The United States spends more on the military than any other country. In fact, when the costs of the war in Iraq and the global “war on terror” are added to the Pentagon’s annual budget, we spend nearly as much as the rest of the world combined.
Since 2001, lawmakers have appropriated $752 billion to pay for the Iraq war, the conflict in Afghanistan, and other activities associated with the global war on terror, according to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO). And there’s no end in sight: Just weeks after Sept. 11, 2001, Vice President Dick Cheney predicted that the war on terror “may never end. At least, not in our lifetime.” Presidential hopeful Sen. John McCain said early this year that if the U.S. occupation of Iraq lasts 100 years, “that would be fine with me.”
The administration has tried to hide these appropriations from public scrutiny by funding the Iraq and Afghanistan military operations through “emergency supplementals” rather than the normal budget process. These bills are cobbled together and sail through Congress with little oversight or opposition.
Where is this money coming from? Rather than raising taxes or slashing social spending dramatically, the White House has opted for deficit spending—essentially putting the war on our national credit card. This has long-term budgetary and economic consequences. According to the CBO, every $1 trillion in direct costs will necessitate that another $700 billion be paid in interest.
In The Three Trillion Dollar War, economists Joseph Stiglitz and Linda Bilmes look at the price that will have to be paid for the Iraq war, a price that includes interest on debt, the increased cost of oil, and the expense of providing medical care and disability benefits to the more than 70,000 soldiers injured in the conflict. They are already revising their initial $3 trillion estimate upward: In recent interviews, Stiglitz predicts long-term costs of as much as $5 trillion.