The Cost of the Iraq War

A columnist for the St. Petersburg Times has a column on the mounting cost of the Iraq war. It's stunning to me that the "liberal media" hasn't made a bigger deal out of the fact that the White House was either completely clueless about what the war would require, in terms of both troop strength and money, or they flat out lied about it. When Gen. Shinseki testified that the war would require a quarter million troops and a couple hundred billion dollars, Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz called a press conference the next day and declared his estimates "wildly off the mark." Turns out even that was a lowball estimate. Blumner spells out what the administration was saying in 2003:

It was only four years ago when Lawrence Lindsey, then-head of the White House's National Economic Council, estimated that the "upper bound" of the cost of going to war with Iraq would be between $100-billion and $200-billion.

The massive size of that estimate scandalized the Bush administration. Up until then, the Pentagon had been privately telling Congress to expect a cost of about $50-billion.

By February 2003, just weeks before the invasion, the numbers coming out of the Defense Department had grown to between $60-billion and $95-billion. But even then, Paul Wolfowitz, the deputy secretary of defense at the time, was telling Congress that the upper range was too high and that Iraq's oil wealth would offset some of the cost. "To assume we're going to pay for it all is just wrong," Wolfowitz told a congressional committee.

That was their fantasy; here's the reality:

Well, we've kissed the $200-billion limit goodbye long ago. We're currently out of pocket more than $400-billion and adding to the bill at the rate of $8-billion per month. Iraq's oil riches have contributed nothing at all.

So what's the current upper-range estimate? Trillions.

According to an analysis by professor Linda Bilmes of the Kennedy School at Harvard and professor Joseph Stiglitz of Columbia University, if you use government assumptions about the size of troop strength over the coming years, the war will cost us $1-trillion in direct budgetary outlays. Then, they say, add another trillion dollars for the war's adverse impact on our economy, such things as the loss of economic services by the men and women disabled during the war, the increase in the price of oil and other macroeconomic factors.

Bilmes says that most people have trouble understanding the scale of $2-trillion. To grasp the number, she says, one should think of it like this: "1-billion seconds equals 32 years; 1-trillion seconds equals 300 centuries."

So were they just living in a fantasy land or were they lying? I think a solid case can be made for lying. It's not as though they didn't have ample expert advice. Shinseki was not the only one telling them that their claims of a war on the cheap were absurd. There were dozens of voices both inside and outside the Pentagon who told them, including Gen. Anthony Zinni, who was at the time the head of Central Command - in other words, the guy who was in charge of drawing up the contingency plans for a war to topple Hussein.

Zinni has said publicly that all of his plans were thrown out by Rumsfeld, who at first actually believed that the war could be won with a mere 40,000 troops. Brig. Gen. Mark Scheid has said that Rumsfeld actually believed that there would be no post-war occupation, so much so that he threatened to fire anyone who even brought up the issue to him.

"The secretary of defense continued to push on us ... that everything we write in our plan has to be the idea that we are going to go in, we're going to take out the regime, and then we're going to leave," Scheid said. "We won't stay."

Scheid said the planners continued to try "to write what was called Phase 4," or the piece of the plan that included post-invasion operations like occupation.

Even if the troops didn't stay, "at least we have to plan for it," Scheid said.

"I remember the secretary of defense saying that he would fire the next person that said that," Scheid said. "We would not do planning for Phase 4 operations, which would require all those additional troops that people talk about today.

Is it really possible that they could have been that stupid and unrealistic? I don't think so. I don't have any experience in military planning at all, yet I knew before the war started that their estimates were wildly unrealistic. Did anyone really believe that we were going to go into Iraq, knock Hussein from power, and then just leave and everything was going to be hunky dory there? No one with an IQ over 8. Iraq was a powder keg being kept under wraps only by Hussein's brutality. Take that away and civil war was highly likely. This was a nation with no history of democratic government at all, and with three distinct religious groups that hate one another.

And did anyone really believe we were going to leave Iraq without setting up permanent military bases? I said from the start that this one of the primary real reasons we invaded (as opposed to the fake reasons they sold the public) was so that we would have permanent bases from which to project our military power in this volatile area of the world. But any sane person also had to know that doing so would provoke a furious response from the Iraqis and would require a very high level of security that only occupation would allow.

I just find it inconceivable that Rumsfeld and the rest of the gang could really believe what they were saying publicly and to Congress, that it would cost less than $100 billion because we'd be greeted as heroes and have lots of oil money to pay for it all. And to be fair, the notion that we were going into Iraq to steal their oil, a staple argument from war protestors at the time, has turned out to be highly absurd. If only we had stolen the oil, we might have been able to pay for all of this.

