October 27, 2015: In a wide-ranging interview with Amy Goodman of “Democracy Now”, Joe Stiglitz was asked about the costs of the wars. He notes that our estimate of the number of veterans who would be disabled in some way was far too low — its now 50% of those who served qualifying for lifetime disability benefits. This adds another $1 trillion to our estimates – leading to a minimum of $4 trillion for war costs, but probably much higher.
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The US has now passed the milestone of ten years involvement in Afghanistan. Here is a thoughtful analysis of where we are, and the difficulties ahead: retired Army General Stanley McChrystal speaking at the Council on Foreign Relations. He says that the United States began the war in Afghanistan with a “frighteningly simplistic” view of the country and lacks the knowledge to bring the conflict to a successful end. He also discusses how the US invasion of Iraq harmed the US effort in Afghanistan, both in terms of diluting resources and by changing how the Muslim world perceived American intentions. Watch the video »
The US-supported Maliki government has rejected the US proposals for a long-term presence in Iraq, saying that it would infringe on Iraqi sovereignty. In particular, Maliki doesn’t want the US to be able to use Iraqi air space or territory at will (like, for an attack on Iran) and he objects to the immunity from Iraqi law that the US wants for our troops and contractors. Of course, Maliki has no choice: — the anti-American Shiite militia controlled by Moqtada al-Sadr is threatening to revolt if the deal is accepted, the religious community is opposed to it, and poll after poll shows that the Iraqi public thinks we have overstayed our welcome.
In our book we predicted this would happen: just by following the money trail it is obvious that the expensive bases the US has constructed in Iraq were built with a view to long-term US occupancy.
Thus the US faces a situation not dissimilar to that of Britain after World War I, when the British were trying to maintain military control of Iraq in the face of Sunni and Shiite opposition.
This calls to mind Winston Churchill’s statement to David Lloyd George on September 1, 1922:
“I am deeply concerned about Iraq …. I think we should now put definitely, not only to Feisal but to the Constituent Assembly, the position that unless they beg us to stay and to stay on our own terms in regard to efficient control, we shall actually evacuate before the close of the financial year. I would put this issue in the most brutal way, and if they are not prepared to urge us to stay and to co-operate in every manner I would actually clear out…..
At present we are paying eight millions a year for the privilege of living on an ungrateful volcano out of which we are in no circumstances to get anything worth having.”
(Many thanks to Ret. US Army Colonel Douglas Macgregor of the Center for Defense Information for finding this quote.)
This website is inspired by the book The Three Trillion Dollar War and will continue to tell the story of the costs of this war. Apart from its tragic human toll, the Iraq War will be staggeringly expensive in financial terms. In The Three Trillion Dollar War, Nobel Prize winner Joseph E. Stiglitz and Harvard professor Linda J. Bilmes cast a spotlight on expense items that have been hidden from the U.S. taxpayer, including not only big-ticket items like replacing military equipment (being used up at six times the peacetime rate) but also the cost of caring for thousands of wounded veterans—for the rest of their lives. Shifting to a global focus, the authors investigate the cost in lives and economic damage within Iraq and the region. Finally, with the chilling precision of an actuary, the authors measure what the U.S. taxpayer’s money would have produced if instead it had been invested in the further growth of the U.S. economy. Written in language as simple as the details are disturbing, this book will forever change the way we think about the war.
- Buy the book here.
- Read more about Joseph E. Stiglitz and Linda J. Bilmes.
- Selected book reviews and articles about The Three Trillion Dollar War.
- Interviews with Stiglitz and Bilmes about The Three Trillion Dollar War.
- “War at Any Cost? The Total Economic Costs of the War Beyond the Federal Budget,” written testimony for the Joint Economic Committee, February 28, 2008 (PDF)
- “The $3 Trillion War,” an excerpt from the book, in Vanity Fair, April 2008 issue.