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Iraq, Afghanistan Wars Will Cost U.S. 4-6 Trillion Dollars

Jim Lobe
Inter Press Service / News Analysis
Published: Sunday 31 March 2013
So far, Washington has paid some 260 billion dollars in interest charged on war-related borrowing, but the potential interest cost of the U.S. war debt reaches into the trillions.
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Costs to U.S. taxpayers of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan will run between four and six trillion dollars, making them the most expensive conflicts in U.S. history, according to a new report by a prominent Harvard University researcher.

While Washington has already spent close to two trillion dollars in direct costs related to its military campaigns in the two countries, that total “represents only a fraction of the total war costs”, according to the report by former Bill Clinton administration official Linda Bilmes.

“The single largest accrued liability of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is the cost of providing medical care and disability benefits to war veterans,” she wrote in the 21-page report, ‘The Financial Legacy of Iraq and Afghanistan: How Wartime Spending Decisions Will Constrain Future National Security Budgets’.

Bilmes, who since 2008 has co-authored a number of analyses on war costs with the World Bank’s former chief economist, Joseph Stiglitz, noted that more than half of the more than 1.5 million troops who have been discharged from active duty since 9/11 have received medical treatment at veterans’ hospitals and have been granted benefits for the rest of their lives. More than 253,000 troops have suffered a traumatic brain injury.

Additional costs include the replacement and repair of equipment — which wears out at an estimated six times the peace-time rate — and the accumulation of interest on money borrowed by the Treasury to finance the wars since the nearly two trillion dollars in war costs were not subject to the normal budgetary process.

So far, Washington has paid some 260 billion dollars in interest charged on war-related borrowing, but the “potential interest cost of the U.S. war debt reaches into the trillions,” according to the report.

“One of the most significant challenges to future U.S. national security policy will not originate from any external threat,” she wrote. “Rather it is simply coping with the legacy of the conflicts we have already fought in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

The report comes at a key moment, as Republicans in Congress appear increasingly split between defense hawks on the one hand, who want to maintain or increase Pentagon spending and have been pushing for a more aggressive U.S. role in the Syrian civil war, among other hotspots, and deficit hawks, on the other, who believe the country can ill afford bigger military budgets, let alone new foreign military adventures, especially in the Middle East.

The defense hawks, consisting primarily of neo-conservatives and aggressive nationalists who led the march to war in Iraq 10 years ago, are particularly worried about the impact on the military of the so-called “sequester”, which requires across-the-board cuts by the Pentagon totaling 500 million dollars over 10 years, in order to help reduce the deficit.

With tensions with Iran, North Korea and even China on the rise, they argue that Washington cannot afford to be seen as constrained militarily by its fiscal challenges.

But this report – as well as another put out by Brown University on the tenth anniversary of the Iraq invasion that estimated the total war costs at three trillion dollars – are likely to bolster the deficit hawks among Republicans, as well as foreign-policy realists most closely identified with the administration of President George H.W. Bush, and most Democrats, including President Barack Obama and his closest aides.

That most war-related costs are actually incurred after the wars are themselves concluded is not unusual in U.S. history, according to a recent investigation by the Associated Press (AP).

After researching federal records, it reported last week that compensation for World War II veterans and their families only reached a high in 1991 – 46 years after the war ended.

It also reported that, almost exactly 40 years after the last U.S. combat troops left Vietnam, the government is still paying veterans and their families or survivors more than 22 billion dollars a year in war-related claims, and that that figure is on the rise, as the beneficiary population ages. Similarly, payments to Gulf War veterans are also increasing.

The much-greater costs to be incurred by the Iraq and Afghanistan wars are explained by, among other factors, much higher survival rates among wounded soldiers, more generous benefits for veterans, new categories of beneficiaries, more expensive medical treatments, and increases in both pay and benefits for troops in order to gain more recruits for the all-volunteer army.

The report argued that dramatic increase in war-related costs means taxpayers will not get the kind of “peace dividend” that they received after other wars, including the two world wars and the Cold War after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

“Today as the country considers how to improve its balance sheet, it could have been hoped that the end of the wars would provide a peace dividend, such as the one during the Clinton administration that helped Americans to invest more in butter and less in guns, it concluded.

“In short, there will be no peace dividend, and the legacy of Iraq and Afghanistan wars will be costs that persist for decades.”

The Pentagon and other national-security agencies, according to the report, will likely face more – rather than less – pressure to cut costs.

