The Price Tag of War

Iraq's ballooning costs cannot undermine America's commitment to peace and order

There’s no such thing as a free war. Putting aside the vast human costs of the war in Iraq, the latest news to leak out from the White House suggests that the financial costs of the war promise to remain astronomical for at least another year. And while the disclosed 2005 price tag will no doubt ruffle the feathers of even the staunchest hawks, we do not believe that the fiscally explosive nature of the war in Iraq ought to impact America’s resolve to win the peace there. In our estimation the intangible cost of bowing out early still outstrips the sacrifices necessary for pressing on.

While the exact numbers have yet to be determined, recent news reports have revealed that President Bush may, after the election, ask Congress for roughly $70 billion, on top of the $25 billion already allocated to pay for the war during FY 2005. Together, these figures amount to more than double what Bush had previously estimated would be necessary and half of what Democrats had speculated in their most vehement attacks. And, of course, combined it means the costs of the war in Iraq are actually increasing—last fall Congress allocated $87 billion for FY 2004. Passing this new sum through Congress may well be a Herculean task.

Whomever the American people elect as president tomorrow will be forced to confront this interminable war and its staggering costs. Whoever he is, he will be defined by his ability to resolve these exorbitant commitments without abandoning languishing domestic concerns.

The mind recoils at the prospect of the civil war, chaos and hatred which could ensnarl Iraq if America should fail to secure a stable republic. To prevent a Taliban-era Afghanistan on the Euphrates and all the instability and terror it would bring, Americans must be willing to bear the necessary burdens in blood and dollars. But beyond merely pragmatic concerns, America has a moral obligation to see this project through to the end. Although we did not support Bush’s invasion of Iraq, our concerns stemmed primarily from our distrust of the Bush administration to plan properly for the aftermath of war. We worried that American troops might become embroiled in the mess of a failed state. The past year has unfortunately confirmed many of our fears. But after toppling Iraq’s former government, America must finish the work it set out to complete—establishing a more prosperous democratic state in the heart of the Middle East. At the very least, this country owes the people of Iraq a freer, more stable nation than they had under Saddam Hussein. Anything less would reduce U.S. credibility throughout the Arab world to a dangerous new low.

But any sacrifice in Iraq must be toward this end—the promise of Iraqi democracy—and so far there has been scant evidence that Iraq is moving in that direction. Equally disturbing, neither presidential candidate has offered a realistic plan for succeeding in Iraq. Although we side with Sen. Kerry and believe he ultimately has the best chance of quelling the insurgency and rebuilding Iraq, neither he nor President Bush has offered substantive ideas for bringing about a tenable peace. Defeating insurgents, training Iraqi soldiers and civil servants, and the myriad other sound bites offered by the candidates are all clearly necessary components of any plan, but they do not reflect the gravity or scale of the job that remains.

Those shocked by the latest $70 billion addition to Iraq’s price tag should not be. Shock and outrage ought to be directed instead at the aimlessness and flimsy quality of America’s plan for peace. We hope that whoever wins the presidential election tomorrow will present the American people with an actual plan, instead of a list of talking points. We believe that $70 billion can be justified—but only in pursuit of a careful, deliberate, and thoughtful strategy for success.