    This whole “let’s retreat to our borders and lick our wounds” mentality is shocking. It’s like liberals are desperate to psychologically relive the entire Vietnam period.

  16. Herb says:

    Some of you guys and gals are so funny. You P and moan about $1,075.00 and go out and pee that much away on something stupid that you don’t need. Take your family out to a football game and you will end up spending about 3 to 4 hundred dollars and with 3 games a year,, there’s $ 1,000.00. Take a 3 day trip to Disney World and that will cost you about $ 2,000.00 or more.
    Some of you folks just want to P and Moan about the war and try your best like you are now broke because of the war cost and yet you will spent more that the $ 1,000.00 on something about as dumb as your arguments.

    The one thing you are not saying is that if the Democrats were in office, you would pay the $ 1075.00 plus a hell of a lot more in increased taxes.

  17. This is a profoundly absurb question. It is a classic false dichotomy hobby horse trotted out to act as a platform for any number of other opinions.

    Firstly, this question was not, indeed, could not, be put to the people or the Congress for a vote. The dollar figures and Mr. Logan’s view of the situationi Iraq rely on cherry picking and hindsight.

    Secondly, I continue to take issue with the unbridled pessimism of Mr. Logan’s views on Iraq. I think perhaps the current situation is really about as good as can be expeced, though it would take far too much space to explain why here. I know this puts me at odds with some of the initial commenters here, but, then again, I’m trying to make an argument, not just leave a flaming bag of dg feces on your doorstep.

    Thirdly, since when are we all paying the same in taxes, which is implied since we would all be getting the same “surrender” dividend.

    Oh, and do you remember the “peace” dividend we were supposed to get at the end of the Cold War? Well, the bills are now coming due for that little holiday from history, with compounded interest. In the bad old days, the US and Russia/China somewhat suppressed the escalation of conflicts around the world, as did the communist regimes of Eastern Europe between the various factions living within their borders. Once the restraints came off and , ahem, peace broke out all over, a lot of old, festering hatreds came to the fore, nationally and internationally.

    Mr. Logan is basically just offering a flavor of isolationism, a poorly reasoned one at that, and I’m not buying. Though perhaps Mr. Logan can tell me what my share of the Big Dig might be or what my childrens’ share of the restoration of New Orleans will eventualy be when we finally give up on that in about twenty years.

    If Mr. Logan really wants to look into government waste and the cost of progressive policies, maybe he should visit St. Louis where the opening of the Metrolink extension was celebrated yesterday. Sure it cost $250 for every man, woman and child in the entire St. Louis metropolitan area to build that eight miles of track, and, yes, they may have to shut down because they don’t have the money to operate it, since, naturally, it cannot even pay for it’s own ongoing operation, but hey, we’ve increased the capability of public transportation. I guess it’s a shame that crank’s like me can’t appreciate that.

  18. Wayne says:

    $1,075 over a three-year period, not bad. How about all the money we spent on a bunch of B.S. feel good security and so call reaction preparation spending.

  19. Mark Jaquith says:

    How about all the money we spent on a bunch of B.S. feel good security

    Now that money, I’d gladly take back.

    Bonus: speedier airports and the ability to self-hydrate in flight.

    Negative: lucky bastard who gets “probed” by the ONE hot TSA worker (there has to be at least one — right?) has to get his jollies elsewhere.