When it comes to taking a tally of Iraq war costs, a few numbers are beyond dispute while others are more ephemeral.
The number of American soldiers, sailors and Marines who have lost their lives is constantly being updated. As of last week the Department of Defense reported the number of deaths had reached 3,988.
The number of men and women wounded in combat is about 29,120. Another 8,273 were wounded outside of combat and 23,052 contracted some sort of disease or illness serious enough to require medical air transport. These figures can be found on the Web at the Iraq Coalition Casualty Count site (icasualties.org).
The number of Iraqi civilians who died violent deaths is much more difficult to pinpoint. According to the Iraq Body Count Project — which relies on media reports as well as information provided by hospitals, morgues, non-governmental organizations and official sources — between 82,000 and 89,000 Iraqi citizens have died violent deaths since the U.S. invasion.
In a study released earlier this year, the Iraqi government and the World Health Organization estimated that 151,000 Iraqis died from violence between March 2003 and June 2006.
A study by researchers from Johns Hopkins published in the prestigious British medical journal The Lancet estimated that, between March 2003 and July 2006, there were 654,965 civilians who died as a result of the war. Based on that and other sources, some have estimated the total Iraqi deaths at more than 1 million. The Lancet study, however, has also been sharply criticized.
Beyond the deaths there is an ongoing humanitarian crisis for people displaced as a result of the war. Figures recently provided to a congressional subcommittee indicate that 2.5 million people have been displaced inside Iraq and another 2 million have fled to neighboring countries.
As for the financial burden this war has placed on American taxpayers and this country's economy, the dollar amounts are mind-boggling. According to a November 2007 report compiled by the Democratic staff of the congressional Joint Economic Committee — chaired by Sen. Charles Schumer and Rep. Carolyn Maloney, both of New York — President Bush has requested $607 billion to fund the Iraq war since 2003.
"This is over 10 times higher than the $50 to $60 billion cost estimated by the Administration prior to the start of the war," the report notes.
But the $600 billion doesn't come close to reflecting the true costs of the war. The combination of Bush's tax cuts and an increase in other federal spending has meant this war, like the federal deficit as a whole, is being funded with borrowed money — much of it from foreign lenders. Along with interest payments on the war debt there is the staggering increase in oil prices that is at least in part attributed to a decrease in Iraqi oil production and greater instability in oil markets throughout the Middle East. And then there are the costs of treating wounded soldiers, lost productivity and economic disruptions resulting from the deployment of military reserve units, the cost of replacement and repair of military equipment and increased costs to retain the men and women currently serving in the military.
Add it all up, the report's authors say, and the total cost of funding this war rises to $1.3 trillion. Include Afghanistan and the number jumps to $1.6 trillion by the end of the 2008 fiscal year.
Looking ahead a decade, if troop levels are reduced from 180,000 to 55,000 by 2013 and remain at that level until 2017, the total economic cost of both wars hits $3.5 trillion. That breaks down to about $46,400 for a family of four.
If the next president follows Bush's lead and we continue to stay the course, the number will be $4.5 trillion.
What could we have done with all this money if it weren't being spent on attack helicopters, Humvees, Kevlar vests and on private contractors like Halliburton and Blackwater?
The Web site maintained by the National Priorities Project, a nonprofit research organization, "analyzes and clarifies federal data so that people can understand and influence how their tax dollars are spent."
The site includes a counter that keeps a running tally of federal funds directly allocated to the Iraq war (nationalpriorities.org/costofwar_home). As this story was being finalized on Monday, the ticker was racing toward the $504 billion mark. In addition to the overall costs, the site allows you to see what the cost is for individual states, counties, congressional districts and cities.
Michigan's share of the war's direct costs so far is calculated to be $13.9 billion. That same money could have provided scholarships to 1.4 million university students or paid the health care costs of 5.2 million people.
Detroit's share is an estimated $878 million to fund the war. That could have funded the construction of 80 new elementary schools or paid for 18,200 cops.
The Joint Economic Committee crunched the numbers for its 2007 report using a somewhat different methodology — and came up with similarly staggering conclusions. That report puts Michigan's share of the direct war costs through 2008 at $15.9 billion.
The committee report also attempts to tally the negative economic consequences of the war, from the massive government borrowing to the Iraq-related oil price increases. For Michigan, based on its share of the national economy, that is pegged at a cost of $20.3 billion through 2008.
Earlier this month, a Congressional hearing revisited the issue, leading New York Times columnist Bob Herbert to chide the media for ignoring "the consequences of these costs, which are like a cancer inside the American economy."
But some people are taking notice.
"The site is getting a lot of attention," says Pam Schwartz, communications director for the National Priorities Project. "We're getting about 200,000 visitors per month."
No one, she says, has questioned the accuracy of the numbers. That doesn't mean there aren't critics — but they've been motivated by politics, nut numbers.
"We are all about trying to make the magnitude of war comprehensible for people," Schwartz says. "To the extent we get attacked, that's par for the course. But our numbers speak for themselves."
And what they are saying comes through loud and clear.Curt Guyette is Metro Times news editor. Contact him at 313-202-8004 or [email protected]