A new estimate by the US Congress's Joint Economic Committee puts the US cost of Iraq and Afghanistan wars at $1.7 trillion, almost double the sum the Bush administration has asked or received to finance the two wars through 2008.
Released by Democrats on 13 November, the report incorporates such expenses as medical care for wounded soldiers, interest on borrowed money and the impact on oil prices since the invasion, in addition to the funds necessary to sustain the occupation.
These “hidden costs” add dramatically to the $804 billion requested by the White House for both wars.
The committee believes the totals cost of the conflicts will reach $3.5 trillion by 2017. Even with “considerable draw down in troop levels”, in the most likely scenario, the cost reaches $3.5 trillion in 2027.
But even the current war price tag is staggering. The $1.7 trillion number is hard to comprehend. What can a thousand and seven hundred billions buy, aside from two wars over four years?
Roughly $1.5 trillion is needed to meet Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), established by the UN in 2002 to reverse the dire poverty, hunger and disease affecting billions of people.
The Millennium Project asked developed world countries to contribute 0.7 percent of their national income (GDP) each year to attain this goal by 2015. So far only five countries have met this target.
The US is not one of them.
Some of the Millennium Development Goals include halving the proportion of the world's population who live on less than $1 a day; halting and beginning to reverse the spread of HIV/AIDS, malaria and other major diseases; halving the proportion of people without safe drinking water and basic sanitation; and ensuring primary schooling for all children.
The $1.7 trillion could also pay for three years of climate change prevention.
The Stern Review, a 2006 report by former World Bank vice-president, predicts that spending one percent of global GDP would alleviate the effects of climate change.
The CIA Factbook estimated the global GDP at $46.77 trillion in 2006, which puts the prevention costs at roughly half a trillion a year.
242 chocolate bars
And if the money were split evenly between all the people of the world, each of us would receive $242.4.
We could use this to each buy 242 Fairtrade “Dubble” chocolate bars from Ghana.
But despite these worthier causes, the $1.7 trillion is already spent. And unless the war ends soon, the costs will double again.