President Obama has indicated that U.S. active combat operations in Afghanistan will end in 2013, joining the cessation in Iraq. This is a good time to weigh the costs of the two wars launched by President George W. Bush in Iraq in 2003 and Afghanistan in 2001 with what has been achieved.
The Brookings Institution has published a monthly index of statistics for Iraq and Afghanistan. Here are the costs in lives, wounded, and money:
U.S. fatalities March 2003 to December 2011: 4487 (hostile 3526, non-hostile 961)
U.S. wounded: 31,000+
U.S. Government Budget Authority (DOD, DOS, VA): $823.2 billion
U.S. fatalities October 2001 to December 2012: 2160 (hostile 1741, non-hostile 176)
U.S. wounded: 18,109
U.S. Government budget authority (DOD, DOS, VA): $557.1 billion
VA budget represents annual authority that does not take into account subsequent long-term care.
What are the consequences of U.S. military operations?
The overthrow of Saddam Hussein has replaced Sunni domination of a unified Iraq with a Shia political majority that is increasingly in conflict with the Sunni minority. The Kurds, for their part, want an autonomous, preferably independent, homeland of their own. Over half of the 1.4 million Christians residing in Iraq in 2003 are estimated to have left the country. Iraq has not evolved into a stable, peaceful, multicultural democratic country.
The overthrow of the Taliban has resulted in an uncertain future in which Afghanistan President Hamid Kazai and U.S. President Barack Obama have agreed that the Afghan government should enter into peace talks with the Taliban. Some analysts fear that the Taliban will be able to overthrow the Karzai government and resume power once the remaining U.S. combat forces are withdrawn in 2013.
Once again, Thoughtful Ideas urges all those in the U.S. government along with those in the broader policy community concerned with foreign policy and the decision to go to war in ethnically divided countries should, indeed must, read Politics in Plural Societies: A Theory of Democratic Instability. The notion that the U.S. government can build stable democracies in the short span of a decade in a region beset with centuries of tribal, ethnic, and religious conflict epitomizes the word "chutzpah."