Iraq: the chaos and the cost

Washington Post, February 4:

As the fourth year of war nears its end, the Middle East’s largest refugee crisis since the Palestinian exodus from Israel in 1948 is unfolding in a climate of fear, persecution and tragedy.

Nearly 2 million Iraqis – about 8 percent of the prewar population – have embarked on a desperate migration, mostly to Jordan, Syria and Lebanon, according to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees. The refugees include large numbers of doctors, academics and other professionals vital for Iraq’s recovery. Another 1.7 million have been forced to move to safer towns and villages inside Iraq, and as many as 50,000 Iraqis a month flee their homes, the U.N. agency said in January.

The rich began trickling out of Iraq as conditions deteriorated under U.N. sanctions in the 1990s, their flight growing in the aftermath of the 2003 U.S.-led invasion. Now, as the violence worsens, increasing numbers of poor Iraqis are on the move, aid officials say. To flee, Iraqis sell their possessions, raid their savings and borrow money from relatives. They ride buses or walk across terrain riddled with criminals and Sunni insurgents, preferring to risk death over remaining in Iraq.

John Allen Paulos, professor of mathematics at Temple University, ABC America, February 4:

Another way to get at the $1 trillion cost of the Iraq War is to note that the Treasury could have used the money to mail a check for more than $3,000 to every man, woman and child in the United States. The latter alternative would have an added benefit: Uniformly distributed and spent in this country, the money would have provided an economic stimulus that the war expenditures have not.

Alternatively, if the money was spent in an even more ecumenical way and a global mailing list was available, the Treasury could have sent a check for more than $150 to every human being on earth. The lives of millions of children, who die from nothing more serious than measles, tetanus, respiratory infections and diarrhea, could be saved, since these illnesses can be prevented by $2 vaccines, $1 worth of antibiotics, or a 10-cent dose of oral rehydration salts as well as the main but still very far from prohibitive cost of people to administer the programs.