Trillion-dollar-business: US war spending spirals out of control

(By Deutsche Welle) The heated debate over the US debt ceiling focused almost exclusively on cuts in social security and raising taxes. But a main item of government expenditure was hardly addressed at all: the rising cost of the wars.

For weeks a fierce political fight over government debt raged in Washington. Both parties agreed that a default had to be avoided and that the debt burden of the US must be addressed.

But while Republicans pushed for a steep reduction of government expenditures mainly through drastic cuts in social programs, Democrats wanted to tackle the issue mainly by increased taxes for the rich.

In their zeal to cut welfare programs and raise taxes both parties completely neglected one area of government spending that comes with a hefty sticker price: the cost of war.

Back in the winter of 2002, when the United States was still contemplating whether or not it would wage war against Saddam Hussein, President George W. Bush’s key economic advisors estimated that an invasion would cost between $50 and $60 billion (35-41 billion euros).

With US troops scheduled to withdraw from Iraq by the end of 2011, the war there has cost a cumulative total of $806 billion over the past eight years, according to the non-partisan Congressional Research Service, dwarfing the Bush administration’s original projections.

Washington, however, has also spent a decade waging a counterinsurgency operation in Afghanistan and launching clandestine military strikes in Pakistan. A new study by Brown University entitled the “Costs of War” estimates that in total, when all is said and done, the United States will have spent between $3 and $4 trillion on foreign wars since the September 11, 2001 attacks.

“If you study the history of war, throughout the millennia those who have been in favor of going to war have always very substantially underestimated the costs in both blood and treasure,” Linda Bilmes, coauthor of the book the “Three Trillion Dollar War,” told Deutsche Welle.

“You had an administration where they were expecting a quick, cheap war.”

Continue reading

Iraq contemplates US troop presence beyond withdrawal deadline

(By Deutsche Welle) Both Washington and Baghdad are hinting at the continued deployment of American troops in Iraq beyond the December withdrawal deadline. Eight years after the invasion, foreign troops may still be necessary for stability.

After battling a bloody insurgency for years, the United States is set to turn the page on the Iraq War and withdraw its remaining 45,000 troops by December, 2011. The withdrawal from Iraq is part of US President Barack Obama’s stated strategy of refocusing American military power on the fight against al Qaeda on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.

But as the officially fixed deadline nears, political leaders in both Washington and Baghdad are equivocating on whether or not a full withdrawal should actually occur. The US has placed growing pressure on the Iraqi government to decide whether or not they want a residual American troop presence to remain in the country beyond 2011 to ensure security.

US Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who oversaw the 2007 surge of US troops credited with stabilizing Iraq, has signaled to Baghdad that Washington would be willing to support a continued military presence in the country.

“We are open to that possibility,” Gates said during a surprise visit to Iraq in April. “But they have to ask and time is running out.”

Meanwhile, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, while claiming that Iraqi forces can maintain internal stability, has also called for stronger military ties with Washington and has stated that he will leave the question of a US troop presence up to the Iraqi parliament.

Over the course of the past eight years, the United States has become deeply embedded in Iraqi society, acting as a critical mediator between the country’s fractious religious and ethnic groups. Although domestic pressure in the US and Iraq forced both sides to agree on the December deadline, political realities on the ground may demand a continued American military presence.

Continue reading