Iraq, Elections, and the Costs of War

For the first time in recent history, a foreign policy issue is at the top of the electorate’s mind as they head to the polls. Clearly the Iraq War loomed over the mid-term elections before October rolled around, but with the U.S. death toll reaching its highest mark since November 2004, reports arguing the Iraqi death toll now tops 655,000, new estimates on the cost of the war reaching 1 trillion dollars, and Bush’s PR team quickly putting window dressing on his vow to “stay the course“, the elections are being called a referendum on Iraq.

As well it should be. For four years the Republican controlled Congress has given Bush wide discretion for his handling of the war. The failure of Congress to provide adequate oversight of the war has directly resulted in the human and financial costs of the war to be passed on directly to the states of the union and ultimately, each man, woman, and child.

While the costs of the war are often talked about in national terms, the costs to states are immense. A new series of state-by-state fact sheets by the Institute for Policy Studies notes that California has suffered the highest costs, both in human lives, 285, but also in treasure, $42.7 billion. But even the tiniest states and provinces, such as Guam, Virgin Islands, and American Samoa, have lost soldiers in the war. The smallest state, Rhode Island, has shouldered $1.3 billion of the current price tag.

The National Guard in each state has also been hit hard. October saw Alaska send its largest deployment of Army National Guardsmen in decades to Iraq. And when Tennessee’s National Guard returned from Iraq earlier in the month, they left behind more than $250 million dollars of equipment. The governor predicts it will take 10 years to replace the equipment given all of the financial burdens the state has.

Putting a human face of those who have paid a very high price for the war are more than 50 veterans whom are running for national office. Not just running to be a protest vote, many of these candidates are serious contenders to reside in Washington come January 3, 2007 when the new congress is sworn in. The success of these campaigns and growing concern about the war from voters is even causing the staunchest of Republicans to re-think their positions.

For too long, there has not been an open discourse in this country about the direction and consequences of the war. With the focus now at the state level heading into the midterms, a change of course is in the wind.

Lives, Treasure, and Security:
The National Costs of the Iraq War

The Casualties

U.S. military killed in Iraq: 2,800

Number of U.S. troops wounded in combat: 21,086

Iraqi civilians killed: estimates range from 44,661 – 655,000

The Bill So Far

The cost so far: $379 billion

The estimated long-term cost: $1.4 trillion

The bill so far for every U.S. citizen: $1,264

Value of Halliburton’s contracts so far: $18.5 billion

The Effects

Number of resistance fighters in Iraq :

November 2003 estimate: 5,000

September 2006 estimate: 20,000+

What the Iraq War has created, according to the U.S. National Intelligence Council: “a training and recruitment ground (for terrorists)”

Unemployment rate in Iraq: 25-40%

Unemployment rate in U.S. during the Great Depression: 25%

Erik Leaver is the Newman Fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies and the policy outreach director for the Foreign Policy In Focus Project.