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Military spending: up and away

The combined cost of Iraq and Afghanistan already surpasses the cost of the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and the Gulf War.

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Whatever the merits of US military action in Afghanistan and Iraq, one thing seems clear: It's very expensive.

If this week's White House request for $196 billion more for Afghanistan and Iraq is included, total costs for these operations will reach about $808 billion by the end of next year, according to figures compiled by the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments (CSBA).

That's more than the Gulf War ($88 billion in today's dollars), or Korea ($456 billion), or Vietnam ($518 billion). It's within shouting distance of the price of the Korea and Vietnam conflicts combined.

But the US economy is much larger today than it was in, say, 1968 – meaning the financial burden on the nation posed by these costs is correspondingly lighter.

And despite the rising price tag, Congress is unlikely to make significant trims in the administration's latest war-appropriations request. Democratic Party leaders just don't have the votes.

"For fear of being accused of not supporting the troops, Congress will not deviate much from what the administration has requested," predicts Gordon Adams, an American University professor of international relations.

President Bush's Oct. 22 request to Congress for $196 billion in supplemental defense funds for fiscal year 2008 is a revision of a previous $150 billion request upon which lawmakers had not yet acted.

A large portion of the extra $46 billion would be channeled into Army procurement – specifically, the purchase of new, more bomb-proof armored vehicles, and general replacement of munitions expended and equipment worn out from years of fighting.

Operations and maintenance would also get additional funding.

"The bill provides for basic needs, like bullets and body armor, protection against [improvised explosive devices], and mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicles," said Mr. Bush on Monday. "It also funds training missions, vital embassy programs, improvements in Iraqi security forces, and intelligence operations that protect our troops."

Operations in Iraq and Afghanistan are funded separately from the overall defense budget. Congress has yet to pass the administration's $481 billion request for general 2008 Pentagon spending.

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