People don’t like to make the monetary cost of a war the centerpiece of an argument against it. Nevertheless, it’s striking how if you want to talk about early childhood development or public transportation or even “hard” things like monitoring parolees or hiring cops in this country, you immediately run into cost issues. Expanding SCHIP may be cheap and popular, but you’d better make it cheap enough to finance through gimmicks like cigarette taxes and so forth, because you just can’t unleash the spigots of general revenue on something as trivial as making children not die when they fall ill.
For war, it’s a different story. Mark Kleiman, for example, points out that at $200 billion a year, the war in Iraq costs $7,000 per Iraqi per year, which is more than double the country’s per capita GDP. Now, obviously, it wouldn’t have been literally feasible to give each Iraqi $4,000 in March 2003, then again in March 2004, then again in March 2005, then again in March 2006, then again in March 2007, and then start drawing our commitment down to $3,000 in March 2008, $2,000 in March 2009, etc. But if you could have pulled it off, it would have been enormously cheaper than what we actually did. It’s this sort of thing that ultimately makes the humanitarian arguments around Iraq so fatuous — this is just a ridiculously costly way to try to help people and when one talks about extending the deployment two or three more years in the hopes that the trend line will magically reverse, one is contemplating a truly massive expenditure of resources that could be more effectively deployed doing almost anything else.
UPDATE: PS note that annual expenditures in Iraq are way higher than the annual value of Iraqi oil exports. I do think that the large US military footprint in the Persian Gulf region is motivated by a sense that this is economically necessary to secure the area’s precious underground fluids, but the numbers don’t add up right.