War by the numbers

The budget battle in Washington, D.C., has focused so far on where and how much to cut spending. Republicans have targeted federal funding for Planned Parenthood, public broadcasting and other political hot spots; Democrats want to go after oil and farm subsidies and tax breaks for corporations. A potential budget shutdown hangs in the balance.

But while all that energy is expended, military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan continue to drain hundreds of billions of dollars from public coffers — and take American lives in the process.

Marine Sgt. Matthew DeYoung of Talent was one of the most recent casualties in the continuing battle to control Afghanistan. His death brought the war home to Jackson County residents in a very real way.

Sgt. DeYoung is the 79th Oregonian killed in action in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Our state has its share of wounded soldiers as well — nearly 650 as of last week, according to the Department of Defense.

DeYoung was by all accounts an exemplary husband, father, son, brother and soldier. No one can put a price on the life he willingly risked and ultimately gave in the service of his country. Certainly the loved ones he leaves behind cannot.

We can, however, quantify what taxpayers are spending to continue the military operations that sent DeYoung and his fellow servicemen and women to Iraq and Afghanistan.

The website costofwar.com, operated by the nonprofit National Priorities Project, tracks the money allocated by Congress for both wars. Since 2003, $815 billion has been allocated for Iraq; since 2001, Afghanistan's total is $445 billion. In all, Congress has appropriated more than $1 trillion. And there is no end in sight.

True, the war in Iraq is officially over for the United States and troop levels have declined dramatically, although U.S. forces continue to maintain a significant presence there. Funding has declined sharply as a result, from $142 billion in 2008 to $65 billion in 2010.

But the dollars flowing to Afghanistan have risen at the same time to support the surge ordered by President Obama, from $43 billion in 2008 to $107 billion in 2010.

The result: The total for 2010 was $171.7 billion — the second-highest annual total for the two wars after 2008, when the price tag was $185.6 billion.

Meanwhile, lawmakers in Congress dicker over whether to trim $30 billion in spending (Obama's budget) or $61 billion (House Republicans).

Simply packing up and leaving Iraq and Afghanistan tomorrow is not the answer, of course. Obama has pledged to begin withdrawing forces from Afghanistan later this year.

But looking at that $1.1 trillion total expense to date makes it a little easier to understand how the federal budget deficit got to where it is today.

Share This Story