The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) reported today that “total spending for U.S. operations in Iraq and Afghanistan and other activities related to the war on terrorism would amount to between $1.2 trillion and $1.7 trillion for fiscal years 2001 through 2017.” With $705 billion in interest, the cost of the wars could amount to $2.4 trillion — with $1.9 trillion in Iraq.
White House Press Secretary Dana Perino attacked the report as “a ton of speculation” and downplayed it as a creation “based on questions that Democrats in Congress that don’t want us to be in the war asked.” Perino added that the White House is not concerned about the exact cost of the war:
[I]t’s just a ton of speculation. It’s a hypothetical … What I can tell you is I’m not worried about the number. What I’m worried about is making sure that the president gets what he needs in order to provide the safety and security for the country.
The CBO’s projection is not “pure speculation.” In fact, the report considers a range of predictions about the U.S. military presence in Iraq, consistent with the administration’s desire for Korea-like, “enduring” occupation of Iraq. For example, in one scenario, the CBO predicts 30,000 troops deployed for the “war on terrorism” until FY2017. In another, they predict a more “gradual” decline to 75,000 by the start of fiscal year 2013 until 2017.
While the White House may not be “worried about the number,” the cost is certain to be harmful to the economy. “[I]t’s clear under analysis that the nation is on an unstable fiscal path,” CBO Director Peter Orszag told Congress today. The “higher debt and interest costs, is going to cause severe economic dislocation, which are exacerbated by war costs.”
USA Today notes, “In the months before the March 2003 Iraq invasion, the Bush administration estimated the Iraq war would cost no more than $50 billion.”
UPDATE: Tim Grieve adds: “CBO officials were asked this afternoon whether the $2.4 trillion figure represents their ‘worst-case’ scenario. No, they said: It represents only the worst of two different scenarios the CBO priced out. The real costs could actually be higher.”
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