Reprint: Washington Post article on the true cost of war

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We published this in the Washington Post on September 3, 2010, but it seems equally relevant now:

The true cost of the Iraq war: $3 trillion and beyond

By Joseph E. Stiglitz and Linda J. Bilmes
Sunday, September 5, 2010; B04

Writing in these pages in early 2008, we put the total cost to the United States of the Iraq war at $3 trillion. This price tag dwarfed previous estimates, including the Bush administration’s 2003 projections of a $50 billion to $60 billion war.

But today, as the United States ends combat in Iraq, it appears that our $3 trillion estimate (which accounted for both government expenses and the war’s broader impact on the U.S. economy) was, if anything, too low. For example, the cost of diagnosing, treating and compensating disabled veterans has proved higher than we expected.

Moreover, two years on, it has become clear to us that our estimate did not capture what may have been the conflict’s most sobering expenses: those in the category of “might have beens,” or what economists call opportunity costs. For instance, many have wondered aloud whether, absent the Iraq invasion, we would still be stuck in Afghanistan. And this is not the only “what if” worth contemplating. We might also ask: If not for the war in Iraq, would oil prices have risen so rapidly? Would the federal debt be so high? Would the economic crisis have been so severe?

The answer to all four of these questions is probably no. The central lesson of economics is that resources — including both money and attention — are scarce. What was devoted to one theater, Iraq, was not available elsewhere.

Read full article:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/09/03/AR2010090302200.html

New PTSD regulations help veterans suffering from PTSD to claim benefits more easily — will cost billions

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The Department of Veterans Affairs has finally made the sensible decision to simplify the eligibility for veterans to obtain disability compensation benefits for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).  This is a move that we have championed for the past three years, since the medical community has confirmed that returning veterans are suffering from an “epidemic” of PTSD.  We applaud the VA for making this change.

The previous VA system had forced veterans to prove that their PTSD was triggered by  a specific traumatic incident during service, which was often difficult or impossible given the chaos that typically surrounds an IED explosion or other traumatic episode.  Additionally, one-third of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans have served multiple deployments and their PTSD is cumulative and cannot be easily traced to a specific incident.  The immediate effect of this change will enable veterans to claim benefits more quickly and easily and with less delay.

The change will accelerate the payment of benefits to hundreds of thousands of veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan, and it will enable tens of thousands more, who were previously ineligible to receive benefits (because they couldn’t pinpoint the source of their PTSD)  to receive benefits.  The medical community estimates that 15-20% of veterans are suffering from PTSD; therefore this cohort will now receive a monthly cash benefit.   The long-term cost of this was already anticipated in our cost estimates, as we had expected that all veterans with PTSD would eventually receive compensation.  However, this change will accelerate the uptake of benefits and should therefore add at least $10 billion to the long-term cost of veterans disability compensation.

See Q&A on this issue here.

Re-reading Senator Byrd’s speech on the Iraq War

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On February 12, 2003  Senator Robert C. Byrd delivered the first in a series of poignant speeches against the Iraq War.  He warned that we were about to embark on a moral and financial catastrophe.  As the Senator now lies in state,  we pay tribute to his words.

To contemplate war is to think about the most horrible of human experiences. On this February day, as this nation stands at the brink of battle, every American on some level must be contemplating the horrors of war.

Yet, this Chamber is, for the most part, silent — ominously, dreadfully silent. There is no debate, no discussion, no attempt to lay out for the nation the pros and cons of this particular war. There is nothing.

Read more

Are we fighting in Afghanistan to support a rigged election?

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Here is an interesting article by Mary Ridell in the Daily Telegraph, arguing that our terrible losses in Afghanistan are being sustained, at least in part, in an effort to support the unpopular government of Hamid Karzai.  Read below:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/comment/columnists/maryriddell/5819915/Afghanistan-Our-troops-are-giving-their-lives-to-safeguard-a-rigged-election.html

15% of all Iraqis have been forced to flee their homes — and almost none have returned, so far.

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The violence in Iraq continues daily.  This month, the country suffered its single deadliest attack of the year, a suicide truck bombing in Taza, Iraq, that killed 80 people, wounded more than 200, and destroyed at least 50 buildings. As usual, these were innocent civilians going to market, attending mosque and attempting to live normal lives.

This partially explains the stunning statistic that out of 2.7 million Iraqis who have been “internally displaced” during the war — kicked out of their homes by ethnic violence and intimidation, or forced to leave due to destruction of their plumbing, electricity and roads — a tiny fraction, fewer than 1%, have returned home, according to the respected Brookings Iraq Index (http://www.brookings.edu/fp/saban/iraq/index.pdf ).   IN addition,  another two million Iraqis (mostly middle class professionals who had enough money to get out) fled the country entirely. Fewer than 70,000 of these refugees have returned home.  The vast majority are seeking permanent asylum in Syria, Jordan, Egypt, Iran and other countries.

In total, this means that over 15% of the Iraqi population has been forced to flee their homes.  And despite considerable financial incentives from the Iraqi government for them to return, the overwhelming majority have decided that they have a better chance of a decent life if they stay where they are.

http://www.upi.com/Top_News/2009/06/21/Death-toll-hits-80-in-Iraq-truck-bombing/UPI-33981245624015/

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