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A Costly Exit from Iraq

Measured in blood, the price tag in Iraq is absolute: 4,238 Americans (PDF) have died during America's six-year war. For Iraqis, the toll is far greater., which tracks body counts reported by the media, notes nearly 45,000 civilians have been killed since Iraq's Shiite-led government was formed in April 2005; another website puts the tally since 2003 close to 100,000. Yet as the Pentagon prepares its exit strategy in line with President Barack Obama's announced plans to end the war by 2012, a wholly different calculus is emerging. With the end of combat rhetorically on the horizon, the cost of leaving is now measured in financial, logistical, and, above all, political terms.

Obama told marines at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, that while the United States would leave Iraq "sovereign, stable, and self-reliant," the price of staying had become too great. "What we will not do is let the pursuit of the perfect stand in the way of achievable goals," the president said. "We cannot sustain indefinitely a commitment that has put a strain on our military and will cost the American people nearly a trillion dollars."

But if the mission has been expensive, the price of withdrawal is no zero-sum game. The United States has spent some $939 billion in combined operations since 2001, and the Obama administration has requested an additional $130 billion to pay for Iraq and Afghanistan next year (on top of the $75.5 billion the administration requested for the remainder of 2009). How much more it might need is pure guesswork. If Obama sticks to his threshold limit of fifty thousand American trainers in Iraq after combat ends--which the president says will happen by August 31, 2010--the United States could have as many...

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