Tuesday, September 11, 2007

$450 billion spent so far on Iraq

A rational analysis of our future direction in Iraq requires an appreciation of the costs of the current policy. The current debate has rightly focused on the most important and tragic costs--nearly 3,800 American soldiers killed, over 27,000 wounded, additional coalition losses, and somewhere between 70,000 to 650,000 Iraqi civilians killed. The point of this post is to shine light on the less-publicized and perhaps crass topic of the monetary costs of the war.

In July, the Congressional Research Service (CRS) released an analysis of the incurred and projected costs of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. The costs of both wars so far has been $610 billion, of which $450 billion has been spent on Iraq. A special analysis was needed because of the bewildering array of "supplemental" appropriations for the wars, the many budgets that end up being tapped, and a lack of transparency in budgeting by the Department of Defense.

For the upcoming fiscal year (FY08), the administration has requested $116 billion for Iraq (however, that figure is predicated on the questionable assumption that our training costs for the Iraqi military and police will go down). Astonishingly, the administration's official projected war costs in all theaters in the following year (FY09) is only $50 billion and its projected costs for future years is zero. So much for playing straight with the American people.

In contrast to the administration's phony number of $50 billion in future costs, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates that our additional costs over the next decade will be just under $400 billion beyond the amounts requested through FY 08 if combined troop levels in Iraq and Afghanistan are brought down to 30,000 by 2010 or just under $900 billion if combined troop levels are brought down to 75,000 by 2013. The latter figure seems closer to the administration's goals.

Even if we withdraw troops from Iraq, the costs will still be monumental. The CBO estimates that a complete withdrawal by FY 2009 would still cost nearly $150 billion beyond what has already been requested. If we were to draw down troops in Iraq to just 40,000 by 2010, we would incur over $300 billion beyond the requested amount between now and then.

To provide some perspective about the size of the funds, the $116 billion that has been requested for Iraq in FY 2008 is larger than the combined budgets of all federally-funded education, training, and social service programs ($83 billion), energy programs ($1.4 billion), and community and regional development programs ($25 billion). Alternatively, it accounts for roughly half of the projected federal deficit for FY 2008.