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Conflicts' costs may exceed $700 billion

San Francisco Chronicle | July 26, 2005
By James Sterngold

The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have already cost taxpayers $314 billion, and the Congressional Budget Office projects additional expenses of perhaps $450 billion over the next 10 years.

That could make the combined campaigns, especially the war in Iraq, the most expensive military effort in the last 60 years, causing even some conservative experts to criticize the open-ended commitment to an elusive goal. The concern is that the soaring costs, given little weight before now, could play a growing role in U.S. strategic decisions because of the fiscal impact.

"Osama (bin Laden) doesn't have to win; he will just bleed us to death," said Michael Scheuer, a former counterterrorism official at the CIA who led the pursuit of bin Laden and recently retired after writing two books critical of the Clinton and Bush administrations. "He's well on his way to doing it."

The Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, a nonpartisan Washington think tank, has estimated that the Korean War cost about $430 billion and the Vietnam War cost about $600 billion, in current dollars. According to the latest estimates, the cost of the war in Iraq could exceed $700 billion.

Put simply, critics say, the war is not making the United States safer and is harming U.S. taxpayers by saddling them with an enormous debt burden, since the war is being financed with deficit spending.

One of the most vocal Republican critics has been Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, who said the costs of the war -- many multiples greater than what the White House had estimated in 2003 -- are throwing U.S. fiscal priorities out of balance.

"It's dangerously irresponsible," Hagel said in February of the war spending.

Democrats have also raised concerns about the apparent lack of an exit strategy and the fast-rising costs, particularly since President Bush has chosen to pay for the war with special supplemental appropriations outside the normal budget process.


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