The costs of war, and avoiding war

Conor Friedersdorf, a writer for the Atlantic and formerly a ghost-writer for Andrew Sullivan, tweets:

This is staggeringly naive. First of all, it’s untrue on the face of it. The Iraq War, by the most dramatic estimates, cost $2.2 trillion over 8.5 years. That’s $258 billion per year. In 2013, the federal government spent $851 billion on Medicare and Medicaid, $808 billion on Social Security, and $373 billion on “other mandatory spending”, which is mostly entitlements. Any one of those is larger than the Iraq War. Total them together and you’re spending the entire cost of the Iraq War every single year.

There’s nothing pricier than entitlements.

Moreover, that estimate doesn’t take into account opportunity cost. What does it cost not to go to war? England and France saved some money by not going to war in 1935, and 1936, and 1938, and 1939, but it cost them dearly from 1940 to 1945.

Naturally, anti-war people — including, presumably, Mr. Friedersdorf — think that there was no opportunity cost. They believe the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were unnecessary and no adverse effects could possibly have resulted from not fighting them. Fine, I know that’s an article of faith among that set, but we don’t agree. And, Mr. Friedersdorf, you’re the one addressing us.

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