08/16/2010 09:56 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Perspective on War Costs: Is It Worth It?

Originally, the "war on terror" was projected to cost no more than $50 billion, and after being greeted as "liberators," the "cakewalk" would take no more than six months--maybe a year.

Nine years later it has cost more than $1.1 trillion and growing.

In the face of severe economic difficulties at home, mountains of debt and questions about Defense Department spending excesses raised by non-partisan Defense Secretary Gates, financial perspective on the war is called for.

Apart from the painful costs in life and limb suffered by our military forces and their families, basic costs must be held to an emotionally unencumbered cost/benefit analysis. For starters:

  1. The cost to date for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is more than $1.1 trillion. This is the equivalent of spending $1 million a day--for 3,200 years. Thirty-two hundred years ago Christ was not yet born and Moses was a newborn floating down the Nile in a basket.
  2. Estimates conclude that there are 150 full-time insurgent Taliban forces and we've spent $337.8 billion to date in Afghanistan. That's $2.2 billion per full-time Taliban insurgent. If we can't kill them with 150,000 troops, maybe we should try to buy them off by giving each Taliban insurgent the same net worth as Baron Hilton.
  3. Americans have spent an average of $8,000 per taxpayer to support the wars. The average Bush middle class tax cut for four out of five families was about $350.
  4. President Bush's much-maligned TARP program is projected to cost about $110 billion less than originally estimated, or about $800 per taxpayer (and some of that has already been paid back and more will be paid back). The government's attempt to bolster or bail out the economy (however you wish to categorize it) is 10 percent of the cost of Iraq and Afghanistan.
  5. America is not at war. Only the military and their families are at war. The troops are exhausted from a war that has already extended beyond WW II by three years. While philosophic, ideological and political discussions are indulged in at home, the troops are out of sight and, sadly, out of the public mind. The troops are overextended and overlooked beyond bumper sticker sloganisms, and their experience contrarily makes them more uncertain and less confident concerning their mission. In an extraordinarily unpatriotic fashion, we ignore the problems they face and the burdens they carry as if they were problem-free, ever-dependable robots. Their dependability is not at issue here. It is our dependability as thoughtful and respectful citizens that is at issue. During the past year, active duty suicides and "high-risk behavior" killed more soldiers than combat in Iraq and Afghanistan combined. While there were a record number of 239 suicides among active duty and reservist soldiers (74 of these were from drug overdoses), this number has tripled since 2001. There were also an additional known 1,712 failed suicide attempts by active duty soldiers. The rate of suicides by post-conflict veterans aged 20-24 is twice the rate of their active duty brethren. A recently issued U.S. Army report indicated that one-third of the troops are taking at least one prescription drug and 14 percent are taking powerful pain killers. The report further indicates that "the force is becoming increasingly dependent on drugs, anti-depressants, amphetamines and narcotics."

We know the costs. Can we afford it? Is it worth it?

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