$1.2 Trillion: Build a Great Future or Destroy One

$1.2 Trillion

As anyone who takes even a cursory look at this blog knows, I generally like to post original ideas — or at least my own take on ideas already in circulation. Some memes are so helpful to our understanding of the world, however, that they deserve a nod and a link — on my blog and elsewhere.

That’s how I feel about David Leonhardt’s column in a recent edition of the New York Times, entitled “What $1.2 Trillion Can Buy.”

This awesome sum is the amount of money the United States has spent to date on the war in Iraq, plus the estimated future costs of such things as healthcare for injured veterans and replenishment of military resources depleted in the conflict, all discounted to net present values.

What can $1.2 trillion buy? Mr. Leonhardt gives a few examples. Read the column for yourself. But you better be sitting down: the examples he gives are astounding.

Not included in the $1.2 trillion figure is the cost of Mr. Bush’s proposed escalation of U.S. troop strength in Iraq, which Mr. Leonhardt says will probably run to around $20 billion. He concludes:

By itself, of course, that price tag doesn’t mean the surge is a bad idea. If it offers the best chance to stabilize Iraq, then it may well be the right option.

But the standard shouldn’t simply be whether a surge is better than the most popular alternative — a far-less-expensive political strategy that includes getting tough with the Iraqi government. The standard should be whether the surge would be better than the political strategy plus whatever else might be accomplished with the $20 billion.

This time, it would be nice to have that discussion before the troops reach Iraq.

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