One Iraq War –That’S $3 Trillion To You, Mr BushFebruary 24, 2008 21:35 What a difference a few months make. Iraq was going to be Gordon Brown’s big prime ministerial headache but since the withdrawal of British troops from Basra it has slipped well down the political agenda. Brown took the poisoned chalice left by Tony Blair and quickly poured it down the drain. He has a sea of troubles, but Iraq, for now at least, is not high on the list of them.
In America, Iraq was going to dominate the presidential campaign, pundits predicted. If Barack Obama’s team have their way, it still will. They have been trying to generate some heat by reminding the electorate that John McCain and Hillary Clinton supported the war at first, unlike Obama, and have even been calling it the “Bush/McCain war”.
But, partly because of the success of the US troop surge in reducing casualty numbers in Iraq, and in particular the bodybag count for American forces, the issue is not as salient as it was. Polling in America shows that voters think the troop surge is working. They think the war was a mistake and are highly critical of George W Bush’s handling of it, but Bush is on his way out and Americans have something else to think about: the state of their economy. With main-stream forecasters talking about an election-year recession, even a foreign policy issue as explosive as Iraq has slipped into the background.
If Joe Stiglitz has anything to do with it, however, it will not remain there. He is the Nobel prizewinning economist who, unlike most who get to those dizzy intellectual heights, has refused to remain in an ivory tower.
Eight years ago he quit his position as chief economist at the World Bank, having launched an outspoken attack on its sister organisation, the International Monetary Fund. He said the fund was made up of “third-rate economists from first-rate universities”, peddling snake-oil remedies to poor countries desperate for economic development.
He wrote a book, Globalisation and Its Discontents, which made him a poster boy for the antiglobalisation movement. Another, Making Globalisation Work, tackled the question of how to make the world’s poor benefit from free trade. Having been an economic adviser to Bill Clinton in a decade he calls the Roaring Nineties, he has been keen to contrast the success of that era – in which a Democrat president slashed the budget deficit – with the troubles of the Bush era.
Stiglitz’s big passion now, however, is Iraq. In his new book, The Three Trillion Dollar War, written with Linda Bilmes (and published in Britain by Allen Lane), he argues that not only has the cost of the conflict been much greater than anybody close to the White House has admitted, but that the war is closely tied in to America’s present economic woes.
Three trillion dollars – or about £1.5 trillion – is a lot of money, particularly when contrasted with the White House’s initial estimates of $50-$60 billion. It dwarfs even official estimates of the cost of the war so far as about $645 billion.
Yet the book’s title, if you believe the figures, undersells it. Three trillion dollars is just the cost to America. The cost to the rest of the world, he suggests, is roughly the same again. Six trillion dollars, to put it in perspective, is nearly half America’s annual gross domestic product. Are these numbers plausible and why do they differ so much from the official figures?
It comes down, in the end, to what you choose to measure. The White House, which has an interest in playing down the financial impact, has focused on direct budgetary costs to America. Even these can be played in a number of ways. If you are maintaining a large regular army anyway, what is the additional cost of deploying it in the theatre of war?
War Costs Next Year Estimated At $170 Billion Or MoreFebruary 06, 2008 13:37 The military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan could cost $170 billion in the next fiscal year over and above the $515.4 billion regular Pentagon budget that President Bush has proposed, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said on Wednesday.
Mr. Gates gave that estimate in testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee after cautioning the panel that any estimate would be dicey, given the unpredictability of war.
“Well, a straight-line projection, Mr. Chairman, of our current expenditures would probably put the full-year cost in a strictly arithmetic approach at about $170 billion,” Mr. Gates said in response to questions from Senator Carl Levin, the Michigan Democrat who is the head of the committee.
So, Mr. Levin pressed, “That would be a total then of $685 billion” in Pentagon spending for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1. “Does that sound right?”
“Yes, sir,” Mr. Gates replied. “But as I indicated, I have no confidence in that figure.”
Bush's Greatest Folly - Monday, June 15, 2009