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War in Iraq: the true cost of the conflict

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Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph E. Stiglitz, the author of The Three Trillion Dollar War: the True Cost of the Iraq Conflict, is the subject of a Q+A in this week's Phoenix:

Let’s start at the beginning: why did the Bush Administration go to war in Iraq? And why did Congress and the American people go along with it?
Those are hard questions to answer. The alleged reasons don’t make any sense. There were no weapons of mass destruction. There were not, until the United States invaded, any connections with Al Qaeda. Anyone familiar with the highly secular nature of Hussein’s Baathist regime would have known that a connection with Al Qaeda would have been inconsistent with Saddam’s political views. The irony, of course, is that while we were worrying about weapons of mass destruction that didn’t exist in Iraq, North Korea became a nuclear power. While we were focusing on a country where there was no connection with 9/11, things went terribly wrong in Afghanistan, a nation strongly connected to the New York and Washington attacks.
. . . .

By some measures, Bush’s so-called surge appears to be working. Combat deaths are down. The once-hot insurgency appears to have cooled. Senator John McCain, the republican presidential nominee, says this is the road to victory. Cynics, such as myself, see the surge as a way to ensure that the next president will be forced to continue the fight. What’s your view?
I am a bit inclined to your view. The question, I guess, is what lessons can we infer? First, you say the level of violence is down. One has to put this into context. The level of violence is still extraordinary high. And it’s just down from the peaks that it attained at the beginning of 2007. It’s still at the level of 2006. It is not exactly peace and stability.

Secondly, the objective of the surge was to create room to create a viable, stable, political solution to the civil conflict. It hasn’t worked. The political solution has not emerged. So, going forward, you have to ask this: “Are we supposed to maintain our forces there forever? For the 80 to 100 years McCain has talked about?” . . . .

Several days ago, a White House spokesman dismissed your findings with the following words: “people like Joseph Stiglitz lack the courage to consider the cost of doing nothing and the cost of failure. One can’t even begin to put a price tag on the cost to this nation of the attacks of 9/11. It is an investment in the future safety and security of americans and our vital national interests. $3 trillion? What price does Joe Stiglitz put on attacks on the American homeland that have already been prevented? Or doesn’t his slide rule work that way?” How do you respond?
There are so many problems packed into those five-or-so sentences. It is interesting that he was commenting on my book before he had a chance to read it. He was just responding to the bottom line without knowing or understanding the analysis that prompted the conclusions. I would suggest that the administration lacks the courage of its convictions. Democracy is more than periodic elections. It’s about having an informed citizenry participate in the decisions that affect their lives. The critical word here is “informed.” The administration refuses to talk about what the costs of the war are. It’s an important dimension. Americans should be able to make the decisions about what the benefits and costs are. They may differ about the benefit side, but at least they should know what the costs are.

We document the way the administration has been trying to hide and mislead the American people about the cost of the war. Senator Charles Schumer of New York has asked the Bush administration to testify about those costs. The administration so far has refused. It refuses to engage with critics. The administration is still trying to hide behind the 9/11 smoke screen. The fact is that, because of the war, America is less — not more — secure. According to a recent survey of senior military officers, our military forces are depleted. We are less prepared for a new attack than we were five years ago.

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