Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs

War in Review: Research Airs at Year's Close

January 5, 2012

As 2011 closed, with troop withdrawals from Iraq, and as the new year began, with the Pentagon’s promise of reduced military spending, research from the Institute-based Costs of War project featured often in the mix of media commentary.

Estimating that the US has already spent or committed as much as $4 trillion to the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan, project Co-Director Catherine Lutz wrote for Foreign Policy’s Middle East Channel that: “The problem going forward is not just clawing back the Pentagon's inflated base budget or paying off debts to US creditors, wounded veterans, or the people of Iraq. It is the expense and risk of the ongoing US operations in Iraq, where 16,000 civilians will be stationed, primarily as State Department employees or contractors from 2012 forward. Crucially, the mission in Iraq has come to change – and indeed militarize – the way in which the State Department operates.”

On Democracy Now! Lutz expanded on the question of contractors in Iraq, asking: “How are the Iraqis going to be treated by those contractors? What are the rules of engagement? And what are the ways in which these contractors are permitted to respond when they feel threatened or when they feel that the people they’re protecting are threatened?” Instead of the State Department's new security focus, “I think that the basic human needs to recover from injuries and losses of the nine years of war, that’s what we need to be talking about. What is the State Department doing vis-à-vis those issues?” (See video below.)

Costs of War research made its way into several year-end Iraq retrospectives. "The real tragedy is that the story of the Iraqi people and the suffering they have gone through is still poorly understood by Americans," Lutz said during Al Jazeera's segment on "Iraq War: Predictions vs. Reality."  Among others citing the project's work:

"Taking Leave of Iraq," Los Angeles Times editorial
"President Obama can be excused for accentuating the positive in an address this week to a military audience at Fort Bragg, NC, marking the withdrawal of US forces from Iraq. … In treasure, the war has already cost $1 trillion, at a time when the United States had other important uses for its money. When you add in future costs, such as ongoing debt service and healthcare costs for injured veterans, that figure will more than double, even if calculated very conservatively, according to political science professor Neta Crawford, coauthor of the "Costs of War" report from the Eisenhower Study Group at Brown University."

"Iraq War in Retrospect: Toppling Saddam Not Worth the Cost," Michael Hughes, Huffington Post
“[The Iraq war’s] dubious benefits fall far short of outweighing the costs incurred in terms of blood and treasure. 4,484 American troops and over 125,000 Iraqi civilians have been killed while the U.S. has spent over $1 trillion on the war to date. Close to 3.5 million Iraqis, out of a population of 31.5 million, are displaced internally or into neighboring states according to Brown's Watson Institute."

"Iraq War Lives on as Second-Costliest US Conflict Fuels Debt," Bloomberg BusinessWeek
"The most expensive financial legacy of the war is likely to be the cost of providing for those who fought. Veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan are applying for disability benefits and seeking medical treatment at higher rates than those of previous conflicts, [Costs of War researcher Linda] Bilmes wrote in the study."

"The Cradle of Conflagration: The End (and Beginning) of the War for Iraq,"Russ Baker, Business Insider
"A brief rundown of the costs of our Iraqi mission may also be in order: 4,487 American deaths, countless American casualties (32,226 “wounded in action,” according to the Pentagon; up to 500,000 harmed by service in Iraq  if you include those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, or traumatic brain injury. according to the Nieman Foundation), and over (perhaps a lot over) 100,000 civilian fatalities. This isn’t even mentioning the $806 billion price tag for the United States, with broader spending, such as veteran care, taking the total cost to perhaps $2.4 trillion, according to informed estimates by Brown University’s Cost of War Project and Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph E. Stiglitz."

Released in June, the Costs of War report was compiled by more than 20 economists, anthropologists, lawyers, humanitarian personnel, and political scientists as the first comprehensive analysis of a decade of wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan and their costs – human and economic, direct and indirect, US and international, and often uncounted or undercounted.