The Future of Iraq

David Frum: It’s a long commitment, but the monetary cost is not as high as you think.
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TRANSCRIPT

David Frum: We're in it for the long haul. And whoever is president is going to reach that decision. And there is no 100 days on Iraq.

The new president will arrive and I expect that the new president will face some dramatic test. That will be more likely to be true if it's Hillary Clinton than if it's John McCain, and more likely again to be true if it's Barack Obama than Hillary Clinton, but there'll be some dramatic test to take the measure of this person. And that test is as likely to arrive in Iraq as anywhere else, and I think that test is going to persuade the new president that they don’t have the option of winding this thing up quickly, that this is a deep commitment of the United States with a lot at stake.

It looks from the point of view, of the middle of 2008, as if the trends in Iraq are more positive than they have been for some time. And if that trend continues, the next president may be in a position to inherit the beginnings of a success. It will be up to that president to continue that success and make it a success. If that happens, American troops will leave, as they should have, and I think, as it would have been possible for them to leave under different circumstances a long time ago.

If you'd said to just about any proponent of the war in 2003, if you said how many American troops would be there in 2008, probably the guesses would have covered the range anywhere from 15,000 to 40,000. I don't think anybody would have imagined then that it would be the numbers that are there today.

Question: Is it fiscally responsible to carry on this war?

David Frum: The highest estimate I've heard for the cost of the Iraq war comes from an economist named Joseph Stiglitz. He says if you add up all the costs, and then add to that all the future medical costs of the people who are wounded, and then add the interest on top of that, that you can reach a figure almost as high as a trillion dollars. That's an astonishing amount of money. It's one-fourteenth, to the best estimate, of the cost of the president's prescription drug program.

These numbers are very, very big. But when you're trying to compare magnitudes, understand that that decision to proceed with prescription drugs in 2004 was 14 times, probably, as costly as Iraq. Whether you like the Iraq decision or not, Iraq is not the heaviest burden on the finances of the United States; the failure to finance properly the pending retirement of the baby boom just dwarfs it.

Recorded on: May 5 2008