The costs of war
Bill to taxpayers will soon exceed $260 billion
Daytona Beach News Journal Editorial Board
In a September 2002 interview with The Wall Street Journal, Lawrence Lindsey, then director of the Bush administration’s National Economic Council, predicted that invading Iraq would cost up to $200 billion. He didn’t make clear whether the price tag would include occupation and reconstruction, although however spent, it would still all be taxpayer money. It was a rare moment of unscripted candor from the White House, and Lindsey paid for it. Bush fired him 10 weeks later.
Meanwhile Bush deployed a small platoon of administration officials to contradict Lindsey’s estimate. The White House’s budget director put the cost at $50-$60 billion, tops — less than the $80 billion the first Gulf War cost. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in early January 2003 put the number at “something under $50 billion,” suggesting that other nations would be generous. “How much of that would be the U.S. burden, and how much would be other countries, is an open question.” By February (one month before the invasion), Rumsfeld’s deputy, Paul Wolfowitz, was favoring fuzziness: “I think it’s necessary to preserve some ambiguity of exactly where the numbers are,” he told the House Budget Committee. Post-war costs over five years were estimated at $25 billion to $105 billion.
Not one of those estimates has proven true. Not even Lindsey’s, which under-estimated the costs by a wide margin.
On Monday, The Washington Post reported that the Pentagon was getting ready to submit yet another request for emergency war funding immediately after the election. This one would be in the range of $70 billion. It would be the fourth emergency funding request in 19 months for warfare and rebuilding in Iraq and Afghanistan.
In April 2003, Congress approved a $78.5 billion request. Last October, Congress approved an $87.5 billion request. In August it approved $25 billion. An additional $70 billion would bring the total costs of the wars and occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan, so far, to $261 billion.
That’s $261 billion since the Iraq war began less than two years ago (and, for perspective’s sake, $8 billion more than was spent on the entire Medicare program in 2002). Military costs alone for Afghanistan and Iraq, previously estimated at $4 billion to $5 billion, are now estimated at more than $6 billion a month, or $200 million per day.
The administration is still downplaying the numbers with trickery and qualifiers. For instance, it points out that one of the appropriations included $21 billion for reconstruction in Iraq, as if taxpayers could itemize the expense as feel-good money.
In fact, that’s $1 billion more than the amount pledged by Bush’s entire “coalition of the willing” for reconstruction. Less than $1 billion of that money has actually been spent on reconstruction, because violence makes reconstruction impossible. And millions of what has been spent on alleged reconstruction and other costs was fraudulently billed to the Pentagon. The administration also points out that up to $10 billion of the money was pledged to Israel and Turkey as part of the coalition-building leading up to the war. That’s still $10 billion taxpayers have to fork over.
Those are just the costs in cold cash. The human costs continue to rise with staggering grimness, too. By Wednesday, 1,250 American soldiers had died in Iraq and Afghanistan (40 Americans have been killed in Afghanistan so far in 2004). Among American forces there’s been 26,000 combat wounded and 7,000 amputees. Most of their medical costs, which will accrue over the years, aren’t included in the tallies. The human costs to Iraq dwarf America’s.
Just as Bush misled the nation on the reason for invading Iraq, he misjudged the costs of invading and occupying it. But it’s too late now. Regardless of what happens on Nov. 2, taxpayers are stuck with the bill. They’re stuck with the open-ended conflict. They’re stuck with a worsening situation that is draining the military of feasible solutions. This is the result of Bush’s war of choice — an oversold threat, an undersold cost, a catastrophic choice all around.