The Real Potential Cost of the Iraq War

As Democrat candidates for president line up to criticize the war in Iraq, their statements on the cost of the war sound like a pale shadow of their “guns or butter” arguments in the latter half of the Cold War. Having grown up in a military family I am well aware that the value of each soldier is incalculable. The dollar costs of the war, however, are measurable.

A recent Congressional Research Service report estimating current costs at about $10 billion per month for the Iraq war (plus another $1.9 billion per month for Afghanistan), and a total accumulated cost by 2017 of between “about $1 trillion to $1.45 trillion” including both wars and other costs of the Global War on Terror.

But no matter how much the war costs, we are only 15 months away from an event which may make current expenditures seem like peanuts: if voters elect any of the current Democratic candidates to be our next president, we will be in for an increase in the size and cost of domestic government programs which would make Lyndon Johnson’s “Great Society” seem like an idea from the Club for Growth.

Three areas where the leading Democrat contenders for the presidency want to increase the reach and cost of Big Nanny government were covered in their recent debate in Iowa: Public K-12 education, early childhood education, and, most importantly, health care.

Disturbingly, most of the Democratic candidates oppose merit pay for public school teachers. Senator Clinton dodged the question, saying she supports “incentive pay for school wide performance”, whatever that means. Bill Richardson outright rejected merit pay for teachers, but suggested a $40,000 “minimum wage for teachers.” In other words, the Democrats want to “improve” public education by throwing more money at it despite decades of more money not leading to better results and without the competition and incentive required for any system to succeed.

Despite spending about $500 billion per year on public K-12 education, America still ranks poorly by many educational measures. But what do you expect when you can’t fire bad teachers or reward good ones? Yet Democrats want to “fix” schools by simply doing what we’re already doing, just bigger. The teachers’ unions are laughing all the way to the bank.

Hillary “It takes a Village” Clinton supports “universal preschool.” (Apparently, thirteen years isn’t enough government control of our children.) Even the liberal LA Times opposed government preschool in California in 2006, noting that the tax hike in the proposal “would raise $2.4 billion a year for three hours a day of free, voluntary preschool for all 4-year-olds — although only a handful would be added to the preschool rolls.”
These numbers imply that nationwide government preschools for 4-year old children only would cost an estimated $18 billion per year, to cover a couple million children at an average cost of over $50,000 per year per new preschool enrollee (because so many kids are already in preschool.)

Of course, “universal” means socialized, government-controlled, paid for by tax increases, and non-responsive to citizens’ needs. And socializing anything tends to move many people out of privately financed systems onto the back of the taxpaying public.

SCHIP, for example, the program to provide health coverage to low-income children, has been expanded to include children from higher-income families and even adults, with the effect being that somewhere from 30% to 60% of new SCHIP enrollees are simply people who gave up their private insurance to come get their free lunch.

Speaking of SCHIP, welcome to the tip of the Democrat spending iceberg, “universal health care”, supported by all the leading Democratic contenders. A microcosm of this enormous commitment to socialism comes from Wisconsin where Democrats recently proposed state-wide socialized medicine. According to the Wall Street Journal, “The plan would cost an estimated $15.2 billion, or $3 billion more than the state currently collects in all income, sales and corporate income taxes. It represents an average of $510 a month in higher taxes for every Wisconsin worker.” Even if you believe the Wisconsin Democrats’ estimate for the annual cost per resident at just over $2,700 (and if you do, I have a bridge to sell you), that implies an annual cost of $820 billion for a similar plan nationwide, or 80% of the total amount that individuals paid in federal income tax in 2006. Actual costs would almost certainly be much higher.

And when costs rise above projections and the public will not tolerate more tax increases, we’ll see health care rationing, multi-month waiting lists, and patients going untreated…just like England and Canada. This is not simply a matter of rhetoric: In England, a man is about twice as likely to die within 5 years of being diagnosed with prostate cancer compared to someone in the US receiving the same diagnosis.

If Democrats enact only these few policies, the annual cost to taxpayers will be roughly ten times the cost of the war in Iraq, and unlike the war those costs would go up forever. Evidence from places that have tried universal preschool (e.g. Georgia and Quebec) and socialized medicine (e.g. England and Canada) shows that these systems are expensive failures. But, if there is one thing we can count on from “progressives”, it is their certainty that the only problem with past attempts at socialism is that smart enough people weren’t in charge…and that they are the ones who really understand what needs to be done (to our liberty and with our money.)

The potential damage from a Democrat-controlled Congress is currently limited by a Republican president, even one who misplaced his veto pen for most of his career. Most Americans realize that, which is why we have divided government so frequently. But if out of frustration with the Iraq War the American people vote in a Democrat as our next president (and I assume the Democrats will retain control of both houses of Congress at least until 2010), it will turn out that the war will have cost us far more than we ever imagined it could.