Iraq and Afghanistan Wars Have Cost $75,000 Per American Household


HOUSTON (MainStreet) — The crippled, dysfunctional country of Iraq is crumbling. Sunni extremists are marching to Baghdad while Kurdish militants are claiming points north. American armed and trained Iraqi government security forces are cowering in the face of the assaults. While President Obama considers a military response, the toll of nearly 4,500 U.S. troops lost in "Operation Iraqi Freedom" is still very fresh on American's minds.

A study released last year by Linda J. Bilmes, a senior lecturer in public policy at Harvard, estimated the cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan would likely result in a cost between $4 trillion to $6 trillion – the most expensive wars in American history. More than $6 billion was spent to rebuild Iraq, now once again in shambles. The total ticket is estimated to amount to $75,000 for every American household.

"There are substantial social-economic costs that accompany these statistics," Bilmes adds. "If fatalities are accounted for in the same way that that U.S. civilian agencies value a life, the value of lives lost adds $44.6 billion to the cost of the wars. This is the difference between the 'Value of a Statistical Life' per life lost, compared with the actual budgetary cost to the Pentagon of paying life insurance and a 'death gratuity' to survivors."

While attempting to put a price on lives loss is nothing short of tasteless, it is a cost beyond emotional despair that is rarely considered.

"Other social economic costs arise from the large number of service members whose lives have been disrupted by physical injuries or mental health disabilities," the Bilmes report continues. "There are costs to the service members and to their families; in many cases, family members have needed to become full-time caregivers or to significantly alter their employment. These costs are not paid by the government, but are borne by the individuals, families and communities."

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As President Obama weighs military options, including air strikes ("I don't rule out anything," he said), the calls for a response to the encroaching forces on the Iraqi government are mounting.

"Iraq's unraveling should come as no surprise," Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) said in a statement issued yesterday. "We and others predicted that would happen as a result of the President's decision to prematurely withdraw all American forces from Iraq. The areas spanning eastern Syria and western Iraq are now the largest Al-Qaeda safe haven in history. The lesson of 9/11 is that we cannot concede massive ungoverned spaces to the world's most dangerous terrorist organizations."

--Written by Hal M. Bundrick for MainStreet

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