Calculating the cost of the Iraq "war"

I know there are places to go to find clickers tallying the dollars and lives spent to date in Iraq. But does anyone know of attempts to calculate the cost of this war in terms of programs and activities that have been cut back or curtailed to direct funding toward Iraq?

Yeasterday I read an article on a dredging company here. Some ways into the article it stated:

The industry’s biggest customer by far is the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which has responsibility for the nation’s navigable waterways. During 2004 and 2005, when the Corps cut back on its dredging contracts because of budget constraints linked to the Iraq conflict, earnings suffered at U.S. industry leader Great Lakes, as well as rivals such as closely held Manson Construction Co. of Seattle.

To me this reflects domestic businesses experiencing losses (producers and shippers in addition to dredgers) with our national infrastructure (in terms of the quality of our navigable waterways) being maintained at a lower level. But I feel this type of “cost” is somewhat “hidden” in terms of the debate on current policy.

I suspect that calculating any costs such as this would be extremely complicated and subject to dispute. And I imagine that many dollars that are lost by companies such as these dredgers and users of the waterways may be offset by those who are profiting off of our efforts in Iraq.

How would you go about calculating this type of cost? I know it isn’t as easy as saying “$600 billion would buy x-number of schools, y-miles of roads, etc.” But it seems there should be some metric for tracking budgets that were redirected from domestic to “War on Terror” expenditures, and resulting implications on individuals and businesses.

It seems to me that simply counting the dollars and lives poured into Iraq does not adequately measure the actual “cost” to our country of this chosen course. Of course, I am open to any showings that our efforts in Iraq are conferring a greater benefit to our country than expenditures directed elsewhere.

Politicians and talking heads may claim that a certain domestic program was cut in order to pay for the Iraq War. In reality all budget items are separate. Congress may bundle many different items into a single spending bill. (In fact Congress always does so.) But that doesn’t mean there’s an unbreakable connection between all the items in the bill. Congress could definitely wage a war in Iraq and still pay for American waterways if it wanted to do so. In as much as anyone claims that such a program was cut to pay for the war, they probably think that the public will find such an explanation more palatable then simply “it got cut”.

We’ve spent $360 billion on Iraq so far, with much more yet to come. Hence we either cut $360 billion elsewhere in the budget or raised $360 billion in taxes or added $360 billion to the deficit, or some combination of those approaches. The total number of alternate ways that Congress could have distributed the money is infinite. There’s no shortage of things you can buy with that kind of cash. Economists describe this concept as “opportunity cost”, meaning the opportunities Congress lost when it decided to fund the invasion of Iraq.

It may be easy for an agency to say to the newspaper, “My budget was cut because of the Iraq war!” but really, there are many reasons why a budget could be cut. Although there’s many points of view on this, some say that domestic discretionary funding (minus defense and homeland security) has been squeezed, forcing decisions like, “In a smaller budget for domestic programs, what should we spend money on: further increasing education programs under No Child Left Behind, or dredging various waterways?”

Like ITR says, in short, there’s no way to show that a particular budget cut was “because of the war.” It could just as well be “because of No Child Left Behind.” Or it could be “because the program, while important, just wasn’t the best use of money.” But unlike ITR, I wouldn’t put it in terms of “all budget items are separate,” I would say there’s only so many ways to slice a pie.

Add the destruction of New Orleans and lack or resources for reconstruction to the cost. I have no idea how to count the loss in dollars. An atricle in the NY Times a few days ago said the current/future population of the area will be only half its former size.

Another cost is the delays caused by wrangling over the new budget. If the government can’t get it’s act together and decide on a new budget by the end of the fiscal year (which many times it can’t) then they have to pass what are known as “continuing resolutions” which basically means they agree to keep paying the bills at present levels until they come up with something. This makes it difficult for people dependant on that money to plan for anything. They can’t greenlight new projects, since the money’s not been cleared for that, even if they could, they don’t dare, because they don’t know if they’ll be able to fund the project once the government does have a budget. It also makes it difficult, if not impossible, for them to give raises, and it might make it impossible for them to continue with a project if the costs associated with it rise, and they can’t afford to keep up, since their funding hasn’t been settled.

There’s also the fallout from this. Funding for the sciences has been cut pretty heavily, which means that the pace of technological innovation (as well as better treatment for disease) slows down. This can continue to haunt us for decades afterwards. Right now, we’re in danger of losing weather satellites by the boatload.

Thanks for the responses, guys. I guess it was kind of an ignorant question, but I find myself experiencing so much cognitive dissonance concerning this. One of the main reasons I opposed our initial invasion was that I believed it was too expensive for the benefits we were likely to accrue.

I had and have no difficulty seeing countless ways we could spend billions of dollars domestically, or benefit from the nonexpenditure of billions. Somewhat separate from the role I wish our nation to play internationally, the cost in human lives, and the cost to our national image, the increased regional instability - just an additional way in which our administration’s policies distress me.

We have over 23,000 injured in Iraq. Many are in extremely bad shape. Their care and upkeep will be a huge bill for many years.
The horror of door to door fighting against a non uniformed adversary will result in bringing a lot of people home who will need psychological help. The cost will be borne for generations to come.
Our services have been stretched to a great degree. They will have to be replenished both in manpower and materiel.