03/28/2008 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Iraq War Costlier Than All US Wars Except WWII

It was supposed to be a quick war and a cheap one. Five years later, 160,000 U.S. troops are still in Iraq. And the costs keep piling up - $12 billion every month - putting a strain on an already faltering economy.

The United States has poured more than $500 billion into Iraq, mostly for military operations. But that figure is just a small piece of the much larger bill that taxpayers will pay in the future.

Because the money for the war is being borrowed, interest payments could add another $615 billion. A heavily depleted military will have to be rebuilt at a cost of $280 billion. Disability benefits and health care for Iraq war veterans, many of them severely injured, could add another half-trillion dollars over their lifetime.

Nobel laureate economist Joseph Stiglitz and Harvard University public finance Professor Laura Bilmes, both of whom served in the Clinton administration, have included those calculations in a new study of the war's long-term costs. Their estimate of the war's price tag: $3 trillion.

"We are a rich country, and we can, in some sense, afford it. It's not going to bankrupt us," said Stiglitz, a Columbia University professor, who published the findings in a new book, "The Three Trillion Dollar War."

But Stiglitz said the war has contributed to a weakening economy - partly by feeding the instability that has sent oil prices to record highs - and has saddled the country with debts that will make it harder to respond to a recession, fix Social Security or meet other future needs.

"The best way to think about it is: What could we have done with $3 trillion?" he said. "What is the best way to spend the money, either for security or for our national needs in the long run? The stronger the American economy, the more prepared we are to meet any threat. If we weaken the American economy, we are less prepared."

The White House has not disputed the analysis by Stiglitz and Bilmes but instead has attacked the idea that the escalating costs are a reason to withdraw.

Read more on San Francisco Chronicle