And this is at a time when we're also running $400 billion deficits and running up massive debts for social security and medicare that can only be funded by higher taxes in the future. This is a disaster in the making, all brought to you by the alleged party of smaller government and fiscal responsibility, who have had total control of the government for 6 years now.

More like this

Brig. General Mark Scheid has laid out what many others have been saying since before the Iraq war started in 2003, that Rumsfeld's plan for the war was based on absurdly rosy scenarios that bore little relation to reality. He adds one new element to the story: Rumsfeld actually threatened to fire…
Much has been written about the incompetence with which the Bush administration has pursued the war and post-war occupation in Iraq. I'd like to add to our understanding of that situation by looking, in hindsight, at what was predicted with foresight before the war. Many of the people who were…
Tim Russert interviewed General Anthony Zinni last night. In the early stages of the Iraq war, I wrote about Zinni a lot. He was the head of the US Central Command, the chief American military officer in the Middle East, until just before the war broke out. He was also one of the generals, along…
One of the most astonishing things about the Bush administration, in my view, is how many former officials have come out and criticized things the administration has done, and how little impact it has had politically. This can partially be chalked up to an uninformed populace, of course, but also…

And this is at a time when we're also running $400 billion deficits and running up massive debts for social security and medicare that can only be funded by higher taxes in the future. This is a disaster in the making, all brought to you by the alleged party of smaller government and fiscal responsibility, who have had total control of the government for 6 years now.

You have to remember, though, that the talk of "fiscal responsibility" and "smaller government" are euphemisms for "we hate the federal government altogether" when used by these guys. My suspcicion, when I have my tin-foil hat on, is that the unspoken motivation behind all this bloated spending is the Republican version of the "Bleed the Beast" philosophy of groups like the Warren Jeffs' Mormon Fundamentalists.

The logic is: 1. We hate the federal government and wish there wasn't one. 2. If the federal government is spent dry and overloaded with crippling debt, it won't be able to function. So 3. let's run up massive debt and spend every dime for decades to come, and voila, no more federal government.

The other tactic is to convince the public at large that any federal government is incapable of functioning well. Once people have fundamentally lost faith in the possibility of a competent federal government, they will stop even wanting one, much less a now-bankrupt one. Hence Katrina, incompetent foreign policy, an ineffective Congress, arguing that judges rule on whim and not the rule of law, etc. etc.

This isn't accidental incompetence, it's deliberate. That's the only explanation that makes sense to me.

So were they just living in a fantasy land or were they lying? I think a solid case can be made for lying.

Either way -- is this the administration you want running your country???

We already knew that one of these two things was true, although without so much overwhelming evidence, in 2004, and yet we re-elected these guys.

Lots of Republicans and conservatives continue to line up behind and support Bush. At some point, though, you'd think they'd wake up and realize that rank incompetence isn't what they want as the exemplary behavior of their party. Lyndon LaRouche was/is a Democrat, but he wasn't fully embraced by his party.

-Rob

Jeff, I see your point but I think it's mostly government providing for the common welfare they're against. Social Security, public schools, disaster relief, civil rights protections, etc. are bad. Exploitation, law enforcement and war, as ever, are good. It's more a question of the favored roles of government, not a simple good/bad thing.

By Countlurkula (not verified) on 03 Oct 2006 #permalink

The 300 centuries bit is good. Here is another one: There are about 150 million tax-paying entities in the US. Divide 2 trillion among them, and the bill comes to about $13,000 each.

I keep thinking about how well the money could have been invested in developing alternative energy sources so as to get ourselves off of mideast oil. Imagine the equivalent of the 30's TVA, but as a huge windfarm project in the Dakotas, or as solar arrays in the south west? Or how about 50% rebates to homeowners who put solar panels on their homes? Or how about...

Oh well, can't do any of that now, the money's already been spent.

Bilmes says that most people have trouble understanding the scale of $2-trillion. To grasp the number, she says, one should think of it like this: "1-billion seconds equals 32 years; 1-trillion seconds equals 300 centuries."

Well, that's just alarmist.

Many of the shrillest analysts make it sound like we've dug a deep hole somewhere and are just dumping money into it. That's not it at all. A lot, if not MOST, of that money is going into the pockets and bank accounts of gated communities right here in the USA.

It's like a transporter system exists, but most of us don't have access to it. Money is transported into the gated community of the Green Zone, and it magically appears in the accounts of mercenaries and profiteers in the US.

Isn't this what neo-liberal economics are all about?

By Double-Soup Tuesday (not verified) on 03 Oct 2006 #permalink