THE IRAQ War was going to pay for itself from Iraqi oil revenues, according to senior Bush administration officials in the run-up to the U.S. invasion.
When it became clear that was unlikely, instead of raising taxes as we had done in every previous war, we cut them instead.
The upshot is that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan will cost U.S. taxpayers $4 trillion to $6 trillion, both in immediate costs like replacing equipment and rebuilding stockpiles of weapons and ammunition.
The biggest ongoing expense will be providing long-term medical care and disability benefits to veterans of the two conflicts.
These estimates are the work of Linda J. Bilmes, a respected Harvard public-policy professor and an expert in calculating the cost of our military ventures.
She figures the U.S. already has spent nearly $2 trillion on the military campaigns in those two countries. Those costs, she said, are only a fraction of the ultimate price tag.
"As a consequence of these wartime spending choices, the United States will face constraints in funding investments in personnel and diplomacy, research and development and new military initiatives," Professor Bilmes wrote in the new report, adding, "The legacy of decisions taken during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars will dominate future federal budgets for decades to come."
The report noted that the peak year in compensation for World War I veterans was 1969, and World War II veterans saw the largest payments from the government in the late 1980s.
Payments to veterans of Vietnam and the first Gulf War are still rising, Professor Bilmes wrote.
Early on, the Bush administration methodically cowed critics of its lowball estimates of the Iraq War.
According to The Washington Post, Stephen Friedman left his post as a senior White House official in 2002 after angering the president's inner circle by estimating the war could end up costing $200 billion.
Gen. Eric Shinseki was allowed to retire as Army chief of staff, rather than being reappointed, for telling Congress in early 2003 that the Iraq War and its aftermath would require "something on the order of several hundred thousand soldiers," far more than the Bush administration was letting on.
The number of troops in Iraq peaked at just over 150,000. Adding in the troops in Afghanistan and those stationed at sea and in support roles in neighboring nations brought the total to roughly 294,000 by December 2008, the Congressional Research Service reported the following July.
For the moment, members of Congress are preoccupied with the federal deficit and the national debt, to which these two wars contributed greatly.
But there are lawmakers and interest groups pushing the U.S. to intervene in Syria, attack and destroy Iran's nuclear program, root out the resurgent Islamic terrorist groups in North Africa and brace for a military provocation by North Korea.
Some of these military ventures may be necessary, even unavoidable, but the American people are owed an honest assessment of the probable costs and how much their taxes will have to go up to pay for them.