As the Bush administration prepares for war in Iraq, the American people should demand a complete assessment of the costs of the war-which go beyond potential military and civilian casualties.
As President Dwight Eisenhower famously noted, the costs of militarism are not limited to the battlefield. They include the budget sacrifices that must be made in order to support a war effort or military buildup. In the case of the Iraq war, these costs will be substantial, most likely requiring our nation to forgo spending on domestic and international programs that are vital to our security.
Putting a price tag on human casualties is impossible. And even those costs that are quantifiable are hard to predict. Nonetheless, it would be irresponsible not to estimate-as well as we can-the costs of war before deciding to wage it.
Most likely, the Iraq war would last about three months as the United States moves from a lengthy air attack to a ground war in Iraq’s major cities, followed by a lengthy occupation. Our nation would undoubtedly prevail in the end. Assuming that the war would last three months and that America would have to occupy the country for one year, the Iraq war would cost $90 billion, based on figures from the Congressional Budget Office.
That’s a lot of money. It’s more than the federal government spends on K-12 education, the Environmental Protection Agency, housing assistance and humanitarian foreign aid combined.
For $90 billion, America could invest in programs that have a far better chance of enhancing our long-term national security needs than an ill-conceived war with Iraq.
For $90 billion per year, America could do everything on this list and more:
* For a decade, double current research funding for clean and renewable energy-to end our dependence on risky foreign oil. Cost: $12 billion.
* For five years, double the budget for the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. This would lessen the threat of smallpox, anthrax, plague and more. Cost: $20 billion.
* For two years, double the humanitarian foreign aid budget. As President Bush has acknowledged, part of the war on terrorism involves fighting poverty, which breeds it. Cost: $20 billion.
* Double federal spending on K-12 education. A one-year influx of federal money would be a down payment on our nation’s bill to renovate public schools. Cost: $34 billion.
* For two years, provide public financing of federal elections as an experiment to see if we can make our democracy work. Cost: $2 billion.
Clearly, $90 billion is a lot of money, even for our rich nation. The $90 billion figure highlights how important it is for America to carefully consider the costs and benefits of waging war. We need to strike a balance between relying on military action and using all the diplomatic and humanitarian tools that we have available to make the world more secure in the long term. The federal budget is not limitless. We should make sure our spending priorities are clear before the bombs start falling.
Vice Admiral Jack Shanahan (USN, ret) is a former commander of the U.S. Second Fleet and is a military advisor of TrueMajority (www.TrueMajority.com), a project of Business Leaders for Sensible Priorities.