Cordesman stresses that asking "what if" can be an exercise in futility. Calculating the opportunity cost of engaging in the Iraq War, as opposed to however else government might have spent (or not spent) the same amount of money, "borders on the absurd," he says, as there are countless alternatives to any option. "The opportunity cost of every decision you take is almost inevitably suboptimal," he says.
Aside from whatever opportunities the U.S. missed by engaging in Iraq, there are also unquantifiable costs. A recent memo from the Center for American Progress, a left-leaning think tank, argues that ending Saddam Hussein's regime empowered Iran, "remov[ing] the most significant check on Iran's hegemonic aspirations." Many returning vets will also face personal economic difficulties, coming home to a difficult job market.
Of course, the human costs of the Iraq War are without a doubt its most lasting and tragic legacy. In addition to more than 32,000 U.S. soldiers wounded in Iraq, the war killed over 4400 U.S. soldiers, according to Icasualties.org, not to mention more than 104,000 Iraqi civilian casualties, according to Iraqbodycount.org.