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.

defense-spending

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.

FILED UNDER: Deficit and Debt, Iraq War, Military Affairs, National Security, Taxes, US Politics, , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. al-Ameda says:

    Exactly right, Doug

    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

  2. edmondo says:

    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.

    And the decision to remain in Afghanistan for the last six years is a War of Necessity?

    Oh my!

  3. anjin-san says:

    Yet we can’t get a few million to help suicidal vets through Congress.

  4. C. Clavin says:

    The greatest blunder in US Foreign Policy.
    Ever.

  5. Moosebreath says:

    “Indeed, one could make the case that the Bush Administration and the other supporters of the two wars deliberately ignored those costs. ”

    And did their best to have others ignore the costs by keeping them off-budget.

    Good post, Doug.

  6. jukeboxgrad says:

    Iraq And Afghanistan Wars Cost $3 Trillion

    That number is low. “Iraq war will cost more than World War II … the eventual tab for the United States could reach $4 trillion to $6 trillion.” Link.

  7. wr says:

    Well, thank God we cut all those taxes on rich people so we could afford these wars.

  8. C. Clavin says:

    @wr:
    If I believed in her, I would thank her.

  9. C. Clavin says:

    I’m hearing lots of crickets.
    Must be the War supporters defending both the expenditure of $3T to make Iran stronger in the region, and the creation of a political environment where ISIS was inevitable.
    And in deference to Anjin-San…I’m not even going to mention hummus butts.

  10. Dave D says:

    Well thankfully all the engineers of this brilliantly executed “war of choice” were absolutely correct that it would fund itself, and deficits don’t matter, and tax breaks pay for themselves, and privatizing social security before 08 was better than leaving it in government hands, and that Saddam had wmds, he was involved in 9/11, and that we don’t torture, and that any Baath Party members should have no place in the new government. We are just a lucky citizenry that our leaders nailed this one and we have been reaping nothing but the benefits of our just of bringing democracy to the Iraqi people. The money is flowing in from those oil companies known for paying such high taxes and the Iraqis don’t have to worry about living under a brutal ruler. Do we even need an election in 2016 or can Jeb just show up on inauguration day?

  11. gVOR08 says:

    …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? … this was a display of fiscal irresponsibility on epic scale…

    I could come to hate people who did that.

  12. gVOR08 says:
  13. Franklin says:

    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.

    I am surprised by this percentage, if it is true. After all, the war was going on for over 7 years before Obama was even inaugurated, which of course includes the critical first phase. It’s been less than 6 years since, which has been more about peacekeeping.

  14. C. Clavin says:

    @Franklin:
    Right….but Bush and Cheney almost immediately began ignoring Afghanistan in favor of their wet dream in Iraq.

  15. Neil Hudelson says:

    @Franklin:

    I thought of that too. I can speculate that a lot of our spending came from “rebuilding,” which would mean contracts lined up during the Bush admin would be payed out during the Obama admin.

  16. J-Dub says:

    Once you increase Defense spending to that degree, it’s very difficult to put a halt to it. Programs get started, buildings get built, people get hired, etc. You can’t just stop all that and go back to the pre-war level of spending.

  17. PD Shaw says:

    @Franklin: Higher than I would have expected, but Obama tripled the number of troops as part of the surge, which according to the charts in the link corresponded with a tripling of the annual expenditures.

  18. Slugger says:

    I think that this is a big deal. The twentieth century saw the collapse of several empires, most famously the USSR, but also Austro-Hungary, Germany (twice), France, Belgium, Netherlands, Japan, and Great Britain. Wars between the great empires played an important role in these downfalls, but lesser conflicts and the burden of maintaining a huge military apparatus brought down many as well. France finally had to leave Algeria, and the sun did actually set on the British Empire when the PRC took over Hong Kong.
    The USA is not immune to the illness of fighting colonial wars in distant places. Certainly, our leaders do not appear to be students of history.
    For those of you that are dismayed by the Bush-wacking tone of many of these comments, I offer the words of JFK’s inaugural speech, ” Let all know that we will bear any burden and pay any price…” I think that those of us concerned by the long term effects of imperial overreach can look back on many years of bad decisions.

  19. Liberal Capitalist says:

    @gVOR08:

    …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? … this was a display of fiscal irresponsibility on epic scale…

    I could come to hate people who did that.

    Heeeeeyyyyy… I SEE what you did there!

  20. DrDaveT says:

    Essay question (25 points):

    Compare and constrat the maximum possible harm to the US that Osama bin Laden’s organization could have caused, versus the harm to the US that the GWB administration (with enthusiastic Congressional support) actually caused. Include economic, social justice, and international relations factors.

  21. Dave Schuler says:

    The war’s not over yet. It’s too early to start counting.

  22. Robin Cohen says:

    Send the whole bill to Georgie and Obie. Dumb & Dumber.
    The country deserves to be compensated as do the families of dead and injured soldiers for their losses in 2 unnecessary wars.

  23. mannning says:

    Given that we decided to go to war, it would be interesting to know what percentage of the total war expenditures were devoted to military training, arming, and supporting their forces, infrastructure and rebuilding in Iraq and Afghanistan, versus our own actual war fighting expenditures. Do we have to fix it after we break it, or not? More to the point, is it rational to attempt to modernize such nations in a massive manner inside of a few years with our money?

    By 9/30/2007 our national debt was approximately $9 trillion, $4.4 trillion added under Bush in 8 years essentially.
    By 9/30/2014 our national debt was approximately $18 trillion, $8 trillion added under Obama in 6 years essentially, and by 2016 will exceed an estimated $20 trillion, for a total of an added $10 trillion!

