No matter how you view them, the numbers inspire shock and awe. According to the ConÂgressional Research Service, the combined cost of the Iraq war (Operation Iraqi Freedom, in Pentagon jargon) and its companions, OperÂation Enduring Freedom, in AfghanÂistan, and the Global War on Terror, could easÂily top $600 billion this year. Staggering as that number is, ÂNobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz and Harvard economist Linda Bilmes calculated that the real cost exceeds $2 trillion. The annual congressional appropriations for the warsâ€”Âaveraging $127 billionâ€”are bigger than the global markets for soap, heroin, or gambling. Monthly spending for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan averaged $6.8 billion last year, according to the Department of Defense’s comptroller. That Âfigure is now closer to $8 billion a month.
At that rate of burn, General Electric’s value would be wiped out in three and a half years, Bill Gates’ personal fortune would evaporate in just seven months, and the troubled Ford Motor Co. would cease to exist in a matter of weeks. If you think of the wars as a giant impulse buy using an unlimited credit card, then paying it off would require coming up with enough cash to match the G.D.P. of three Irelands or about 11 Kuwaits or the Netherlandsâ€”but only if you throw in Sri Lanka. Or if you think of the wars in terms of a country that produces nothing but has to buy about $127 billion worth of goods and services per year to sustain itself, that country would have a lot of eager customers and the second-largest trade deficit in the world. (The U.S. would still be a comfortable first.) … Before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, then Secretary of State Colin Powell famously warned President Bush that if you break it, you buy it. Powell was only partly correct. At last count, we’ve bought the equivalent of 10 Iraqs and will apparently buy at least a few more before we’re done.
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