War Estimated to Cost More Than $100 Billion, with No Cap in Sight

The Dallas Morning News

March 7, 2003

WASHINGTON - The prospect of war with Iraq carries a growing price tag, with a rising number of items on the bill.

First there's the military cost itself - nearly all of it to be borne by the United States, unlike the coalition-financed Persian Gulf War of 1991.

Then there are ancillary expenses, ranging from aid packages to cooperative nations to the cost of occupying and rebuilding Iraq after Saddam Hussein is removed from power.

Estimates range up to $95 billion and beyond, though Bush administration officials said there is no way to say for sure how much war might cost.

Whatever the final price, they added, it would be far costlier to do nothing about what they called Saddam's efforts to secure chemical, biological and nuclear weapons.

"The risk of the security of this country being jeopardized at the hands of a madman with weapons of mass destruction far exceeds the risks of any action we may be forced to take," President Bush said.

Critics, meanwhile, said they wonder about the nature of what Bush calls a "coalition of the willing" to disarm Saddam.

"We find evidence of coercion, of bullying and acts tantamount to bribery as the United States assembles its coalition," said a report from the Institute for Policy Studies, a liberal think tank in Washington.

White House officials dismissed such charges as cynical, saying they are talking to countries - both members of the United National Security Council and others - about the need to confront Saddam.

"The president is not offering quid pro quos," said press secretary Ari Fleischer. "This is a time for nations to do what they estimate is the right thing to do to promote the peace."

Some foreign policy analysts said the United States and other countries all have things that others want. In this case, the Bush administration is very interested in international support to counter Iraq. Some potential recipients of new American aid have reasons for seeking help, especially Turkey and other countries that are neighbors of Iraq.

"It's trying to put each relationship on notice that this is important to us," said Chester Crocker, a professor with the Institute for the Study of Diplomacy at Georgetown University. "In connection with that, we talk about what is of interest to the other party."

While the administration is reportedly weighing supplemental budget requests of up to $95 billion, financial analysts said estimates for military action are almost always too low.

Bush administration officials agreed that it is impossible to say exactly how much military action in Iraq might cost. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said there are too many variables; in this case, the questions include whether Iraq retaliates with weapons of mass destruction and how many weapons sites the military might have to clean up.

"The people who tried to estimate those things for the Gulf War were flat wrong by an enormous amount," Rumsfeld said.

One thing for sure about this possible war: The U.S. bill would be higher because, unlike in the Gulf War, few if any other nations are contributing money this time around. Administration officials said that of the $61 billion cost of the Persian Gulf War, the U.S. share was about $11 billion.

An invasion of Iraq could cost $100 billion to $150 billion, said William Nordhaus of Yale University, who has studied the finances of war.

That, he said, assumes things go relatively well.

"If things go bad, the cost could be a whole lot more," Mr. Nordhaus said. "My presumption is the United States will pick up almost all of the military cost. Some of the postwar cost may be shared."

Some costs may never be known, as the Bush administration negotiates new aid packages with allies, creating more financial uncertainty and drawing criticism from congressional Democrats.

Democrats have used the prospective cost of the war to attack Mr. Bush's proposed tax cut package, saying the nation cannot afford both, especially with large budget deficits already looming.

"We are reading about deals that are being cut with Turkey and other allies that we have no way of scoring or keeping a tab on," Rep. John Spratt, D-S.C., top Democrat on the House Budget Committee, said last week, before the Turkish parliament denied permission for U.S. troops to be deployed there. "We don't really know what the cumulative cost of this effort is likely to be."

Hoping to use Turkey as a staging base for action in neighboring Iraq, U.S. officials had discussed a package to include at least $10 billion in aid and loan guarantees. The Washington Post has reported that U.S. officials also offered to relax textile trade rules so that the Pentagon - currently required to "buy American" - could purchase clothing made in Turkey.

Administration officials have said Turkey is a unique case, its proximity to Iraq making it vulnerable to counter-attack. Turkey had to deal with a flood of Kurdish refugees after the Persian Gulf War, which wrecked its tourist industry and hurt its economy overall.

Other countries in Iraq's neighborhood are also seeking more aid, saying this military conflict will damage their economies as well. Egypt and Jordan are looking for more aid, while Israel is requesting $4 billion in grants and $8 billion in loan guarantees.

Members of the U.N. Security Council are also high on the administration's list for negotiations. The United States and Great Britain are seeking support for a new resolution holding Iraq in continued violation of U.N. demands for disarmament, a vote that could open the door for an American-led invasion.

Mexico and Chile are known to be interested in immigration changes, analysts noted, while Guinea, Cameroon and Angola are recipients of American aid.

After a recent meeting with Bush, the prime minister of Bulgaria said that he and the president discussed "the topic of possible guarantees for Bulgaria and our role in the Security Council."

Some countries are also looking for help, whether it is support for NATO membership (Albania, Croatia, Estonia, Latvia) or simply bolstering their relationship with the United States (Australia, Denmark, Italy, the Czech Republic).

The Institute for Policy Studies and other critics noted that some countries could have their aid cut if they don't back the United States on Iraq, particularly smaller nations like Security Council members Angola and Guinea.

"This is changing from leading a coalition of the willing to herding together a coalition of the coerced," said Joseph Cirincione, a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Bush administration officials said their allies are neither blackmailed nor bribed.

"You're saying that the leaders of other nations are buyable, and that is not an acceptable proposition," Fleischer said.

Analysts noted that the United States went through a similar diplomatic dance while seeking support for an invasion of Afghanistan after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Those negotiations included a free-trade agreement with Jordan, the lifting of sanctions against Pakistan and India over their nuclear development and new aid for Turkey from the International Monetary Fund.

"It's all over the map," said Crocker, the Georgetown University professor. "It really depends on each individual relationship."


(c) 2003, The Dallas Morning News. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service