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AP FACT CHECK: Trump’s inflated claim on costs of war

February 12, 2018

President Donald Trump shakes hands with Iowa House Speaker Linda Upmeyer, as he arrives in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington, Monday, Feb. 12, 2018, during a meeting with state and local officials about infrastructure. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump is bemoaning the loss of trillions of dollars “stupidly” spent by the U.S. in the Middle East — money he said could have been used to rebuild American roads and bridges.

But that same pot of money he calls a “mistake” financed the military effort he brags about against Islamic State militants and his continuing push for U.S. aims in Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq.

He’s also just achieved a big boost in the military budget that, by normal accounting, would leave even less for those roads and bridges.

A look at his rhetoric Monday as he came forward with an infrastructure plan:

TRUMP: “This will be a big week for Infrastructure. After so stupidly spending $7 trillion in the Middle East, it is now time to start investing in OUR Country!” — tweet.

TRUMP: “I said this morning as of a couple months ago, we have spent $7 trillion in the Middle East — $7 trillion. What a mistake. And — but it is what it is. This is what I took over. And we’re trying to build roads and bridges and fix bridges that are falling down. And we have a hard time getting the money. It’s crazy. But think of that as of a couple months ago, $7 trillion in the Middle East, and the Middle East is far worse now than it was 17 years ago when they went in, and not so intelligently, I have to say, went in.” — remarks at White House infrastructure event.

THE FACTS: First, he’s using an inflated estimate. Second, he’s referring in part to predicted costs going decades into the future, not money that’s all been “spent.” Third, this isn’t only money that’s gone or going to the Middle East.

The Pentagon estimates that wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria have directly cost U.S. taxpayers more than $1.5 trillion. Actual costs are higher.

Boston University political scientist Neta C. Crawford, as co-director of the Costs of War Project at Brown University, estimated that as of September, U.S. wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Syria — plus additional spending on homeland security, the Pentagon and Veterans Affairs Department since the 2001 terrorist attacks — cost more than $4.3 trillion.

That rises to an estimated $5.6 trillion or more when anticipated future spending on veterans and other factors related to the wars so far are added.

Although that’s an expensive commitment, it’s far short of the $6 trillion or $7 trillion that Trump has been citing for several years, first as a candidate, then president. Even scholarly estimates involve ballpark projections, not just money that is gone.

And now some of the money reflects Trump’s own spending decisions. He’s added a few thousand troops in Afghanistan and committed the U.S. to remaining there indefinitely.

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AP National Security Writer Robert Burns contributed to this report.

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