The Price Tag for Intervention in Libya

The Pentagon says that we've spent $550 million so far

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In his speech on Libya last night, President Obama declared that "while I will never minimize the costs involved in military action, I am convinced that a failure to act in Libya would have carried a far greater price for America." Now we have a price tag to peg to Obama's cost-benefit analysis--a valuable data point given mounting U.S. concerns about the budget deficit.

The Pentagon announced on Tuesday that the military intervention in Libya has, through Monday, cost the U.S. Defense Department $550 million in extra spending, with around 60 percent of the funds going toward bombs and missiles and the rest toward deploying and mobilizing troops to implement the no-fly zone. The figure does not include day-to-day expenses that the Pentagon would have incurred anyway like troop salaries, fuel costs, and equipment maintenance. Each of the 192 long-range Tomahawk cruise missiles the U.S. has launched from warships in the Mediterranean Sea costs between $1 million and $1.5 million, the Associated Press reports, and America has also flown 370 bombing missions and 613 surveillance and refueling missions so far.
President Obama has said the U.S. will be able to pay for the Libyan mission with money already appropriated for the Pentagon, The Washington Post's Walter Pincus explains, but House Speaker John Boehner has asked the President whether Congress will need to provide supplemental funding.
In recent days, analysts have provided alternate estimates for the cost of the Libyan intervention:
$600 Million in First Week  ABC News, using figures provided by the Pentagon, tallied up the costs of the cruise missiles and precision-guided bombs the U.S. has already employed, adding $60 million to replace the F-15 fighter jet that crashed in Libya last week (Think Progress points out that in an appearance on Fox News last night, Sarah Palin mistakenly suggested that the no-fly zone cost $600 million per day).
$15-$300 Million Per Week  In an analysis preceding the military intervention in Libya, the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments outlined a range of weekly costs depending on whether the U.S. enforced a no-fly zone over all of Libya, major population centers and points of conflict only, or just the coast. In assessing the report, The New York Daily News noted that the bill could increase if the U.S. began arming and supplying the rebels--an option America's U.N. ambassador, Susan Rice, did not rule out on Tuesday.
$2 Billion Per Day  Loren Thompson explains at Forbes that the estimates from the Pentagon and ABC News are based on the incremental cost of the Libyan intervention--the amount the Defense Department is shelling out that it wouldn't have otherwise. But the real cost should be $2 billion per day, he argues, because "that’s what the Pentagon and other security agencies of the federal government spend to maintain a posture that allows the military to go anywhere and do anything on short notice." Thompson wonders whether America can "continue to sustain the kind of global military posture that enables it to simultaneously execute a no-fly zone in Libya, a counter-insurgency campaign in Afghanistan, disaster relief in Japan, and a host of other operations from the Balkans to the Persian Gulf to the Horn of Africa."
As a point of reference, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have already cost the U.S. $1.2 trillion, according to the National Priorities Project.
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