This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2008, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
The United States cannot afford the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Not in terms of lives and not in terms of treasure.
As if to drive this lesson home, Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph E. Stiglitz estimates in a new book that in 2008, the combined wars in Asia will cost the United States about $12 billion a month. Using various assumptions, which he called conservative, Stiglitz projects that the wars will cost the United States between $1.7 trillion and $2.7 trillion by 2017.
The Congressional Budget Office has done its own estimates, which are a bit lower, according to the Associated Press. It says the cumulative cost of the two wars by 2017 will be between $1.2 trillion and $1.7 trillion.
To place this in perspective, the gross domestic product of the United States currently is about $14 trillion annually. Current government expenditures are about $4.6 trillion a year, and government net borrowing (the deficit) is about $438 billion, according to the Commerce Department.
At the same time, the price of oil reached an all-time high earlier this month, when adjusted for inflation. It eclipsed $104 a barrel and has risen higher since. Soon, $5-a-gallon gasoline may be common.
From these numbers, we draw the conclusion that U.S. national security would be better served by winding down the Asian wars as quickly as possible and concentrating the money now being spent there on developing renewable energy sources that will reduce U.S. dependency on foreign oil. It may be cheaper to develop alternatives to oil than to fight for it in Asia.
That said, we understand that even if the United States were to begin withdrawing its troops from Iraq tomorrow, getting out will be expensive in itself, and U.S. armed forces will have to be rebuilt in the aftermath.
But given the costs of the war in Iraq and the price of oil, the huge numbers that are often quoted for developing renewable energy in the United States do not look so daunting. For example, the editors of Scientific American magazine estimate that the U.S. government would have to invest about $450 billion to help build solar arrays in the Southwest that could produce 69 percent of the nation's electric power and 35 percent of its total energy needs by 2050. That would cut both oil consumption and carbon emissions that contribute to global warming by roughly one-third.
In the context of the Asian wars, that looks like a bargain.