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During an interview with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer on Oct. 28, 2011, Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., sought to blame President Barack Obama for the costs and lives lost in Iraq. Here’s the exchange:
Bachmann: "My main challenger right now is Barack Obama. That's who I'm focused on. His economic policies are a disaster, and his foreign policy is even worse. Under Barack Obama's watch, we have expended $805 billion to liberate the people of Iraq and, more importantly, 4,400 American lives. President Obama just had his hat handed to him by the Iraqis, who have essentially kicked him out and our people out of Iraq while Iran is waiting in the wings. So Iraq is essentially kowtowing to Iran. Iran is seeking to have a nuclear weapon. They want to wipe Israel off the face of the map, and they want to use a nuclear weapon against the United States. And the president said sure, we'll get out. So, the president has done nothing to secure America's safety and security. He's been a disaster on foreign policy."
Blitzer: "But as far as Iraq is concerned, the Iraq War, which started in March 2003 -- that was President Bush and the Republicans who launched that war that went on for years. This current president is now withdrawing all of those troops from Iraq. Don't you give him credit for that?"
Bachmann: "Wolf, the current president is being kicked out of Iraq. The president of the United States has gotten nothing."
Blitzer: "You want those troops to stay there?"
Bachmann: "This is a bipartisan effort --"
Blitzer: "Do you want those troops to stay in Iraq?"
Bachmann: "Wolf, this was a bipartisan effort when the decision was made regarding Iraq. I wasn't in Congress at that time, but this was a bipartisan effort. This was not just a Republican effort. What President Obama has failed to do is secure the gains that America paid for with an extremely dear cost -- 4,400 American lives, nearly a trillion dollars in expenditures, and we have nothing to show for it. And we may look at (an Iraqi) government which has admitted they cannot secure the peace. …"
There’s a lot here, but we thought we’d check whether it’s accurate to say that "under Barack Obama's watch, we have expended $805 billion to liberate the people of Iraq and, more importantly, 4,400 American lives." After Bachmann said that, Blitzer pushed back, noting that "the Iraq War, which started in March 2003 -- that was President Bush and the Republicans who launched that war that went on for years."
Though Bachmann didn’t acknowledge Blitzer’s point about the timing of the war in the interview, Blitzer was right to press her.
From 2003 to early 2009, President George W. Bush was commander-in-chief overseeing Iraq. Only in January 2009 did Obama take over. So how do the statistics for money and lives break down between the two presidents?
For dollar figures, we turned to a report by the Congressional Research Service titled, "The Cost of Iraq, Afghanistan, and Other Global War on Terror Operations Since 9/11," published on March 29, 2011.
Through March 18, 2011, the cumulative enacted dollars spent on the Iraq war from fiscal year 2003 through fiscal year 2011 was $805.5 billion. So that’s where Bachmann’s figure came from. But that covers at least six fiscal years during the Bush presidency. It's a ridiculous exaggeration to attribute all that spending to Obama. (There’s been additional spending under Obama since March 18, 2011, but not nearly enough to bring his total up to $805 billion.)
For deaths, we turned to an independent monitoring organization called iCasualties.org, which is considered a credible source of such data; here’s some background on the group.
The group found that a total of 4,482 Americans have lost their lives in Iraq since the start of the war in 2003. Once again, Bachmann is close with her number but way off on attributing responsibility. Of those deaths, approximately 261 came on Obama’s watch, or about 6 percent of the total.
Bachmann’s numbers are essentially on target, but she errs badly in blaming Obama for all $805 billion spent and 4,400 American lives lost in Iraq "on his watch." Most of the money spent and lives lost in Iraq came during George W. Bush’s presidency. The idea that Obama -- who wasn’t even in the Senate until two years into the war -- is responsible for all the costs and casualties in Iraq is ridiculous. We rate her statement Pants on Fire.
Michele Bachmann, interview with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, Oct. 28, 2011
Congressional Research Service, ""The Cost of Iraq, Afghanistan, and Other Global War on Terror Operations Since 9/11," March 29, 2011
iCasualties.org, "Coalition Military Fatalities By Year," accessed Oct. 31, 2011
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