Just before the United States invaded Iraq in 2003, Dick Cheney went on Press the Meat and pooh-poohed Tim Russert's estimates of how much the war would cost:
MR. RUSSERT: Every analysis said this war itself would cost about $80 billion, recovery of Baghdad, perhaps of Iraq, about $10 billion per year. We should expect as American citizens that this would cost at least $100 billion for a two-year involvement.
VICE PRES. CHENEY: I can’t say that, Tim. There are estimates out there. It’s important, though, to recognize that we’ve got a different set of circumstances than we’ve had in Afghanistan. In Afghanistan you’ve got a nation without significant resources. In Iraq you’ve got a nation that’s got the second-largest oil reserves in the world, second only to Saudi Arabia. It will generate billions of dollars a year in cash flow if they get back to their production of roughly three million barrels of oil a day, in the relatively near future. And that flow of resources, obviously, belongs to the Iraqi people, needs to be put to use by the Iraqi people for the Iraqi people and that will be one of our major objectives.
As it turns out, Russert's estimate was pretty egregiously lowball. As of the time of this posting, the Iraq war has cost us more than $720 billion (at a rough estimate). The Afghanistan war that President Obama is ratcheting up in the latest of a long line of futile attempts by western colonial powers to control that particular neck of the woods, has cost us on the order of $270 billion. Total spending on those two wars since 2001 (including enforcement, logistics, etc.) is already more than $1 trillion.
According to the National Priorities Project, if we hadn't flushed that $1.05 trillion down the toilet, here are some of the things we could have gotten for the same amount of money:
- health care for 308,396,946 people for one year
- 22,599,968 public safety officers for one year
- 17,944,326 music and arts teachers for one year
- 132,716,897 one-year scholarships for university students
- Pell Grants ($5,550 each) for 188,536,667 university students
- 8,139,680 affordable housing units
- health care for one year for 461,193,337 children
- Head Start placements for 143,595,239 children for one year
- 17,188,969 elementary school teachers for one year
- 1,083,271,391 homes with renewable electricity for one year
(Note that each of those items costs around $1.05 trillion; unfortunately, we couldn't get all of them for that same amount.)
A few other things we could have gotten for $1.05 trillion, off the top of my head:
- a balanced budget;
- 105 years' worth of funding for basic research at the National Science Foundation at $10 billion per year, the level NSF's budget is projected to reach at the end of the current doubling process--in 2017;
- 33 years' worth of funding for health research at the National Institutes of Health, at current funding levels;
- 52.5 years' worth of NASA funding at its projected FY2011 level of $20 billion;
- 6 months' worth of free health care for everyone in the United States, assuming no economies of scale or other savings would be realized from a single-payer system, based on total costs in 2008;
- a year's worth of HIV medication for two-thirds of the approximately 30 million people infected with HIV worldwide, assuming $50,000 per person per year
It's long past time to end these senseless wastes of our national time, talent, and treasure. If for no other reason than that we can no longer afford them.