Video: Trump’s repeated claim the United States has spent $7 trillion in the Middle East

Over and over, Trump says the U.S. has spent $7 trillion on wars in the Middle East. Saying it so does not make it so. (Meg Kelly/The Washington Post)

“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!”
— President Trump, in a tweet, Feb. 12, 2018

“As of a couple of months ago, we have spent $7 trillion dollars in the Middle East, $7 trillion, what a mistake.”
— President Trump, in remarks ahead of an infrastructure roundtable, Feb. 12, 2018

For months, the Fact Checker has called out the president for a particularly misleading statistic — that the United States has spent $7 trillion on wars in the Middle East. He began using it in the campaign, back when he said $6 trillion, and in recent months he has used a figure of $7 trillion. Often it comes up when he is talking about spending on domestic infrastructure. According to our database of Trump claims, he said it at least 21 times in his first year in office.

The Facts

President Trump is lumping together the wars in Iraq (in the Middle East) and Afghanistan (in Central or South Asia), which together cost about $1.8 trillion from 2001 to 2017. He is also adding in estimates of future spending, such as interest on the debt and veterans’ care until 2056. Yet he consistently suggests that this is money already spent.

Our video above explains the problems with this oft-repeated stat.

So where is he getting this figure? It seems that the president is referring to a study by the Watson Institute of International and Public Affairs at Brown University on the cumulative cost of the wars including interest through 2056. To calculate this number, the study includes numerous estimates for spending that hasn’t yet happened. Some of these estimates are for peripheral services such as veterans’ care and terrorism prevention programs that happen on U.S. soil — not abroad.

Plus, it’s worth noting that Trump has expanded war expenditures since taking office, which will only increase these estimates.

The Pinocchio Test

Trump is using an overall estimate for a total of future spending — not past expenditures, as he claims. While the cost of the combined wars could reach upward of $7 trillion by 2056, that is almost four decades from now and still includes geography outside the Middle East. The president has had ample time to correct his facts. For his exaggerations, the president earns Four Pinocchios.

Four Pinocchios

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