What The Neocons Don’t Ask: How Much Will It Cost To Stay In Iraq?

In an op-ed in the Washington Post last week, Sens. John McCain (R-AZ), Joe Lieberman (I-CT), and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) complained about a report that the Obama administration is considering keeping 3,000 U.S. troops in Iraq past the end-of-the-year total withdrawal deadline — not because the president is maintaining a U.S. troop presence there, but because it’s too small:

We have frequently traveled to Iraq, meeting with national leaders in Baghdad, local officials throughout the country, and U.S. military commanders and diplomats. What we have consistently heard on these visits is that Iraq’s security and stability will require a continuing — though greatly reduced — U.S. military presence after the end of this year, when our current security agreement with Iraq expires. We have also heard that, given the essential missions that this post-2011 force must carry out, no fewer than 10,000 and as many as 25,000 troops will be required. No one has suggested that 3,000 would be enough.

While Army Chief of Staff and former top U.S. commander in Iraq Gen. Ray Odierno and Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Adm. Mike Mullen have both suggested that it may be unwise to keep a large U.S force structure in Iraq, McCain, Lieberman and Graham conveniently omitted that the Iraqis may not want tens of thousands of U.S. troops in their country past 2011. But that’s not all they left out. As Just Foreign Policy‘s Robert Naiman points out in a letter to the editor, keeping American forces in Iraq beyond the pullout deadline costs money:

According to the Congressional Research Service, it currently costs an average of $802,000 to keep one U.S. soldier in Iraq for one year. At that rate, to keep 10,000 U.S. soldiers in Iraq from 2012 to 2021 would cost $80 billion; to keep 25,000 soldiers there would cost $200 billion. This $200 billion represents one-sixth of the $1.2 trillion target of the debt reduction “supercommittee.” It is also more than the government would save over 10 years if it were to cut the cost-of-living adjustment for Social Security and raise the Medicare retirement age to 67, as earlier discussed by President Obama and House Speaker John A. Boehner.

It’s not surprising McCain and Co. didn’t consider the financial burden of keeping a sizable U.S. force in Iraq indefinitely, ignoring the war’s cost has been a hallmark of the entire campaign.