Read this book and take an actuarial stroll with two learned scholars through the infernal landscape of 21st Century war. Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz, and Linda Bilmes of Harvard University, provide a finely detailed and remarkably readable survey of the madness and tragedy of the Bush cabal's reckless invasion of Iraq. Every paragraph of this unsettling work is freighted with insights and information that enhance one's comprehension of the colossal mistake that is America's Middle East war.
Dollars are discussed in the billions and trillions. People like me for whom a million dollars still seems like a lot of money may be surprised to find that the war's three trillion dollar price tag is a manageable outlay of our nation's finances, and that there "is no risk that a trillion dollars or two or three will bankrupt the country." However the authors aver that there is another more relevant question: "What could we have done with a trillion dollars or two or three?"
One thing that might have been done, they state, is rectify Social Security's problems for at least the next 50 years. Many other opportunities have been squandered. The authors cite the National Priorities Project's tabulation of how a trillion dollars might have built eight million units of housing or hired millions of needed public school teachers, among other possibilities. And such peaceful and urgently needed investments would have left us all a lot more secure.
In the course of providing an array of facts and figures, the authors are aware that there are many costs that can never be quantified. The dead from all quarters leave grieving families and friends behind. The survivors of horrific wounds both physical and psychological must resume lives grimly altered from the ones they had led previously. And beyond these unquantifiable human costs, there are attendant calculable costs in regard to survivor's benefits and the substantial needs of the wounded. Note that many of America's veterans who have been disabled as a result of this war will require both financial and medical support for a long time to come.
The staggering hubris of the Bush and his cronies is well illustrated in the brief vignette depicting a Republican donor by the name of Foley who had been "appointed in August 2003 to head private sector development in Iraq." Foley planned to swiftly privatize all of the country's state-owned enterprises, but was then told that such action would be in conflict with international law. To this Foley replied: "I don't care about any of that stuff...I don't give a shit about international law. I made a commitment to the President that I'd privatize Iraq's businesses."
While the United States and Iraq "have been the biggest losers in this war," it would seem that ample costs emanating from Bush's fiasco have become globalized, with the most obvious being the increased price of oil. And a lot of that money goes into the pockets of "dictators in oil-producing countries," some of whom are openly anti-American and anti-Western. "This redistribution of global power is not something to be enthusiastic about. Indeed it is hard to think of anything else that the United States could have done that would have been, on a global scale, so much against its own interests."
Stiglitz and Bilmes conclude their meticulous analysis of mayhem with a discussion of 18 suggested reforms "designed to ensure that we have better information in the event the United States considers marching into war, or as we continue with any prolonged conflict." One of these reforms, No. 9 insists that the cost of any war that might last more than one year must be borne by current taxpayers "through the levying of a war surtax." One fought on borrowed money and in a far away place "has become too easy for America. The average American was not asked to risk his own life, or the life of his children, in Iraq. Nor has he been asked to pay higher taxes." This situation leaves too many blissfully indifferent to the costly carnage of military ventures. A requirement of payment in the present would surely be noticed by many citizens, who now pay scant attention to war's stark reality.
"This war has not been good for the American economy or for the world economy, and we are likely to feel the ramifications for years to come." One can only hope that The Three Trillion Dollar War will be well received and widely read, and that the clear thinking manifested by Stiglitz and Bilmes will help us to avoid future extravagant, wasteful, and murderous catastrophes.