Panetta: Paying For Iraq War On Credit Was A 'Mistake'

Sen. Leahy, defense secretary say for future wars Washington must resist using national 'credit card'

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US Sec. of Defense Leon Panetta, center, speaks during ceremonies marking the end of US military mission in Baghdad, Iraq, Thursday, Dec. 15, 2011. After nearly nine years, 4,500 American dead, 32,000 wounded and more than $800 billion, U.S. officials formally shut down the war in Iraq a conflict that U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said was worth the price in blood and money, as it set Iraq on a path to democracy.
US Sec. of Defense Leon Panetta, center, speaks during ceremonies marking the end of US military mission in Baghdad, Iraq, Thursday, Dec. 15, 2011. After nearly nine years, 4,500 American dead, 32,000 wounded and more than $800 billion, U.S. officials formally shut down the war in Iraq a conflict that U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said was worth the price in blood and money, as it set Iraq on a path to democracy.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta says financing the Iraq war with borrowed monies and no tax hikes was a mistake.

The Congressional Budget Office has put the cost of the 2003-launched campaign at over $800 billion; President Obama has said it cost $1 trillion. The Bush administration opted to finance the campaign through measures that further inflated America's debt level, critics argue.

"We ran that war on a credit card," said Vermont Democrat Sen. Patrick Leahy during a Senate hearing today.

[Check out our collection of political cartoons on defense spending.]

"If we repeated the mistake," Panetta added, "that would add to the debt and the deficit."

The current level of U.S. outstanding public debt is $15.7 trillion; the Treasury Department says the federal deficit stands at $844.5 billion.

To avoid having future conflicts add to those figures, Panetta suggested Washington should raise federal revenues to pay for the nation's wars.

By borrowing war monies, "you just put the burden on our kids for the future," Panetta said. Officials and citizens must instead "realize that we all bear that burden."

John T. Bennett covers national security and foreign policy for U.S. News & World Report. You can contact him at jbennett@usnews.com or follow him on Twitter.

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