    Some people seem to be highly concerned about the first negative amount mentioned, but not at all concerned about the second negative amount which we all will suffer under. No one seems to have a plan that will pay off this sum in a reasonable time. In fact, several have shown that it is not possible to pay it off at all under any rational assumptions.

    Thank you Bush and a really hearty thank you to Obama!

  24. jukeboxgrad says:

    several have shown that it is not possible to pay it off at all

    Nonsense. If we wanted to completely eliminate the deficit and the debt we could, just by raising taxes on the top 1%. Link.

    Also, most of your numbers are wrong.

  25. mannning says:

    You are in serious need of glasses! $200 trillion in taxes????

  26. jukeboxgrad says:

    $200 trillion in taxes????

    I wonder where you found that number, since I never mentioned it and it has no relevance.

  27. mannning says:

    Boston University economist Laurence Kotlikoff estimated the national fiscal gap at $222-trillion almost one year ago—that comes to just over $700,000 for every man, woman, and child in this nation today. If we go by the “per taxpayer” calculation, we’re a few thin dimes beneath $2-million each.
    Read more at http://politicaloutcast.com/2013/10/reminder-us-will-never-pay-debt/#z7m8LEGRtUMhgORH.99

  28. mannning says:

    Kotlikoff: That’s wrong. It’s $222 trillion.

    That’s what we economists call the fiscal gap. I don’t know what those guys are looking at, but we economists do it a certain way. We’re not politicians. We’re just doing it the way our theory says to do it. What you have to do is look at the present value of all the expenditures now through the end of time. All projected expenditures, including servicing the official debt. And you subtract all the projected taxes. The present value of the difference is $222 trillion.

    So the true size of our fiscal problem is $222 trillion, not $87 trillion. That’s comprehensive and incorporates the official debt. The official debt in the hands of the public is $11 trillion, so the true problem is 20 times bigger than the official debt.

    Why is it more useful to think about the fiscal gap than the official debt?

    The official debt is something that has to be repaid, and the government is committed to principal and interest payments. But the government has other commitments, like Social Security payments, health care and Medicare payments, Medicaid payments, and defense expenditures. And it also has negative commitments, namely taxes. So you want to put everything on even footing. Most of the liabilities the government has incurred in the postwar period have been kept off the books because of the way we’ve labeled our receipts and payments. The government has gone out of its way to run up a Ponzi scheme and keep evidence of that off the books by using language to make it appear that we have a small debt.

  29. mannning says:

    From the Gold Standard Institute:
    In fact, the debt must increase, because the interest is constantly accruing. Interest is added to the debt, as it can’t be paid off either. Total debt must grow by at least the interest. Debt actually increases faster than that, because the government craves what now passes for growth.

    The rate of debt increase is proportional to the debt itself. It is not a fixed dollar amount, such as $100 billion a year. It is instead a percent of total debt. Mathematics has a term for this type of growth: an exponential function.

    Exponential growth is not sustainable, according to credible scientists. Mainstream economists ignore this fact in the hope that that somehow growth can outpace debt, one year a time.

    But exponentially rising debt is not sustainable because the capacity to service the debt is finite. Without a means of extinguishing debt, servicing is merely borrowing new money to pay off old debts. This is the equivalent of taking out a home equity loan to get money to pay the mortgage.

    The U.S. debt is putting us in danger of economic catastrophe. Like Greece, which found no more buyers for their bonds, the U.S. relies on selling new bonds to pay interest and principal when due. The difference is that the whole world bids on U.S. Treasury bonds, for now. But eventually, market participants will realize that the American debt cannot be paid off.

    .

    .

  30. mannning says:
  31. jukeboxgrad says:

    I could explain to you why the sources you are citing are full of crap, but this dead thread on another topic is the wrong place and the wrong time. And you are also the wrong person, since I know from experience that you are immune to correction.

  32. mannning says:

    Ah! The usual dodge. “I know all the answers, but I cannot put them down here, and, besides, your sources are crap!!” A wonderful way to dodge the issues, but totally dishonest. The honest answer would be to propose a time and place where you would pontificate on your views and your rationale for calling quite respectable sources to be crap. You just can’t carry this off and be considered an honest commenter.

  33. jukeboxgrad says:

    your rationale for calling quite respectable sources to be crap

    Your sources are crap because they pretend to be showing you the whole picture while hiding the most important parts of the picture. You cited this:

    All projected expenditures, including servicing the official debt. And you subtract all the projected taxes. The present value of the difference is $222 trillion.

    The key words there are “all the projected taxes.” Yes, there is a gap if taxes stay low. I proved that the gap goes away if the Reagan tax cuts for the rich are reversed. Your sources want you to not understand this. And you also want to not understand this, because you don’t understand this even though I already explained this.

    You just can’t carry this off and be considered an honest commenter.

    It’s hilarious that you want to be “considered an honest commenter” even though you are ignoring what I already explained.

  34. mannning says:

    So you believe that $220 trillion can be sucked from the rich! Talking about impossibilities! You have absolutely no hope of doing that, and you know it. You are the one with a fable here, not me. Such a proposition is totally undemocratic, not to mention impossible to achieve. But then, you are of that ilk that wants to have such a government, aren’t you? Plus your flat out arrogance in the face of the truth is to be expected also. I am done with you. We are in deep kimshee, and you know that too, yet you propose the impossible.

  35. jukeboxgrad says:

    You are the one with a fable here, not me.

    It’s math. The numbers balance if the Reagan tax cuts for the rich are undone. I proved this. You proved nothing, except that you’re in denial.