WASHINGTON, Aug. 4 (UPI) -- The cost in human lives of the continuing conflict in Iraq occupies headlines on a daily basis. As it rightly should. The hallmark of America's military operations throughout our history has always been a higher concern for the human rather than the dollar cost of war. Yet, as a nation facing pressing budgetary problems and priorities, sooner or later it would be irresponsible not to consider the financial cost of this operation.
Gen. George Washington faced financial hardships every bit as dire as those dished out by the Redcoats' armed might in the bitter snows of Valley Forge. Economic constraints played every bit as much a role in the defeat of Lee's Army of Virginia as did the strategic brilliance of Ulysses S. Grant.
By any reasonable measure, the current and expected cost of the occupation of Iraq is staggering. Just how staggering, was hinted at in recent testimony by the Secretary of Defense and the outgoing military commander, Gen. Tommy Franks, in a day of testimony before a Senate committee. Yet even the figures pulled from the lips of the secretary do not reveal the full extent of this drain on the U.S. taxpayer.
According to U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, the continuing military occupation of Iraq is currently costing $4.0 billion per month -- and that's just the military cost, not the costs associated with the social, economic and political rebuilding of this Arab nation.
While the General and the Secretary may rather cavalierly speculate that this high level of American military involvement might continue for perhaps "four years or more," the fact of the matter is that a drain on the Treasury of this magnitude is neither cavalier nor necessarily wise.
The concerns raised by the administration's testimony are magnified when one considers that maintaining hundreds of U.S. civilian workers is costing additional hundreds of million of dollars monthly. Concern gives way to great anxiety when it is realized that to arrive at an approximation of the true cost of the Iraqi occupation, one must also factor in such "incidental" costs as up to $5 billion for oilfield restoration, $10 billion for emergency infrastructure repairs, and billions more in direct input to help the Iraqi economy. Pretty soon, as former Senator C. Everett Dirksen, R-Ill., famously noted, "you're talking about real money." Real money indeed.
Dirksen, who made his famous quip in the 1960s, would be apoplectic if confronted with costs of the magnitude of those being presented to the Congress today for the occupation of Iraq.
These figures are even more sobering when considered in the context of $450 billion or more in red ink now being faced by federal budgeters annually. For those who attempt a cheery countenance by pointing to contributions from other allied nations, the fact that thus far a total of only $1.7 billion has been raised from nongovernmental and international organizations to help defray the massive cost we are incurring is a slap of cold water.
We've fought other wars, and the cost of rebuilding in the wake of earlier conflicts is certainly relevant when seeking to put this latest reconstruction effort in perspective. Unfortunately, when stacked up against other major post-war efforts, the cost of Pax Iraqi fares no better.
Even if we focus just on the admitted military cost of the Iraqi occupation, of some $4 billion per month, it alone adds up to a yearly cost of nearly $50 billion and, if extended over two decades, a logical time period as estimated by Yale Economics Professor William Nordhaus, the bill rises to an incomprehensible $1 trillion. In contrast, the Berlin Airlift, a marvel of coordinated reconstruction of a civilian population devastated by WWII and held hostage by a Soviet blockade, lasted 15 months and cost the U.S. some $345 million (close to $3 billion in today's dollars). A real bargain when compared to the situation in Iraq.
While the Marshall Plan cost $13.3 billion then (akin to $450 billion today), it must be kept in mind its scope was far greater than that faced by American planners in Baghdad today. The Marshall Plan took on, and succeeded in, the rebuilding of the economies of the nations comprising the entire region of western Europe.
In more recent times, the cost we've incurred as a result of our involvement in Bosnia, is "only" $12 to $14 billion for the entire past decade. Peanuts compared to the cost of Iraqi reconstruction.
What else could we be getting for our investment of nearly $50 billion per year for the military occupation of Iraq? Oh, not much; just the combined 2003 budgets for the Departments of Justice and State, the entire legislative and judicial branch budgets, and the budget for the Environmental Protection Agency thrown in for good measure.
Certainly, important national security policy decisions should not be looked at only in terms of their dollar cost. But sound policy must similarly dictate that it would be grossly irresponsible to ignore the cost to America's taxpayers for such endeavors. After all, it is they who are the ones being forced to foot the humongous bills for Pax Iraqi.
-- Bob Barr served in the United States House of Representatives from 1994 to 2000.
-- "Outside View" commentaries are written for UPI by outside writers who specialize in a variety of important global issues.