Friday, September 2, 2011

Joseph Stiglitz Examines US War Costs

His column from Project Syndicate:

The Price of 9/11 - Joseph Stiglitz 
"[The] attacks by Al Qaeda were meant to harm the United States, and they did, but in ways that Osama bin Laden probably never imagined.... Bush's response to the attacks compromised America's basic principles, undermined its economy, and weakened its security. The attack on Afghanistan... was understandable, but the subsequent invasion of Iraq was entirely unconnected to Al Qaeda... that war quickly became very expensive... When Linda Bilmes and I calculated America’s war costs three years ago, the conservative tally was $3-5 trillion. Since then, the costs have mounted further.

Even if Bush could be forgiven for taking America... to war on false pretenses, and for misrepresenting the cost... there is no excuse for how he chose to finance it. His was the first war in history paid for entirely on credit. As America went into battle, with deficits already soaring from his 2001 tax cut, Bush decided to plunge ahead with yet another round of tax “relief” for the wealthy.

Increased defense spending, together with the Bush tax cuts, is a key reason why America went from a fiscal surplus of 2% of GDP... to its debt position today. Moreover... disruption in the Middle East led to higher oil prices, forcing Americans to spend money on oil that they otherwise could have spent buying goods produced in the US.

Ironically, the wars have undermined America's (and the world's) security... an unpopular war would have made military recruitment difficult in any circumstances. But Bush... underfunded the troops, refusing even basic expenditures... or adequate health care for returning veterans.... Military overreach has predictably led to nervousness about using military power... but America's real strength, is its "soft power," its moral authority. And this, too, was weakened as the US violated basic human rights... and its longstanding commitment to international law was called into question.

The wars' collateral damage has been massive: by some accounts, more than a million Iraqis have died... [and] America's military spending still nearly equals that of the rest of the world combined.... Some of the increased expenditures went to the costly wars in Iraq and Afghanistan... but much of it was wasted on weapons that don't work against enemies that don't exist.

Al Qaeda, while not conquered, no longer appears to be the threat that loomed so large... but the price paid in getting to this point... has been enormous – and mostly avoidable. The legacy will be with us for a long time. It pays to think before acting."

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