The Cost of War

Ever since I read Kastellec & Leoni's "Using Graphs Instead of Tables to Improve the Presentation of Empirical Results in Political Science" I've been slightly annoyed with the frequent presentation of data in table format. What's more, I think the audience expects a multimedia component from today's Professional Blogger, so I like a graph with bright colors. Hence, I took Table 1 from Peter Orzag's "Estimated Costs of U.S. Operations in Iraq and Afghanistan and of Other Activities Related to the War on Terrorism" and made this thing below which may or may not be superior to the original table (unfortunately, I'm not much of a graph maker, my new dream is to find some kind of crack graph-making intern):


Under scenario one, the number of deployed troops is reduced to 30,000 by 2010. Under scenario two, the number of deployed troops is reduced to 75,000 by 2013. One takeaway here is to keep in mind that the next time you hear someone say the country can't afford to spend an additional $50 billion a year on something (mass transit, day care, schools, whatever) that this is a bit less than the low cost scenario for future military ventures. As my old boss Bob Kuttner likes to say, we have a way of finding out that we can afford the things that our political leaders decide it's important to afford.

On the other hand, puzzling through this I'm left baffled as to why House Budget Committee John Spratt asked for these particular things to be estimated. Running Iraq and Afghanistan together seems to blunt whatever political point it is one was trying to make, and doing so in the context of a discussion of potential troop withdrawals actually leaves it unclear what policy option we're considering. Are our 75,000 troops supposed to be in Iraq or in Afghanistan? It may not make a large financial difference which country you deploy them to, but obviously those are two very different policies. Consequently, the main value of this exercise may be the portion near the end where Orzag compares his methodology to that of the famous Stiglitz & Bilmes paper and argues convincingly that they mishandled the question of the long-term treatment costs for Iraq-related brain injuries.