FACT CHECK: Has The U.S. Racked Up $7 Trillion In Debt As A Result Of All Middle Eastern Wars?

Christine Sellers | Fact Check Reporter

In an Oct. 31 X post, businessman and 2024 presidential hopeful Vivek Ramaswamy claimed the U.S. racked up $7 trillion in debt as a result of the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars.

Verdict: Unsubstantiated 

While the figure is based on a study, at least one expert says the cost is lower, though still in the trillions.

Fact Check:

Ramaswamy has made a claim about the cost of American wars in the Middle East, stating that these conflicts have cost the U.S. $7 trillion.

“After 9/11, George Bush and Dick Cheney sent America’s sons and daughters – people my age – to die in the Middle East and racked up $7TN in debt for pointless wars that hurt this country,” Ramaswamy said in a Oct. 31 X post. He also made a similar claim during the Nov. 8 Republican debate.

“Her math assumes 7 trillion dollars of our 33 trillion dollar national debt going to fight wars in places like Iraq and Afghanistan,” Ramswamy said during the debate.

The claim is contested. According to a 2021 article from CBS News, the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars could cost Americans $6.5 trillion in interest alone through the year 2050. In contrast, a few years earlier in 2017, Defense One reported the wars could require up to $8 trillion in interest payments.

Both outlets cited a research study examining the costs of post-9/11 war spending conducted at Brown University’s Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs. According to the study, there is $2 trillion of existing war debt. If war spending ended, then interest payments would raise this existing war debt to over $2 trillion by 2030 and to $6.5 trillion by 2050. The study also points out that the interest payments will continue to increase as the U.S. accumulates more debt “to pay for the costs of the war.”

A data table included in the study indicates cumulative spending from 2001 to 2019 resulted in “cumulative interest accruals of $925 billion through 2020.”

Additionally, the Watson Institute states the federal government has “spent and obligated” $8 trillion on the wars in Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and elsewhere through fiscal year 2022. Included in this number are direct Congressional war appropriations, foreign assistance spending, increases in the homeland security budget, and veterans care and disability, among other considerations. Alternatively, the Institute points out that the $8 trillion does not include items such as macroeconomic costs to the U.S. economy and local government and private war costs. The numbers are up-to-date as of September 2021, according to the Institute’s website.

Furthermore, in a March 2019 report, the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) estimated the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria cost each taxpayer $7,623 through fiscal year 2018 or $1.5 trillion. (RELATED: Explaining Claims That Ron DeSantis Sent Weapons And Ammunition To Israel)

Dr. Heidi Peltier, who authored the study conducted by the Watson Institute, said the figure Ramaswamy cited in the X post is “roughly correct.”

“The amount is roughly correct.  The U.S. has spent nearly $6 billion on the wars, funded through debt.  We also have future obligations toward veterans that total over $2 billion.  So the $7 billion figure is in the right ballpark but not exact,” Peltier explained to Check Your Fact via email.

Michael O’Hanlon, a U.S. defense strategy expert, senior fellow and director of research in Foreign Policy at the Brookings Institution said the claim was “debatable, but not ridiculous” and estimated the cost of the two wars to be around $4 trillion.

“The U.S. never raised taxes for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars so in that sense, every penny we spent on those wars translated into an equal increase in federal debt. The official USG cost of the two wars combined is a bit more than $2 trillion,” O’Hanlon said. “However, the Watson Center at Brown University calculated that the true costs are $7 trillion or more (combined). I dispute some elements of the Watson methodology but they are serious.”

“I would estimate the cost of the two wars combined at around $4 trillion. The main added cost that I’d factor into the calculus is the future cost of veterans health care (and survivor benefits). These costs are sure to be incurred and they are the direct result of those wars for almost all the veterans of recent eras,” O’Hanlon added.

Check Your Fact has contacted the Ramaswamy campaign and the DOD for comment and will update this piece accordingly if one is received.

Christine Sellers

Fact Check Reporter