# The math is simple

The math is simple
While there is some disagreement on the idea of troop deadlines for U.S. soldiers in Iraq, all sides seem to be on board with the amount included in the bill to fund the war.

Including the \$124.2 billion bill, the total cost of the Iraq war may reach \$456 billion in September, according to the National Priorities Project, an organization that tracks public spending.

The amount got us wondering: What would \$456 billion buy? Reporters at The Boston Globe broke out their calculators and decided to add up what you could purchase, should you suddenly find \$456 billion – the entire cost of the Iraq war so far – beneath the cushion of your sofa.

• 2,949 Newton North High Schools

Tagged as the most expensive high school in Massachusetts, at \$154.6 million, Newton North High School could be replicated almost 3,000 times using the money spent on the war.

• 30 Big Digs

At almost \$15 billion, Boston's Central Artery project has been held up as the nation's most expensive public works project. Now multiply that by 30 and you're getting close to US taxpayer's commitment to democracy in Iraq… so far.

• Free gas for everybody for 1.2 years

U.S. drivers consume approximately 384.7 million gallons of gasoline a day. Retail prices averaged \$2.64 a gallon in 2006. Breaking it down, \$456 billion could buy gasoline for everybody in the United States, for about 449 days.

• Or go green (with ethanol)

With just one-sixth of the US money targeted for the Iraq war, you could convert all cars in America to run on ethanol.

TheBudgetGraph.com estimates that converting the 136,568,083 registered cars in the United States to ethanol (conversion kits at \$500) would cost \$68.2 billion.

• 14.5 million years through Harvard (44 million at UMass)

At published rates for next year, \$456 billion translates into 14.5 million free rides for a year at Harvard; 44 million at UMass.

• Medicare benefits for one year

In fiscal 2008, Medicare benefits will total \$454 billion, according to a Heritage Foundation summary.

• A LONG-term contract

The Red Sox and Daisuke Matsuzaka agreed on a six-year, \$52 million contract. The war cost could be enough to have Dice-K mania for another 52,615 years at this year's rate.

Need more perspective?

According to World Bank estimates, \$54 billion a year would eliminate starvation and malnutrition globally by 2015, while \$30 billion would provide a year of primary education for every child on earth.

At the upper range of those estimates, the \$456 billion cost of the war could have fed and educated the world's poor for five and a half years.

This new way to view the cost of the war – to actually paint a concrete picture rather than talk about billions upon billions of dollars (how many of us has seen a billion dollars?) provides a new perspective on the amount of positive things are nation is squandering as it continues to flounder with a poorly-designed foreign policy strategy in Iraq.

Approximately a month ago, we urged Congress and the White House to seriously consider the findings in a report written by former Indiana Congressman Lee Hamilton, and former Secretary of State James A. Baker III.

The report, we noted, has something for everyone: It shares the Democrats' goal of withdrawing most U.S. troops by March 2008 and stresses the need for milestones in Iraq. But it endorses the Bush administration's view that milestones should be jointly negotiated with the Iraqi government, rather than imposed by Washington.

And it recognizes that troop withdrawals must be contingent on political and military conditions on the ground.

The Baker-Hamilton report focused on the need for a sustainable policy – one that would make Iraq an American project rather than George W. Bush's war. That requires a shift in military strategy from U.S. combat operations to a counterinsurgency approach centered on training and advising the Iraqi military.

But the study group, composed of five Democrats and five Republicans, also said it could "support a short-term redeployment or surge of American combat forces to stabilize Baghdad, or to speed up the training and equipping mission."

David Ignatius, writing in the Washington Post, notes: The Baker-Hamilton report offered a way out of the partisan wilderness when it was released in December. It still does. It provides an Iraq platform on which responsible Republicans and Democrats can gather. Neither side will get everything it wants, but both can claim a measure of support for their positions. That's the essence of building consensus.

Building consensus is what is needed to get us out of Iraq. It is what is needed to allow our country to not only focus on the defense of our homeland, but also to invest our resources in such worthwhile goals as feeding and educating the poor in third-world countries.

Consensus is also needed to help us eventually bring our troops home. In this case, the math is simple. The billions of dollars our nation has spent on this war doesn't come close to what we've expended in terms of men and women who have lost their lives or limbs in Iraq's civil conflict.

The Vermillion Plain Talk editorials reflect the opinion of Plain Talk editor David Lias. You may contact him at david.lias@plaintalk.net.