Let me preface this by distinguishing the many sacrifices by our troops In Iraq and Afghanistan from an assessment of whether the wars are a success or failure. Put differently, putting your life on the line for your nation is noble whether or not the mission is ultimately deemed a success.

That said, I want to delve deeper into the opportunity-cost objection to the Iraq invasion and the Afghan surge.

CostOfWar lets you measure the tradeoffs of the trillion+ spent on those two wars. You can spend hours on the site researching the cops, nurses, teachers and infrastructure we could have paid for with the billions spent on Iraq.

I’d like to focus on one particularly stunning number put forth by Arlen Specter. Granted, he wasn’t doing it in the context of the cost of war, but it’s a perfect example of why we need to be dubious about the growing consensus that Iraq was a success:

It is my opinion that it is scandalous in this country that we haven’t done more by way of combating these illnesses. I requested an estimate from the cancer community of what it would take to make a major attack to virtually cure cancer. We can’t talk about curing cancer, but the kind of a major attack which would reduce cancer vary materially. We got back a figure of $335 billion over 15 years. Well, those are big numbers, but they would pay off in very substantial rewards when you consider the cost of cancer is over $200 billion a year. The cost of heart disease is almost $450 billion a year. There are ways and economies within the Federal budget to deal with those issues.

Specter asked a fundamental question: what would it cost to cure cancer? The number he was given was less than half the cost of the Iraq war. To launch a frontal assault on cancer and save innumerable lives.

It is an unspeakable travesty that we can afford to go to war based on lies and deceptions, causing the death and injury of hundreds of thousands, but we can’t spend the money it takes to embark on an assault against a scourge like cancer.

There are many reasons Iraq is anything but a success. I’ve listed a few here.  But Arlen Specter’s amazing number is one of the most compelling I’ve seen.