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Op-ed's $3 trillion Iraq war estimate doubted by Pentagon

  • Story Highlights
  • In Washington Post, economist figures Iraq war will cost $12 billion a month
  • Pentagon spokesman says $3 trillion "seems way out of the ballpark to me"
  • White House spokeswoman says she doesn't know where figures come from
  • Nobel Prize-winning economist, former CFO at Commerce Department wrote piece
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Bush administration officials Monday expressed doubt about an economist's column published over the weekend saying the war in Iraq will cost the United States more than $3 trillion.

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U.S. soldiers aim their rifles Monday behind a military vehicle during a patrol at Al-leg, Iraq.

That number "seems way out of the ballpark to me," said Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell.

"I'm not an accountant. I'm not an economist. And I think that those who are have questioned the methodology of this particular survey," Morrell said.

The op-ed piece published in Sunday's Washington Post was written by Joseph E. Stiglitz, a Nobel Prize-winning economist and Columbia University professor who served as chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers under President Clinton. The co-author was Linda J. Bilmes, a former chief financial officer at the Commerce Department who teaches at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government.

The two say the war is running a tab of $12 billion a month -- $16 billion including military action in Afghanistan. And, they maintain, the economic downturn resulting from it is likely to be the greatest since the Great Depression.

"That total, itself well in excess of $1 trillion, is not included in our estimated $3 trillion cost of the war," the column said. "Others will have to work out the geopolitics, but the economics here are clear. Ending the war, or at least moving rapidly to wind it down, would yield major economic dividends."

Morrell said Monday the Iraq war has cost the United States $406.2 billion through December 2007.

"I think they [Stiglitz and Bilmes] throw everything in the kitchen sink into the survey, including the interest on the national debt," he said. "So it seems like an exaggerated number to us."

The wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and antiterrorist efforts abroad could cost $2.4 trillion over the next 10 years, according to an October 2007 estimate by the Congressional Budget Office. More than 70 percent would go to support operations in Iraq, and the figure included the estimated $600 billion spent since 2001, Congressional Budget Office Director Peter Orszag said in testimony before the House Budget Committee that month. That estimate also included projected interest, because the government is borrowing most of the funds required.

Stiglitz and Blimes' op-ed said that because Bush and Congress cut taxes after going to war, despite the massive deficit, the war had to be funded by more borrowing.

"By the end of the Bush administration, the cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan plus the cumulative interest on the increased borrowing used to fund them, will have added about $1 trillion to the national debt."

White House spokeswoman Dana Perino refused Monday to dispute the numbers contained in the piece.

"I don't know exactly where he gets all of it," she said. "I think that some of the things that he looks into in terms of veterans care, that we're going to take care of our veterans in the future -- absolutely, those types of things have to be included, but it's very hard to anticipate, depending on conditions on the ground and circumstances, how much the war is going to cost."

Modern equipment for U.S. soldiers, with technology that saves lives, is expensive, she noted.

"I don't think anybody is arguing that our men and women who are out there on the battlefield shouldn't have access to the MRAP [mine resistant ambush protected] vehicles," she said. "Those vehicles are very, very expensive. But they have helped save lives and prevent injuries. And that's just one example of the many things that we are spending money on."

Morrell noted the Pentagon still has a $105 billion war request for Iraq and Afghanistan pending in Congress.

"We here in this building are certainly doing our part to try to calculate as best we can, for the Congress, for the American people, what we think this is going to cost, even as the Congress has failed to provide us with the money we need to fight the war," he said.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada also addressed the piece in his floor remarks on the budget Monday.

"Seven years into the Bush administration, tax breaks for big business and the super-wealthy have combined with a $12 billion per month war in Iraq and cuts to investments in our workforce and infrastructure to create a budget deficit of more than $400 billion and a national debt that has grown by $3 trillion," Reid said. "The result? An economy that is failing millions of American families." E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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