Return on our Iraq Investment

As the fifth anniversary of the start of the Iraq war comes and goes, the Bush administration touts the success of the “surge” in American force levels begun last year, while those opposed to the war point to a litany of failures to denounce the entire enterprise. Both the administration and presidential hopeful John McCain contend that success in Iraq will pay huge dividends for future generations. Which side is right, and how can we measure the true cost (and benefits) of our Iraq engagement?

An estimate of the Iraq War’s return on investment can measured by weighing estimates of its total cost against its current and projected future benefits. On the cost front, the most conservative measure of the cost of the war is $600 Billion, roughly the amount directly spent on the war over its first five years. The benefits of the war can be measured in terms of its effects on US national security, US political relations, US energy security, and potential social and economic benefits for Iraq.
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Conquering Small Countries is Easy

Numerous comparisons have been made between the current Iraq War and the Vietnam War, with some likening the two situations and others decrying the notion of any similarity. Some comparisons, including an analysis by Dr. Atul Gawande in the New England Journal of Medicine, show conclusively that improvements in medical technology have decreased the battlefield death rate significantly. Researching the statistics, Dr. Gawande shows that combat death rates from injury dropped from 30% during World War II to 24% during Vietnam, and to 10% in Iraq and Afghanistan. This decrease in mortality has been used to show that without modern medicine, American fatalities in Iraq would run at close to 2200 per year instead of the current 900 per year. But even at 2200 casualties per year, the Iraq conflict would pale in comparison to Vietnam, where on average 9000 American soldiers were killed each year during America’s heaviest presence (1966-1971).
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