President Barack Obama's decision to sharply reduce troop levels in Afghanistan over the next several years reflects in part a growing aversion to the enormous cost of war as Congressional lawmakers spar over deficit reduction and states and municipalities endure successive waves of painful budget cuts.
A March analysis by the Congressional Research Service estimated that the conflicts set in motion by Sept. 11, 2001 have cost a combined $1.283 trillion. To put that in perspective, the contentious bipartisan talks aimed at putting together a deficit reduction package have set a goal of slicing $2 trillion over the course of the next decade.
Last year, spending on Afghanistan grew while Iraq trended in the opposite direction, paralleling Obama's redirected emphasis on Afghanistan. Obama acknowledged the nation's weariness with the costly conflict during Wednesday's speech, saying that it was time to focus on nation-building at home.
The Washington Post's Ezra Klein crunched the Congressional Budget Office numbers Thursday and found that Obama's promise to wind down American involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan could produce about $1.4 trillion in savings over the next decade, assuming troops totals there steadily decline. The immediate savings would likely be less substantial -- the ranking Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, U.S. Rep. Norm Dicks of Washington, forecast savings of about $25 billion over the next two years, while Center for a New American Security fellow Travis Sharp said that the plan could produce as little as $7 billion in savings next year.
The cost-savings benefits of withdrawing troops from Afghanistan have been majorly oversold by our political leaders, Sharp told Bloomberg.
Troop levels are not the primary driver of costs, according to the Congressional Research Service report. Carrying out operations, maintaining equipment and researching, developing and procuring new equipment played a larger role in driving up prices.