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The Three Trillion Dollar War: The True Cost of the Iraq Conflict Hardcover – February 17, 2008
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From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Readers may be surprised to learn just how difficult it was for Nobel Prize-winning economist Stiglitz and Kennedy School of Government professor Bilmes to dig up the actual and projected costs of the Iraq War for this thorough piece of accounting. Using "emergency" funds to pay for most of the war, the authors show that the White House has kept even Congress and the Comptroller General from getting a clear idea on the war's true costs. Other expenses are simply overlooked, one of the largest of which is the $600 billion going toward current and future health care for veterans. These numbers reveal stark truths: improvements in battlefield medicine have prevented many deaths, but seven soldiers are injured for every one that dies (in WWII, this ratio was 1.6 to one). Figuring in macroeconomic costs and interest-the war has been funded with much borrowed money-the cost rises to $4.5 trillion; add Afghanistan, and the bill tops $7 trillion. This shocking expose, capped with 18 proposals for reform, is a must-read for anyone who wants to understand how the war was financed, as well as what it means for troops on the ground and the nation's future.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
“Stiglitz and Bilmes have clearly demonstrated the need for Congress and the administration to ensure that those making sacrifices today will see those sacrifices honored in the future.” (Dave W. Gorman, executive director, Disabled American Veterans) --This text refers to an alternate Hardcover edition.
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Top Customer Reviews
The authors make their bias known at the start of the book. They believe that going to war in Iraq was wrong. They give reasons for their position with each chapter of the book outlining the costs of the war in many ways the reader might not even thought of. In order to neutralize their bias, they also present the figures and conclusions in two ways: a best-case scenario, and a rational-realistic one. The former is to err on the side of a conservative supporting view of the war, and the latter is to project what they believe are the true costs of war.
Those costs are measured on the nation's budget, the cost of caring for our veterans, and the costs of war that the government doesn't pay. These topics alone don't sound like political or economic thrillers. While there was a great deal of interesting observations in these chapters, the authors' frequent analyses and charts gave the book a sobering, academic tone.
The last three chapters had me with my highlighter at the ready: the macroeconomic effect of the conflicts, the global consequences, exiting Iraq, and learning from our mistakes got my heart pounding as if it was a Stephen King novel. One question kept coming to mind as I turned each page: why didn't the Bush administration anticipate any of these problems? From my almost daily obsession with the war, it was clear that the issues raised here were never a consideration.
Authors, Stiglitz and Bilmes make the case that war has a multiplier effect. The true costs are not just what it costs to maintain war. It will cost us in the trillions (hence the title) to care for our veterans for years to come, and the cost of their value to society that we will never realize because they are buried. The military will have a multiplier effect, because they will not only have to sustain their budget, but replace it to prewar levels, not to mention rebuilding reserve and guard units. What the government will not provide for will be the burden of the wife, husband, father, mother, brother or sister who require around the clock care that government will not pay for, or will take way too long in processing the claim, and offer way too little if it approves. This is more productivity lost.
What is equally stunning is the trust and popularity that nations once had for the United States has plummeted, even in nations that are our traditional allies, or nations whose cooperation we paid for to join the Coalition of the Willing. Some of these nations rank the U.S. as a greater threat than they do North Korea. This is especially true of Iraqis who saw our troops immediately protect the oil ministry while 6,000 years of antiquities were looted. Faced with the choice of fighting for an occupier or an insurgency, the choice is easy. The U.S. failed to provide law and order, or revive the economy, or end unemployment. We tortured innocent Iraqis as well as insurgents. Why not fight for an insurgency that will torture you only if you fight the occupier?
Stiglitz and Bilmes show us clearly how the cost of this war will continue for decades. 1993 marked the highest expenditure of medical treatment for World War II veterans. We are currently paying 52 billion a year in compensation for those disabled or injured from the first Gulf War where the deaths were approximately 147 troops. With seven injuries for every combat death, a survival rate far higher than Korea or even Vietnam, think of how much and how long we will be paying for a war in which we have almost 5,000 dead and thousands more with severe injuries such as brain damage and loss of limbs.
It is clear that the Congress failed to provide the proper checks and balances on a president determined to go to war. The president also bypassed the budgetary process and hid the true cost of war by getting more money through supplemental budgets that are not scrutinized. Our Defense Department keeps its books on a "cash accounting" basis rather than an accrual one which only covers current costs, not the cost of replacements that will be necessary.
This book easily makes one of my all-time best books for political or economic thoroughness. Why? Because it makes you realize that the true cost of war is not a cost in just the present. It is a morass that continues to strap the strength and energy of a nation. This book makes me realize what I learned a long time ago about Vietnam, a lesson learned and a lesson forgotten in just a little over three decades.
This book provides a lesson that is too important to be ignored--again.
The Arrogance of Power
THE IRAQ STUDY GROUP REPORT BY JAMES A. BAKER, III, AND LEE H. HAMILTON, CO-CHAIRS
The Looting of America: How Wall Street's Game of Fantasy Finance Destroyed Our Jobs, Pensions, and Prosperity--and What We Can Do About It
Ten Trillion and Counting
Free Lunch: How the Wealthiest Americans Enrich Themselves at Government Expense (and StickYou with the Bill)
The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism (American Empire Project)
Washington Rules: America's Path to Permanent War (American Empire Project)
How our government in a representative democracy could have gotten us into the situation in Iraq boggles the mind. As Stiglitz and Bielmes point out repeatedly, our involvement was/is a combination of lies, stupidity, poor planning, "big ideas" (transform the Middle East!), cronyism, arrogance and the influence of a foreign country, Israel (if you doubt this, see THE ISRAEL LOBBY, Mearsheimer and Walt, pp. 229-262).
And what have we gotten out of it? 4000+ dead, tens of thousands wounded, gas approaching $4.00 a gallon (the war was about oil, right?), the hatred and contempt of the rest of the world ("hypocrites," they rightly call us), a worn-out army, and, very important to these economists, a debt of borrowed money that will take years and decades to pay back.
As the authors point out, what could we have done with that money to make our own counry better! And the tens of thousands of talented men and women who, if not dead, will suffer the effects of this war for the rest of their lives. . ..
So, what have we gotten out of our involvement in Iraq? Nothing, absolutely nothing. Less than nothing. We even have a Presidential candidate stupid enough to claim that we should stay there for years. And a government that we elected to look after our interests got us into this.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Stiglitz is not only a skilled economist, but also a great scribe who speaks the...Read more