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Cost of Wars May Exceed $6 Trillion

David Callahan

When Joseph Stiglitz and Linda Bilmes published a book entitled The $3 Trillion War, they were criticized by some academics and reviewers for inflating the costs of the Iraq war. Well, now it appears that the authors' figures may have been too low.

A new report from Brown University's Watson Institute for International Studies estimates that the total direct and indirect costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan may exceed $6 trillion over time. That figure comes from combining congressional appropriations for the wars over the past decade ($1.3 trillion), additional spending by the Pentagon related to the wars ($326 - $652 billion), interest so far on Pentagon war appropriations, all of which was borrowed ($185  billion), immediate medical costs for veterans ($32 billion), war related foreign aid ($74 billion), homeland security spending ($401 billion), projected medical costs for veterans through 2051 ($589 - $934 billion), social costs to military families ($295 - $400 billion), projected Pentagon war spending and foreign aid as troops wind down in the two war zones ($453 billion); and interest payments on all this spending through 2020 ($1 trillion).

The report also includes some sobering statistics about the human costs of the war, which the media and government sources have also tended to underestimate. In particular, the report tallies the number of U.S. contractors killed (2,300) and wounded (51,031), casualties barely mentioned at all even as we hear often about the tally of dead U.S. soldiers (6,051). In addition, the number of U.S. soldiers wounded in the war zones is extremely high, in part because of advances in trauma medicine: 99,065. Many of these wounded veterans will require care for the rest of their lives and those costs are a key reason for the very high long-term costs of the war.

Finally, the overseas civilian casualties of the wars have been considerable, on top of the 3,000 Americans killed on September 11, 2001: 174,500 in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, with most of these deaths in Iraq. In addition, some 7.8 million people have been forced from their homes and displaced by the wars.

One last point about this report: while its findings have been covered widely by the media, most of the stories have highlighted the report's conservative estimate of how much the wars have cost so far ($3.7 trillion), as opposed to the long-term costs which top over $6 trillion. So the low-balling continues.