A Review of The Three Trillion Dollar War

The Three Trillion Dollar War: The True Cost of the Iraq ConflictThe Three Trillion Dollar War: The True Cost of the Iraq Conflict by Joseph E. Stiglitz

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Three Trillion Dollar War is a wake up call for all Americans, or at least it should be. Joseph Stiglitz, a Nobel winner in Economics, and his colleague Linda Bilmes, make a compelling statistical and even conservative estimate of the cost of the Iraq war, with some Afghanistan information thrown in for good measure. It’s truly startling. To be upfront about things, they are extremely critical of the Bush administration for getting us into this disaster, so they’re probably left of center, but that can’t diminish the actual statistics. First things first, though. They write on page 55 that “There is a simple message of this book… there is no free lunch, and there are no free wars. In one way or another, we will pay these bills.” Yep, that’s what you get for borrowing to fund an unnecessary war. Brilliant.

The authors work with a best case scenario and a “realistic” scenario in everything they do. In discussing the realistic cost to the lifetime treatment of the VA for disabled veterans, one of the war’s largest expenses, they argue that medical costs to veterans “will be $285 billion, $388 in disability benefits, and $44 billion in Social Security compensation, bringing the total long-term cost to the US government to $717 billion.” Quite a ways off from the original $50 billion figure throw out by Bush for the total cost of the war.

Another expense — using the National Guard and Reserve.

“‘The high use of the National Guard for federal overseas missions has reduced equipment available for its state-led domestic missions, at the same time it faces an expanded array of threats at home.’ … THE GAO estimates that as much as 44 percent of [their] equipment now needs servicing or replacement [as of 2007].

The full economic costs of the National Guard and Reserve deployment are thus far greater than any difference between what these individuals were paid and what they would have otherwise produced. When they are deployed overseas, we lose, of course, the enormously valuable services they provide in an emergency….”

The authors try to discuss the economic cost to the country what the loss of these veterans mean, as well as family members who have to quit their jobs to care for their disabled loved ones. One more severely wounded veteran is one more individual who cannot contribute to this country’s economy.

Replacing military equipment, as just indicated, is another cost of the war, since the military burned through equipment six times faster than when at peacetime.

In the “Macroeconomic Effects of the Conflicts” chapter, the authors argue that wars are actually bad — not good – for the economy. Further, “the numbers are staggering…. the total for Iraq is more than $4 trillion; including Afghanistan, it increases to $5 trillion.” Without interest. Stunning.

Not only are there costs to the US, but there are costs to Iraq and the rest of the world, which the authors address. They cite a Johns Hopkins study that, as of July 2006, put the increase in Iraqi fatalities at 654,965 and estimated that by March 2010, it will exceed one million. They then “conservatively” project two million injured. Honestly, Bush should be tried for crimes against humanity for the evils he was guilty of in starting and running this BS, unnecessary war that was originally begun with lies and deceit. Of course, the rest of the world started to take a hard look at America, and a Pew Survey “showed that in every country surveyed, the US presence in Iraq was viewed as a greater threat to world peace than North Korea. In short, all over the world, the United States was viewed as a greater danger than the countries President Bush included in his ‘axis of evil’.” Perhaps even worse,

“While we were focusing on weapons of mass destruction that did not exist in Iraq, North Korea acquired such weapons. Many analysts believe that our distraction in Iraq not only provided North Korea with an opportunity, which it seized, but that we provided North Korea with strong incentives: once it acquired these weapons, it would be more difficult for America to launch an attack…. Similarly, our willingness to strike preemptively against Iraq has delivered a clear message to Iran: the best way to deter US military intervention is to develop a nuclear deterrent. Indeed, many analysts have concluded that the primary beneficiary of US action in Iraq has been Iran, which is in a stronger geopolitical position than it has been for a long time.”

The authors are also quite hard on the use of contractors in Iraq and the ensuing expenses of such contractors. War profiteering it’s called. They finally argue that oil is the primary reason behind the war. “Oil has been at the center of the war from the onset. Many believe we went to war to get an assured supply of inexpensive oil for the United States and its oil companies.” Of course, the price of oil went from $25 a barrel pre-war to over $100 a barrel in 2007, right about the time the book was published. Pretty amazing. They quote Larry Lindsey, head of Bush’s National Economic Council, as saying that “The successful prosecution of the war would be good for the economy” and Alan Greenspan, former chairman of the Federal Reserve, as saying “If Saddam Hussein had been head of Iraq and there was no oil under those sands, our response to him would not have been as strong as it was in the first Gulf War.”

In the final chapter on methodologies used to find the figures in the book, the authors write,

“Virtually all economists are agreed on two propositions. The first is that there is no such thing as a free lunch: While the Bush administration may have tried to persuade the American people that it could fight a war without any economic sacrifices, economists know otherwise. The second is that because Bush tried to fight the war without increasing taxes, the Iraq war has displaced private investment and/or government expenditures, including investments in infrastructure, R&D, and education; they are less than the would otherwise have been. The result is that the economy’s future potential and actual output over the long term will be lower….”

This is a really comprehensive book that I could only briefly address without re-writing it word for word. At times, it’s boring, but it’s also startling in the information it conveys and the seriousness of such information. We’re going to be paying for this war for generations to come, and Bush never took that into account, especially as he lowered taxes while spending unbelievable amounts on this stupid war. I hate that man (and Cheney too). They destroyed this country, they destroyed the good that Clinton did, and they’re not being held accountable, which I think is a crime in itself. And Romney wanted to invade Iran. Why are Republicans so damn stupid? War hawks! This book should be a must read for every American who wants to be fully informed about the actual costs of the Iraq war and what it means for our country, now and in the future. Seriously recommended.
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