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Opinion: How to finance the war in Afghanistan?

A question that, for Obama, is likely to hit home all the way over there in China.

If you think about it, the hundreds of billions we borrow from China every year will go at least in part to fund the enormous cost of an escalation of troops in Afghanistan, a cost — in terms of lives and treasure.

The war in Iraq will end up costing this country more than 2 trillion dollars, according to the conservative projections of Linda Bilmes, an economist at the Harvard's Kennedy School of Government. The cost is higher still if you include interest on the debt, interest which will in a large measure be paid to China.

Bilmes has worked closely with the Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz to do the long math on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, to factor in not just the military budget and the interest on the debt but also the extraordinary high cost on every level of soldiers who are wounded physically and mentally by war.

Bilmes is credited with highlighting the failure of the administration of President George W. Bush to give an accurate cost assessment of a war that escalated several hundred times beyond the original projection of just $50 billion to $60 billion made by the Pentagon at the start of the war in 2003. She’s been proven right and she’s worried that the Obama administration may be fatefully making another miscalculation on the cost of war in Afghanistan.

And we’ve hit a profound turning point in Afghanistan. In this new budget year, which started Oct. 1, for the first time, the war in Afghanistan will cost Americans more than the war in Iraq.

And, as Bilmes points out, fighting in Afghanistan is more costly than it is in Iraq because of the terrain and the difficulty in supplying troops and evacuating the wounded. She estimates that Afghanistan is as much as 1.6 times more expensive per soldier than Iraq.

“While this administration has brought great military expertise to thinking this through, there needs to be a greater focus on the cost. How are we going to pay for this? People are still not looking at the long term costs,” said Bilmes.

And so as the President stares out the window of Air Force One pondering the dark skies in the long journey back to Washington, one can only hope that he has thought through the extraordinary cost — on every level — of calling for an escalation of troops in Afghanistan.