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War costs weigh on Bush legacy

  • Story Highlights
  • War has totaled $608 billion, congressional panel estimates
  • Economists calculate that war costs could total $3 trillion
  • Bush says costs are needed to prevent a "strategic victory for our enemies"
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By Ed Henry
CNN Washington Bureau
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Ed Henry covers White House for CNN.

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- When I started covering the White House beat for CNN two years ago this month, the news cycle was dominated by a downward slide in Iraq.

President Bush Wednesday admits the war in Iraq has come with a high cost but is necessary.

I specifically remember White House officials being frustrated that bad news from Iraq was preventing President Bush from getting credit for -- get this -- a good economy.

The painful irony for the president's legacy, of course, is that now there's been a dramatic reversal.

On this fifth anniversary of the start of the war, Bush has success in Iraq to tout because of last year's surge of U.S. troops. But he's getting very little credit because the economy has gone sour. Video Watch Bush argue that U.S. "must win" in Iraq »

One of many factors in the economy's slide has been the war in Iraq, with the president himself noting Wednesday it has been "longer and more costly than anticipated."

The biggest cost, of course, has been the loss of life for nearly 4,000 Americans. But there has also been a major economic impact. The conflict has cost American taxpayers about $608 billion, according to the House Budget Committee, and counting.

A shocking number when you consider that Bush's own economic adviser, Larry Lindsey, was pushed out of the White House in 2002 for suggesting the war might cost between $100 billion and $200 billion -- less than a third of the current tab.

White House spokeswoman Dana Perino correctly points out that war planning is an imprecise science, and notes that funding expensive equipment like Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles is expensive but worth it.

"They've helped save lives and prevent injuries, and that's just one example of the many things that we are spending money on," she said earlier this month.

But with the president reiterating again Wednesday that he is determined to keep U.S. troops in Iraq until there is victory, it's likely there will be some level of American presence in Baghdad for many years to come, regardless of who wins the White House.

The presumptive Republican nominee, Sen. John McCain, has said he would keep at least some U.S. troops in Iraq for 100 years if necessary.

And even though Democratic candidates Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton have endorsed large-scale pullouts of Iraq, such a drawdown will take time.

As a result, economists Joseph Stiglitz and Linda Bilmes have estimated the long-term tab on the Iraq war to be in the neighborhood of a whopping $3 trillion.

They factor in years more of fighting, a sharp increase in veterans benefits as wounded veterans come home, and hundreds of billions of dollars just to pay the interest on the debt created from funding the war.

Bush fired back at this assessment during a speech at the Pentagon, suggesting the price tag was grossly inflated. "War critics can no longer credibly argue that we are losing in Iraq -- so now they argue the war costs too much," he said.


"In recent months we have heard exaggerated estimates of the costs of this war. No one would argue that this war has not come at a high cost in lives and treasure -- but those costs are necessary when we consider the cost of a strategic victory for our enemies in Iraq."

The next showdown comes in April, when Gen. David Petraeus will deliver another progress report to Congress. Democratic leaders will try and make the case that the cost of the war is sapping resources from important domestic priorities. But we've seen this movie before, and it always ends with the president getting his way on more war funding. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

All About Iraq WarGeorge W. BushEconomic Issues

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