And even if the number of combat troops declines as planned, the final price tag for the wars by 2018 will be between $1.3 trillion and $1.7 trillion, according to a study released by the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, a nonpartisan policy research group.
As President Bush returns from his final presidential tours of the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the CSBA study warns that the additional burden of accrued interest payments could easily push that tab to $2.5 trillion, depending on how the cost is financed.
That's a steep price, even compared with past conflicts. "In real (inflation-adjusted) terms, the war in Iraq alone has already cost more than every past U.S. war but World War II," the study finds. Cost estimates by the administration on the eve of the war, meanwhile, proved to be wildly optimistic and unrealistic. "Costs have already exceeded initial administration estimates by roughly an order of magnitude," the report adds.
In the end, the confusion around the actual costs of the conflicts makes exercising oversight difficult, the CSBA concludes.
"The Bush administration has budgeted for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in a way that differs markedly from the approach typically used to fund past wars. Because of its reliance on supplemental appropriations, often submitted in the middle of the year and supported by inadequate justification materials, the process has reduced the ability of Congress to exercise effective oversight. It has also tended to obscure the long-term costs and budgetary consequences of ongoing military operations."
A separate, voluminous government report (currently in an unpublished, draft form obtained by the New York Times and ProPublica) offers a scathing indictment of the Bush administration's Iraqi reconstruction efforts.
Compiled by the Office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, the report catalogs a $117 billion boondoggle marred by corruption, graft, mismanagement, and false and misleading reports from the military about the success of its own efforts to fix the country's shattered infrastructure and stand up its security forces. While all periods of the rebuilding project have been marred with dysfunction, the report sums up the period of reconstruction during 2004 and 2005—in the midst of an increasingly lethal insurgency—as a badly organized "adhocracy."
The inspector general has monitored reconstruction projects for years and drew the most recent findings from more than 600 audits and 500 interviews. The final draft will be made public on February 2 at a hearing of the Commission on Wartime Contracting.
The glum assessments of U.S. efforts have been matched by an increasingly frank tone from military commanders, who acknowledge that despite plummeting levels of violence, Iraq's physical infrastructure is shattered.
"The infrastructure situation in Iraq is abysmal. It's terrible in every single industry," concluded Maj. Gen. Mark Hertling, the commander 1st Armored Division, when he returned from his latest tour in Iraq.
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