Support Marketplace

Controlling war spending? Not accomplished

Protesters aligned with the group Americans United for Change held a rally this week near the White House to mark the fourth anniversary of President Bush's "Mission Accomplished" speech.

KAI RYSSDAL: Congressional Democrats sent the president their version of the Iraq war funding bill today. Despite White House promises to send it right back with a veto attached, which the president did late this afternoon.

There is some political symbolism in the timing of this whole thing. Today's the fourth anniversary of the president's "Mission Accomplished" speech.

Marketplace's Steve Henn reports something's been lost in the debate over troop withdrawal deadlines. He says the price tag for the war is approaching $500 billion — just about 10 times the advertised price.


STEVE HENN: Remember Larry Lindsay?
WASHINGTON EMPLOYEE: I knew he was in the Bush administration, but I can't remember under what department.

Even people who work a few blocks from the White House can't remember.

For the record, Lindsay was President Bush's first economic policy adviser. He was fired after he said the war in Iraq could cost more than $100 billion.

At the time, the official White House line was this war would be a bargain at $50 billion. Today, we've spent nearly 10 times that.

JOSEPH STIGLIZT: Paul Wolfowitz actually said that the war would pay for itself.

Joseph Stiglizt is a Nobel Prize-winning economist and served as former President Clinton's economic policy advisor.

STIGLIZT: The number half a trillion dollars is clearly a mind-boggling number.

So without a war to pay for, what could you do with that kind of money?

STIGLIZT: For just a little bit more than $500 billion, you could have fixed the Social Security problem for the next 75 years.

Or you could have doubled foreign aid to developing countries — not just aid from the U.S., but all development aid, period.

But Robert Hormats, the author of "The Price of Liberty"— a new book on paying for America's wars — says in comparison to past conflicts, the war in Iraq is a steal. The Second World War cost more than $5 trillion when you adjust for inflation, and Vietnam cost about $650 billion.

ROBERT HORMATS: We're definitely trying to fight the war on the cheap. And I think that's one of the things missing in this war — that Americans have not been asked to make any sacrifices.

Hormats argues the only ones sacrificing are the troops — who in some cases, despite this war's price tag, still aren't getting what they need.

In Washington, I'm Steve Henn for Marketplace.
President Bush addressed the nation on Iraq beneath a banner reading "Mission Accomplished" aboard the nuclear aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln on May 1, 2003. (Stephen Jaffe, AFP/Getty Images)

About the author

Steve Henn was Marketplace’s technology and innovation reporter for the entire portfolio of Marketplace programs until December 2011.

Comments

I agree to American Public Media's Terms and Conditions.
With Generous Support From...