The Three Trillion Dollar War – The True Costs of the Iraq Conflict
|Book: The Three Trillion Dollar War: The True Costs of the Iraq Conflict|
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Publisher: W.W. Norton
The Three Trillion Dollar War – The True Costs of the
Following on their previous pronouncement that war costs could amount to as much as 1 trillion to 2 trillion dollars, ten times more than even then previously thought , Stiglitz and Bilmes have furthered their research into the cost of the war with their new title The Three Trillion Dollar War. But it isn’t – three trillion dollars that is. More than likely it will be much higher, as this “realistic-moderate” appraisal is continually described as conservative, with comments about always using the conservative numbers and even discounting certain costs as they could not be properly quantified. The “full tally” indicates “the numbers that we believe (conservatively) best captures the costs of the Iraq venture, even without counting interest – the total for Iraq alone is more then $4 trillion; including Afghanistan, it increases to $5 trillion.”
The book itself is generally a dry, well-written explanation of the kinds of costs incurred (death benefits, supplies and materials depletion, medical care into the future, future lost wages, interest on the debt, diseases, oil, rebuilding the economies…) and the methodologies used to establish the realistic value of the costs. There does not appear to be much room for anyone but a trained economist to argue with the figures, numbers so large that they are probably meaningless for most ordinary people to really comprehend.
Because the costs are being financed not through taxes on the citizens but through debt (money borrowed, mainly from overseas creditors) and because there is no readily visible military draft, the financial pain of this war is concealed from the American public, as are the physical and emotional pains of the returning personnel.
After the full tally is reached, the authors then continue on with “Global Consequences” where the economy reaches into a more politicized arena. The attempt to bring free market capitalism to Iraq via “shock and awe” therapy, combined with a complete disregard for international law have created a scenario where the U.S. is more feared, more disliked, than ever before on a global scale. Oil becomes one of the main areas of interest as the cost of oil (today hitting $112 per barrel) has ramifications throughout the world for the obvious area of transportation and its resulting cost increases, and also in areas like agriculture with the rapid rise in fertilizer prices. Associated with that, though not developed in this work, is the parallel technological search for alternate bio-fuels, both from a price and environmental perspective. The rush for “green” fuels that are cheaper and more environmentally friendly is fatally flawed as their costs, monetarily and environmentally, are more than the value gained from the product.
There is not much to argue with the bulk of this project, but as the authors reach into ideas for “Exiting Iraq” and “Learning From Our Mistakes” there is room for improvement. Specifically, Stiglitz still considers that the
Stiglitz and Bilmes indicate that “American leadership is important for addressing a host of global problems confronting the modern world,” a highly arguable statement. Cooperation and participation, yes, but there is a noticeable lack of leadership in any of
The first step, that is addressed well, is to get the
The suggestions for learning from their mistakes carry reasonable arguments as far as they go. There are the obvious points of having national (Congress) and international “checks and balances…on the power of the
In their final statement, they do get it right: “…war is about men and women brutally killing and maiming other men and women. The costs live on long after the last shot has been fired.”
What is not learned is that perhaps the world is overburdened with American leadership, with American rhetoric and jingoism about its supposed universal values that are applied very much in the homeland’s self-interest. The reforms
 Wilson, Jamie. “
 see Stiglitz and Charlton Fair Trade for All and Stiglitz Making Globalization Work, both flawed works. See reviews at http://www.palestinechronicle.com/view_article_details.php?id=13127 and http://www.palestinechronicle.com/view_article_details.php?id=13092.
Jim Miles is a Canadian educator and a regular contributor/columnist of opinion pieces and book reviews for The Palestine Chronicle. Miles’ work is also presented globally through other alternative websites and news publications.