by Jonathan Freedland
There's one thing about this war everyone can agree on - it is costing a fortune.
George W Bush has demanded £49billion of American taxpayers' money to pay for its opening stages, while Gordon Brown has dipped into our pockets to the tune of £3billion, a total of £52billion.
Money well spent, say the backers of war, it will make the world a safer place. Still, on this Budget day, when the nation gets out its ledger and works out how best to spend our collective cash over the coming year, it is fair to put that to the test.
Are there other things the world could do with £52billion? What would an alternative budget look like committed to the same goal - to make the world a safer place - but using radically different methods? Here's an outline.
Item 1: A different way to stop weapons of mass destruction from getting into the hands of terrorists, one of the explicit aims of this war. Just £2billion pays for the entire seven-year budget of the so-called "loose nukes" programme, a US scheme which keeps tabs on all the nuclear and chemical weapons held by the former Soviet Union. That would ensure ex-Soviet nukes are destroyed instead of sold on the black market to the likes al-Qaeda.
For a few million more, you could also pay the guards currently watching over eastern bloc nuclear installations: some were left unpaid for so long, they left their posts to forage for food.
The scheme also woos ex-Soviet nuclear and chemical scientists to work for US salaries rather than be tempted by rogue nations or terrorist networks.
You could extend the fund to include Pakistani scientists, blunting any temptation they might have to sell their brainpower to Osama bin Laden - still an active menace if yesterday's rumour of a new taped message proves genuine.
What about lavishing money not on fighting terrorism, but on preventing it ever taking root?
Surely if the West spent money enabling people in the world's most distressed countries to live healthier, fuller lives the audience for terrorism's message would shrink. Of course, individual terrorists - men like the 19 September 11 hijackers - would never be won over: there will always be fanatics bent on evil deeds.
BUT, if the West worked to heal the world of its most enduring ills, surely fewer people would be ready to heed the message of anti-Western hatred.
Making the world a fairer, cleaner, healthier place would be a good start - and not too expensive.