Costs for treating Vietnam Veterans did not peak until 30 – 40 years after that war. Calculating the true costs of Bush and Cheney’s adventures in imperialism in Irag and Afghanistan is turning out to be many times the low ball figures they estimated. The cost will be massive, and the effect will linger for decades.
Making the situation worse for or economy, Bush and Cheney with the connivance of Congress funded most of the wars through so-called “emergency spending” measures, just concealing the impact of the monetary outflow from showing up in its true impact on the budget and the deficit.
In others words, dishonest double book accounting.
Reuters just six months ago published a story estimating the final costs for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan would run at least $3.7 trillion and could reach as high as $4.4 trillion.
When President Barack Obama cited cost as a reason to bring troops home from Afghanistan, he referred to a $1 trillion price tag for America’s wars.
Staggering as it is, that figure grossly underestimates the total cost of wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan to the U.S. Treasury and ignores more imposing costs yet to come, according to a study released on Wednesday.
The final bill will run at least $3.7 trillion and could reach as high as $4.4 trillion, according to the research project “Costs of War” by Brown University’s Watson Institute for International Studies. (www.costsofwar.org)
In the 10 years since U.S. troops went into Afghanistan to root out the al Qaeda leaders behind the September 11, 2001, attacks, spending on the conflicts totaled $2.3 trillion to $2.7 trillion.
Those numbers will continue to soar when considering often overlooked costs such as long-term obligations to wounded veterans and projected war spending from 2012 through 2020. The estimates do not include at least $1 trillion more in interest payments coming due and many billions more in expenses that cannot be counted, according to the study.
From Slate, regarding the continued funding of the wars through emergency spending measures.
Historically, the United States has funded wars through emergency supplemental spending for the first year or two. Then, as a conflict drags out, its cost gets integrated into the regular budgetary process. The Bush administration broke with that model in the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts, funding them “off the books” through emergency appropriations acts year after year. Obama has continued that practice, though he has changed the war-budgeting timeline to coincide with the regular budget, drawing greater attention to the tradeoffs involved.
So what are the tradeoffs, exactly? It’s hard to get a satisfying answer, which may be one reason there haven’t been even more complaints about war spending from the media and the American public. The money comes mainly from borrowing, so no dollar spent in Afghanistan can be directly identified as a dollar that was meant to go toward someone’s Medicare. Nor would any of the current budget caps force war spending to be made up from cuts elsewhere. The Budget Control Act limits the “base” defense budget to $684 billion in 2012 and $686 billion in 2013, a slight cut from 2011 levels.* But it explicitly exempts war appropriations from its calculations.
All of which is to say that the question of cost is unlikely to elude anyone the next time the country eyes a military adventure abroad. Voters on the left and right alike now clearly link the country’s budget problems to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. (Perhaps more than is warranted: Though we’re spending $700 billion a year on defense and war, the Bush tax cuts and the recession contributed more to the growth of the deficit, according to the Congressional Budget Office.) Most estimates put the country’s spending on Iraq and Afghanistan over the past decade somewhere near $1.3 trillion. That sum sure could have come in handy, given that the supercommittee has deadlocked over the need for $1.2 trillion in cuts.
If the United States were to declare war next week, it would be financed much the same way as its two most recent wars, says Todd Harrison, a senior fellow for defense-budget studies at the nonprofit Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments. Congress would allocate emergency cash outside the normal budget process. That would mean more borrowing, though probably not enough to run up against the debt ceiling. It would not directly affect the supercommittee’s negotiation, though there’s little doubt it would add to the pressure, both for cuts and for possible revenue increases. It might not even cost the U.S. its triple-A bond rating, though it could mean that the other ratings agencies join S&P in a minor downgrade, depending on the political and economic climate.
In short, the United States is not too broke to make war, though it is too broke to continue to make war without at least seriously considering the financial implications. Ironically, though, we just might be too broke to make peace. The country’s foreign aid budget, at $53 billion, is less than half what it’s spending on war, but American University foreign policy professor Gordon Adams points out that it makes a more appealing target for politicians. In a recent GOP debate, Mitt Romney said the U.S. is spending “more on foreign aid than we ought to be spending,” while Rick Perry suggested defunding the United Nations. “It should be the easiest thing to cut,” Ron Paul chimed in. The American public seems to agree: In a Gallup poll earlier this year, 59 percent of respondents said they’d favor reductions in foreign aid. Just 42 percent would back military cuts.
As for the bills that will continue to grow and come due for the veterans of these wars, the following as reported on Market Watch:
Near the start of the war, the U.S. Defense Department estimated it would cost $50 billion to $80 billion. White House economic adviser Lawrence Lindsey was dismissed in 2002 after suggesting the price of invading and occupying Iraq could reach $200 billion.
“The direct costs for the war were about $800 billion, but the indirect costs, the costs you can’t easily see, that payoff will outlast you and me,” said Lawrence Korb, a senior fellow at American Progress, a Washington, D.C. think tank, and a former assistant secretary of defense under Ronald Reagan.
More than 32,000 soldiers were wounded in Iraq, according to the U.S. Department of Defense. Add in Afghanistan and that number jumps to 47,000.
Altogether, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan could cost the U.S. between $4 trillion and $6 trillion, more than half of which would be due to the fighting in Iraq, said Neta Crawford, a political science professor at Brown University.
Her numbers, which are backed by similar studies at Columbia and Harvard universities, estimate the U.S. has already spent $2 trillion on the wars after including debt interest and the higher cost of veterans’ disabilities.