Analysis & Opinions - The Boston Globe

War with Iran Will Cost More Than the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars

  • Rosella Cappella Zielinski
  • Neta C. Crawford
| June 24, 2019

Seventeen years ago, a group of neoconservatives surrounding President George W. Bush persuaded him to mount a quick invasion of Iraq in order to prevent it from acquiring “weapons of mass destruction.” That decision, based on dubious intelligence and taken against the advice of many of America’s closest allies, triggered a refugee crisis, destabilized the entire Middle East, and left the United States with a bill of nearly $6 trillion. Nearly 7,000 Americans have been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, with more than 600,000 US troops injured and due to receive lifetime disability compensation.

Despite the staggering costs, many of which continue to accumulate, some hawks are again urging the United States to enter into a preemptive conflict — this time with Iran. Once again, the advocates of war are promising it will be effective, efficient, and short. Make no mistake: A war with Iran to promote regime change or anything else would be long, costly, and catastrophic for the United States and the global economy.

If Iraq and Afghanistan taught us anything, it is that war alone cannot bring regime change. Attempting it in Iran would require hundreds of thousands of boots on the ground, far more than in Afghanistan and Iraq — with a huge human toll in military lives and more injured and disabled veterans. Any attack will also harm Iranian civilians and start yet another massive flow of refugees. US action would strengthen the most virulently anti-American elements of Iranian society and suppress those who favor détente.

War with Iran would entail vast economic, budgetary, and environmental costs. As former secretary of defense Robert Gates put it, “If you think the war in Iraq was hard, an attack on Iran would, in my opinion, be a catastrophe.” The American Federation of Scientists estimated that even limited US military action against Iran would cost $60 billion to $2 trillion — in the first three months alone.

For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Bilmes, Linda, Rosella Cappella Zielinski and Neta C. Crawford.“War with Iran Will Cost More Than the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars.” The Boston Globe, June 24, 2019.

The Authors