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

Watch testimony of Joseph Stiglitz and Linda Bilmes

Read full testimony: http://veterans.house.gov/hearings/hearing.aspx?newsid=632.

The country has a huge budget surplus. Why isn’t it paying for its own reconstruction?

By Linda J. Bilmes and Joseph E. Stiglitz

August 15 2008

Across the Middle East, from Abu Dhabi to Yemen, the dizzying rise in oil prices has fueled a construction and employment boom. Yet in Iraq, one-quarter of the population remains jobless, and Baghdad gets only 11 hours of electricity a day. Four million Iraqis have been displaced from their homes and are urgently in need of resettlement. After five years of war, the country is still desperately in need of rebuilding. 

Read Bilmes and Stiglitz’ full op-ed in the LA Times.

An excerpt from the book, in Vanity Fair, April 2008 issue – Read the full excerpt here.

On March 19, 2008, the U.S. will have been in Iraq for five years. The Bush administration was wrong about the need for the Iraq war and about the benefits the war would bring to Iraq, to the region, and to America. It has also been wrong about the full cost of the war, and it continues to take steps to conceal that cost.

In the run-up to the war there were few public discussions of the likely price tag. When Lawrence Lindsey, President Bush’s economic adviser, suggested that it might reach $200 billion all told, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld dismissed the estimate as “baloney.” Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz went as far as to suggest that Iraq’s postwar reconstruction would pay for itself through increased oil revenues. Rumsfeld and Office of Management and Budget Director Mitch Daniels estimated the total cost of the war in the range of $50 to $60 billion, some of which they believed would be financed by other countries.

For fiscal year 2008 the administration has asked for nearly $200 billion to fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. If Congress provides the money, as it almost certainly will, then the total appropriated for direct operations in these two countries (including reconstruction, embassy costs, enhanced base security, and foreign aid) since the wars began will come to roughly $800 billion. It is extremely difficult to disentangle the Iraq and Afghanistan numbers, but Iraq is by far the larger endeavor and accounts for about three-fourths of the total. By the administration’s own reckoning, then, the cost of the Iraq war, counting only the money officially appropriated, will soon be some $600 billion, or more than 10 times Rumsfeld’s original number.

An excerpt from the book, in Vanity Fair, April 2008 issue – Read the full excerpt here.

Written testimony of Joseph E. Stiglitz for the Joint Economic Committee, February 28, 2008

Thank you for this opportunity to discuss with you the economic costs of the Iraq War. March 19 marks the fifth anniversary of what was supposed to be a short venture to save the world from the threat of weapons of mass destruction—which simply weren’t there. It is now the second longest war in America’s history, and, after the all-encompassing World War II, the second most costly, even after adjusting for inflation. In terms of costs per troop, it is by far the costliest—some eight times as expensive as World War II.

Download the full testimony here as PDF.

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