“One likely result,” it predicted, “is that budgetary constraints will tilt the U.S. in a direction of fewer military personnel in the forces, …and greater investment in unmanned weaponry, robotics, and other technological solutions – which may or may not be a wise choice over the longer-term.”

To Miriam Pemberton, a national-security analyst at the Institute for Policy Studies, the new study should prompt a major re-assessment of the regular military budget (not including the costs of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars), which grew by nearly 50 percent in real terms to more than half a trillion dollars – over the decade that followed 9/11.

“We need to bring that budget back to where it was when these wars began,” she told IPS. “Those savings need to be re-invested in the needs that have been neglected over the past decade, foremost among them, in my view, being the urgent need to address the climate crisis by investing in a transition to a clean energy and transportation economy.”



And we think "W" and

And we think "W" and Halliburton Dick were idiots? W was smart enough to get out of the way while the sneer planned and ran 9/11 attacks, then orchestrated the wars - now we get to eliminate all socialist programs instituted by FDR and bring on the full fascism long envisioned by Ayn and the girls. yea, we did it!

Another otherwise good

Another otherwise good article that fails to call the reader's attention to Obama's prolongation of the war in Afghanistan -- now for 4 years and counting -- and thus fails to inform the reader the the Repub-Dem duopoly is united in the pursuit of perpetual empire war. The 99% bear the horrific cost in lives and treasure, while the wealthy elites and their Repub-Dem puppets reap more wealth and power. They have now building a police-state to repress the masses when the inevitable day comes that the masses are not just impoverished cannon fodder, but desperate and famished.

The greatest crime of the

The greatest crime of the 21st Century is not Bush falsifying intelligence to persuade us to go to war with Iraq. Close but not quite.

The greatest crime of the 21st Century is President Obama telling us we will "look forward" rather than pursue justice against said criminal treasonous Bush Administration.

This is a surprise why? What

This is a surprise why? What should happen is that now the Bushites and the WHIG's should be brought to justice. They should be tried for treason, torture, ruining the reputation of the U.S., murder and financial malfeasance.

Common, guys. This is a

Common, guys. This is a lie. Rumsfeld told us the wars will cost us a maximum of about $200-$300 million. You should bring Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Ashcroft, Rove & Co. to defend this lie. Maybe hold a public forum through PBS and let them show us how little the wars cost us and how profitable it is for the US to keep mingling everywhere there is a potential for war. Let the military industrial complex take "democracy" everywhere as it is implemented in the US under the Patriot Acts. Let them show how equal the society has become progressively under "democracy" since the Reagan era.... Give the GOP the chance to defend itself IN PUBLIC through a forum that can immediately check facts against the fiction and lies it spews poisoning the "environment" for their "FREE enterprises"!!!. Publish what they have to say about the cost of war and how badly we need guns and god in our daily lives....Do you get my drift?

"The defense hawks,

"The defense hawks, consisting primarily of neo-conservatives and aggressive nationalists who led the march to war in Iraq 10 years ago"

After leading the USA into the Iraq war based on gross misinformation and outright lying, why is anyone listening to them now?

UH34D's picture

Considering what we now see,

Considering what we now see, I'm surprised the middle-east and large areas of Africa haven't totally imploded. Adding North Korea, which recognizes the fact the US is stretched thin militarily, I'm not surprised their testing the water.

We let the genie out of the lamp when we invaded Iraq. People can claim Iraq is doing okay, but the reults of the war only opened the door to additional problems in so many other countries in the area and North Africa. Now we have Iraq & Iran as allies and half a dozen destabilized nations to contend much for 'bringing democracy' to the area.

I believe we should withdraw pretty much everything from the problem areas of the middle-east and North Africa. Maintain a couple of carrier task forces, one in the Med and one around Hormuz just in case, no ground forces, maybe some limited air units in Saudi Arabia, Qatar. Maybe once other world powers, especially China & Russia realize America isn't going to babysit the globe, they may step up and help out in ways that will defuse the insanity. Syria is a perfect example of a situation where Russia could have done more to defuse the situation there. Instead and because we don't have a good relationship with Russia, they have been antagonistic.

I believe we need a much smaller footprint than we now have in these areas. This would allow our military some time to repair from 10+ years of war and to be better prepared for anything that truly threatens the US and our Allies.

This makes it easier to

This makes it easier to understand North Korea. Since the excuse of war with Iran becomes less palatable and less likely as means to keep the MIC fed, why not give Kim Jong, who actually has a nuke or two, a call from the Pentagon to escalate a mutually profitable ongoing conflict. The MIC keeps it's cash flow and Kim Jong keeps his thrown. It's a win win situation!

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