$8.4 billion

The cost of the Iraq war has risen to well over $8.4 billion a month. That’s a pre-surge figure. As big as that number is, it’s likely to turn out to be a conservative estimate of the true costs of this occupation.

Still, it’s a lot of money. In the interest of perspective, here’s what a calculator can reveal about the meaning of $8.4 billion per month.

If you are an avid reader, the number of dollars the United States spends in Iraq in one calendar month vastly exceeds the number of words you will ever read, from those printed on the backs of cereal boxes to War and Peace.

For $8.4 billion per month, the nation could buy a $30,000 automobile for 280,000 of its citizens, or a $300,000 house for 28,000 American families. The nation could build a dozen cities the size of Vallejo each year for what we’re spending annually in Iraq.

When Warren Buffett and Bill Gates announced their intention to give $60 billion of their joint wealth to charity, they were appropriately lauded for their philanthropy. Sixty billion dollars is greater than 70 percent of the world’s 180 economies. Sixty billion dollars, however, won’t pay for much more than six months of the war in Iraq.

The estimated market value of Apple Computer Inc. is $50 billion. The war in Iraq is now costing the nation the total market valuation of a corporation that size every six months.

As of 1997, the United States had 14,841 school districts. If the money being spent in Iraq could be diverted to education, each of those 14,841 school districts would receive a raise in revenues of $565,999 per month, or about $6 million per district per year.

If the monthly sum of the money spent in Iraq could be diverted to providing health care to the 47 million Americans without medical insurance, each of those individuals could receive a monthly stipend of $178 toward paying for such coverage. Every uninsured family of four could receive $712 per month toward their health-care needs.

Per month, $8.4 billion adds up to just over $100 billion per year, roughly the size of the entire annual budget for the state of California. California, incidentally, is roughly the size of Iraq, but has approximately 8 million more residents, though most Californians are not actively trying to kill one another.

Some 10 billion minutes have elapsed since the birth of Christ. If each dollar spent on the war in Iraq was reckoned as equivalent to a minute, all minutes elapsed since Christ was born would be equal to a mere five weeks of dollars draining out in the sands of Iraq. At a dollar per minute, all the minutes gone by since the birth of Mohammed amount to less than a month of the cost of the war.

So it’s a big number, that $8.4 billion monthly tab we’re running in Iraq. No matter how big it is, however, or how much larger it grows to be, it is surely chump change. Only a nation of chumps would spend so much national treasure in pursuit of something as elusive and ill-defined as the chimeras we pursue in the cities and the deserts of Iraq.