How far off were they? Well, it depends on which figure you choose to start with. Here's the range: According to key officials in the Bush administration back in 2002-2003, the invasion and reconstruction of Iraq was either going to cost $60 billion, or $100-$200 billion. Actually, we can start by tossing that top figure out, since not long after Bush economic advisor Larry Lindsey offered it in 2002, he was shown the door, in part assumedly for even suggesting something so ludicrous.
Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz championed the $60 billion figure, but added that much of the cost might well be covered by Iraqi oil revenues; the country was, after all, floating on a "sea of oil." ("To assume we're going to pay for it all is just wrong," he told a congressional hearing.) Still, let's take that $60 billion figure as the Bush baseline. If economists Joseph Stiglitz and Linda Bilmes are right in their recent calculations and this will turn out to be more than a $3 trillion war (or even a $5-7 trillion one), then the Bush administration was at least $2,940,000,000,000 off in its calculations.
That definitely qualifies as a ballpark figure for an administration that never saw a budget estimate for one of its imperial dreams that it couldn't hike. Take just one of its major "reconstruction" projects: getting the vast US embassy staff out of a former palace of Saddam Hussein and into a brand-new, almost Vatican-sized "embassy," a genuine mother ship, being built from the ground up inside Baghdad's heavily fortified (and often heavily shelled) Green Zone. Originally scheduled to open in mid-2007, what will undoubtedly be the largest "diplomatic" mission on the planet was initially budgeted for $592 million. Predictably, its price tag soared another $144 million, and now comes in at $736 million, as yet unopened. In December 2007, the State Department officially certified it "substantially complete," but, as with most Bush administration construction projects in that country, it remains in a state of staggering unreadiness; two of the State Department employees who worked on it are now "under criminal investigation"; and the State Department is dragging its feet about handing over relevant documents to Congress. Ho-hum.