Price of Iraq war now outpaces Vietnam
John Byrne
Published: Tuesday March 18, 2008

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Price only exceeded by World War II

"Major combat operations in Iraq have ended," declared President George W. Bush aboard the USS Lincoln in 2003. "In the battle of Iraq, the United States and our allies have prevailed."

Five years later, the Iraq war rages on.

According to two prominent economists, in a study the White House has not disputed, the cost of the war now outpaces the total price of the 12-year US conflict in Vietnam. It's now nearly double the total cost of the Korean War.

The costs of maintaining a US presence in Iraq now runs a tab of about $435 million a day -- $3 billion a week, or $12 billion a month. The US has siphoned some $500 billion taxpayer dollars into Iraq, for a war that was supposed to be "sharp" and brief. Interest payments add another $615 billion, and the price tag of repairing a depleted military is projected at $280 billion.

Only World War II, in terms of inflation-adjusted dollars, was more expensive, according to a recent study by Nobel laureate economist Joseph Stiglitz and Harvard University public finance Professor Laura Bilmes. Both served in the Clinton administration.

Their price tag? $3 trillion. The White House has not disputed the study.

Writing in the San Fransisco Chronicle today, Zachary Coile draws on the study and compares it with the costs of previous US wars.

The price tag in Iraq now is more than double the cost of the Korean War and a third more expensive than the Vietnam War, which lasted 12 years. Stiglitz and Bilmes calculate that it will be at least 10 times as costly as the 1991 Gulf War and twice the cost of World War I.

Only World War II was more expensive. That four-year war - in which 16 million U.S. troops were deployed on two fronts, fighting against Germany and Japan - cost about $5 trillion in inflation-adjusted dollars.

The latest numbers are a far cry from the cost estimates made by war supporters in the run-up to the March 2003 invasion.

In September 2002, White House economic adviser Larry Lindsey told the Wall Street Journal the war would cost between $100 billion and $200 billion. He was immediately excoriated by others in the administration. White House budget director Mitch Daniels called the estimate "very, very high." Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld called it "baloney."

Coile also includes a detailed breakdown of the costs. They follow.

Costs of the war

-- $435 million: Cost of Iraq war each day.

-- $526 billion: Cost of combat operations to date.

-- $1.2 trillion to $1.7 trillion: Estimated Afghanistan and Iraq combat costs through 2017.

-- $590 billion: Future costs of disability benefits and health care for Iraq war veterans.

-- $615 billion: Cost of interest on money borrowed to pay for the war.

-- $280 billion: Cost of replacing equipment and restoring U.S. military to prewar strength.

-- $16,500: Cost of the war to each U.S. family of four from 2003-2008.

-- $36,900: Cost of the war to each family if the war continues for 10 years.

-- $274 billion: Cost of increased oil prices related to the Iraq war, 2003-2008. What $435 million per day could do

-- Enroll 58,000 children in Head Start.

-- Put 8,900 police officers on the street.

-- Provide health insurance to 329,200 low-income children.

-- Hire 10,700 Border Patrol agents.

-- Give Pell Grants to 163,700 college students.

-- Provide foreclosure prevention counseling to 260,000 families.