Retired Gen. Hugh Shelton, the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, tells the Observer editorial board that President George W. Bush vastly underestimated the financial cost of the war in Iraq.
In a visit with the board on Tuesday, Shelton recalled talking with Bush about the cost before the 2003 invasion.
"President Bush told me, '$87 billion is what it will cost, and we can make that up with Iraqi oil money,'" Shelton said.
Of course, the war in Iraq ended up costing more than 10 times that. Estimates differ, but most studies suggest the war cost well over $1 trillion. A recent report from Brown University estimated the military actions in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan have cost around $3.3 trillion so far.
Other thoughts from Shelton, who grew up in the eastern N.C. town of Speed and now lives in Morehead City:
- He believes the military will make the repeal of the don't ask, don't tell policy work. But he worries that routine disagreements among soldiers could be wrongly cast as evidence of discrimination against gays. He told the story of a time when a black soldier and a white soldier of his got in a skirmish. The Army was going to investigate the level of racial tension in his division until Shelton told the whole story: the two were friends and the black soldier was trying to stop the white soldier from driving after drinking. Shelton hopes that isolated incidents involving gay service members aren't automatically assumed to be evidence of homophobia.
- He notes that defense spending has doubled in the past 10 years or so and believes it can be cut. But he hopes Congress listens closely to the joint chiefs and the secretary of defense about how to do so without imperiling troops' safety. Fewer members of Congress today have served in the military, he said, and so they are less familiar with the levels and kinds of training and equipment required for a high-quality military force. One place to start with cuts, he said: Pork barrel spending that has nothing to do with defense but is hidden in the defense budget.
-- Posted by Taylor Batten for the Observer editorial board