Iraq And Afghanistan Wars Cost $3 Trillion
The costs of more than a decade of war are far higher than many ever thought, and we're still paying the price for the fiscal irresponsibility of the Bush Administration while they were being fought.
The Financial Times reports that the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars have cost the United States a combined $3 trillion dollars:
The Afghanistan war, the longest overseas conflict in American history, has cost the US taxpayer nearly $1tn and will require spending several hundred billion dollars more after it officially ends this month, according to Financial Times calculations and independent researchers.
Around 80 per cent of that spending on the Afghanistan conflict has taken place during the presidency of Barack Obama, who sharply increased the US military presence in the country after taking office in 2009.
The enormous bill for the 13-year conflict, which has never been detailed by the government, will add to the pervasive scepticism about the war in the US, where opinion polls show a majority of Americans believe it was a bad idea.
With the Iraq war having already cost the US $1.7tn, according to one study, the bill from the Afghanistan conflict is an important factor in the broader reluctance among the American public and the Obama administration to intervene militarily in other parts of the world — including sending troops back to Iraq.
John Sopko, the government’s special inspector-general for Afghanistan, whose organisation monitors the more than $100bn that has been spent on reconstruction projects in the country, said that “billions of dollars” of those funds had been wasted or stolen on projects that often made little sense for the conditions in Afghanistan.
“We simply cannot lose this amount of money again,” he said. “The American people will not put up with it.”
Adjusted for inflation, Mr Sopko said the amount the US had spent on reconstruction in Afghanistan was more than the cost of the Marshall Plan to rebuild western Europe.
“Time and again, I am running into people from USAID, State and the Pentagon who think they are in Kansas [not Afghanistan],” he said. “My auditors tell me things [about spending plans] and I say, ‘you have to be making this up, this is Alice in Wonderland’.”
The amount of money that has been expended in fighting these two wars is, of course, notable and something that ought to be kept in mind as we move forward to new foreign policy challenges facing the United States in the future. For one thing, there’s the fact that we’re talking about having expended such a tremendous amount of money so casually notwithstanding the fact that it was spent largely without any regard to whether or not it made any sense to do so. I continue to believe that, at least in the beginning, the War in Afghanistan, to the extent that it was a war directed at eradicating al Qaeda, it’s training facilities, and its support base as best as possible, was both a just and necessary response to the September 11th attacks. Afghanistan was not directly responsible for the attacks, of course, but their Taliban-led government was providing safe harbor to the people who were responsible and allowing Afghan territory to be used to train and harbor the people behind the attacks. At some point, of course, the strategy changed in Afghanistan and our mission became far more ambiguous and far harder to justify, of course, but at least in the beginning the War in Afghanistan was indeed the “good war” that then lcandidate Barack Obama referred to when he first ran for President in 2007-2008. One can not really say the same thing about the Iraq War, of course. If ever there was a “war of choice” in American history, the decision to invade Iraq, depose and effectively eradicate its leadership class, and occupy the country that was made in 2002-2003 would qualify as one of those wars. There was no immediate need to invade Iraq in 2003, and there were plenty of opportunities for the United States to disengage far earlier than it did. Now, we are back in Iraq and Syria dealing with a situation that, quite likely would not have even existed had we not invaded Iraq in the first place, thus making a good case for the argument that the future costs of any action against ISIS
In neither case, though, was there much consideration given to the costs of actually fighting these wars, or the cost of the future commitments that those wars would entail. Indeed, one could make the case that the Bush Administration and the other supporters of the two wars deliberately ignored those costs. How else, for example, can one explain the fact that they committed the nation to two wars at the same time that they were cutting taxes and increasing spending in other parts of the Federal Budget? Leaving aside the fact that this was a display of fiscal irresponsibility on epic scale, it flew in the face of how we’ve responded in pretty much every other war that we’ve ever fought when we have at least made some effort to try to pay for the cost of the conflict by raising taxes or selling war bonds, usually both. Instead of doing that, though, or telling the American people that they would need to make any sacrifice at all to fight these conflicts, the Bush Administration told us that we could have our guns and our better, and lower taxes, and everything would be just peachy. The result was higher budget deficits, increasing national debts, and an economic crisis that we’re still trying to recover from. Only time will tell if we’ve learned that part of the many lessons that our ill-advised foreign policy misadventures from 2001 through today ought to be teaching us.