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The Spiraling Cost of the Iraq War

The U.S. Senate is considering additional emergency funding for the war in Iraq. According to the U.S. Congressional Research Service, a non-partisan research arm of Congress, that cost will soon reach $320 billion and could eventually exceed expenditures for the war in Vietnam. VOA's Peter Fedynsky examines the relationship between the price of war and the ability to fight.

Congressional researchers say the cost of the war is spiraling upward, from $51 billion in 2003 to nearly $102 billion this year, or $2 billion each week. This contradicts optimistic pre-war estimates, when Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld testified in Congress that the effort would not be a burden.

"Before we turn to the American Taxpayer, we will turn first to the resources of the Iraqi government and the international community,” the secretary said.

The resources, however, have not materialized, and oil production -- which was to have been Iraq's major contribution -- has been severely cut by war.

Adding to the cost is maintenance of equipment, which was not expected to be in combat for so many years, not to mention the continued price of ammunition and injuries.

Independent defense analyst Steven Kosiak says the war is being paid with money America does not have. "Currently we're paying for this war essentially on our credit card. We're not raising taxes, we're not cutting other programs to pay for it and that adds to the federal debt."

"We are able to finance the war on credit flows from abroad," adds Jeremy Shapiro, a military researcher at the Brookings Institution think tank in Washington, D.C. He says the United States has a good credit rating with international investors. But, he cautions that this cannot continue indefinitely and predicts that President Bush will need to make some hard choices.

"It makes it difficult for him to accomplish his domestic priorities,” says Shapiro. “This is a classic dilemma that wartime presidents get themselves into."

Shapiro cites President Lyndon Johnson, who failed to reconcile the political priorities of his ambitious domestic social agenda known as "The Great Society” and those of the Vietnam War. That war cost 541 billion in today's dollars.

The Brookings researcher notes, however, that America today is spending only four percent of its gross domestic product on defense, compared to six percent during the Reagan presidency and 10 percent in the 1950's. Shapiro, therefore, concludes that the funding issue today is not so much a question of economic ability, but political will on the part of the American people.

"From a political perspective, the notion that you might say to people, 'OK, we are fighting this war, that means here is how much you have to pay for it, and here its coming out of your pocket’ would be something, which would bring home the costs and would encourage a more practical, less abstract debate about what the war really is and what the war really means," Shapiro said.

In the meantime, U.S. soldiers are deeply engaged in Iraq. And President Bush repeats the position he laid out at the start of the war.

"My attitude is, anytime we put one of our soldiers in harms’ way, we're going to spend whatever is necessary to make sure they have the best training, the best support, and the best possible equipment," said the president.

Mr. Bush made the statement in 2003 when the annual cost of the Iraq war was 51 billion dollars. The Senate is likely to approve a supplemental request for the current year of nearly twice that amount.