Posts Tagged ‘Afghanistan’

Special mention

Special mention (in honor of yesterday’s GOP primary results)

The United States is involved in four wars right now: Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, and Pakistan. What are the costs?

As it turns out, there’s no easy way of calculating the costs of all these wars, at least in terms of publicly available government statistics. Public appropriations for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have been $1.3 trillion. But that’s only the beginning.

Fortunately, others—but not, for the most part, mainstream economists—have done those calculations: Linda Bilmes and Joseph Stiglitz, who concluded the wars will cost more than $3 trillion; and the Costs of War project by Brown University’s Watson Institute for International Studies, which arrives at $4 trillion and rising.

Christian Dorsey contrasts the lack of transparency of the costs of war with the accounting of the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act, “which has an entire website that gives laypersons, policy wonks and researchers customized looks at how virtually every dollar of ARRA funds were allocated and spent.”

This lack of transparency weakens our democracy by not allowing Americans to hold our elected officials accountable for decisions they make to engage in conflict. Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) has introduced The Cost of War Act, a bill that takes only 91 words to direct the Department of Defense to publish, on a public website, the cost of our current wars. The value of such an action—especially if the end result is as robust as Recovery.gov—would be to force this Congress to have an adult conversation about priorities, spending, deficits and debt. Right now, the only sunlight on federal spending shines on the non-defense, discretionary side, which is dwarfed by defense spending–all of which is discretionary. Exposing it all to the same level of scrutiny would lead to better debate among our policymakers.

It is also would lead to better debate among the citizenry, who are the ones suffering the effects of the money spent on all four wars—and not spent on creating jobs, lowering poverty, and improving social services.

Special mention

Costs of war

Posted: 29 June 2011 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , ,

Käthe Kollwitz, "Nie wieder Krieg" (No More War) (1924)

Measuring the costs of war should have been conducted by mainstream economists. But they haven’t done it. So, the task has fallen to the Costs of War project by Brown University’s Watson Institute for International Studies, a multidisciplinary team led by political scientist Neta C. Crawford and anthropologist Catherine Lutz.*

Mainstream economists often defend what they do, and their superiority over other social sciences, on the basis of their quantitative methodology and rigorous empirical methodology. But they’ve been absent from the debate concerning the costs of the ongoing wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. The only exception is an analysis of the “Economic Consequences of a War in Iraq” [pdf] conducted by William D. Nordhaus in 2002. That’s it.

Instead, the responsibility has fallen to others—most famously, the 2008 book The Three Trillion Dollar War, by Linda Bilmes and Joseph Stiglitz (which they updated here).

And now the Costs of War project. Here are some of their key findings:

  • While we know how many US soldiers have died in the wars (just over 6000), what is startling is what we don’t know about the levels of injury and illness in those who have returned from the wars.  New disability claims continue to pour into the VA, with 550,000 just through last fall.  Many deaths and injuries among US contractors have not been identified.
  • At least 137,000 civilians have died and more will die in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan as a result of the fighting at the hands of all parties to the conflict.
  • The armed conflict in Pakistan, which the U.S. helps the Pakistani military fight by funding, equipping and training them, has taken as many lives as the conflict in neighboring Afghanistan.
  • Putting together the conservative numbers of war dead, in uniform and out, brings the total to 225,000.
  • Millions of people have been displaced indefinitely and are living in grossly inadequate conditions.  The current number of war refugees and displaced persons — 7,800,000 — is equivalent to all of the people of Connecticut and Kentucky fleeing their homes.
  • The wars have been accompanied by erosions in civil liberties at home and human rights violations abroad.
  • The human and economic costs of these wars will continue for decades, some costs not peaking until mid-century. Many of the wars’ costs are invisible to Americans, buried in a variety of budgets, and so have not been counted or assessed.  For example, while most people think the Pentagon war appropriations are equivalent to the wars’ budgetary costs, the true numbers are twice that, and the full economic cost of the wars much larger yet. Conservatively estimated, the war bills already paid and obligated to be paid are $3.2 trillion in constant dollars. A more reasonable estimate puts the number at nearly $4 trillion.
  • As with former US wars, the costs of paying for veterans’ care into the future will be a sizable portion of the full costs of the war.
  • The ripple effects on the U.S. economy have also been significant, including job loss and interest rate increases, and those effects have been underappreciated.
  • While it was promised that the US invasions would bring democracy to both countries, Afghanistan and Iraq, both continue to rank low in global rankings of political freedom, with warlords continuing to hold power in Afghanistan with US support, and Iraqi communities more segregated today than before by gender and ethnicity as a result of the war.
  • Serious and compelling alternatives to war were scarcely considered in the aftermath of 9/11 or in the discussion about war against Iraq.  Some of those alternatives are still available to the U.S.

The authors of the report acknowledge the constraints of their analysis. With their limited resources, they focused on U.S. spending, U.S. and allied deaths, and the human toll in the major war zones.

There is still much more to analyze and understand. Unfortunately, they’re not going to get any help from mainstream economists.

* There are, in fact, a number of economists working on the project. They include Anita Dancs, Ryan D. Edwards, Heidi Garrett-Peltier, James Heintz, and Bassam Yousif. At least a couple of them received their doctorates from the University of Massachusetts Amherst. I don’t know whether the others consider their work to be mainstream or heterodox. The fact remains, mainstream economists have the quantitative skills to measure the costs of war but, for the most part, they’ve neglected the topic.

The question is, why? Maybe they were scared off after Larry Lindsey, director of the National Economic Council (2001–2002) and assistant to the president on economic policy, who played a leading role in formulating President Bush’s $1.35 trillion tax cut plan, was fired after he estimated the cost of the Iraq war could reach $200 billion.

Special mention

Special mention

War is business, and the business of war in Iraq and Afghanistan involves an invisible army of “Third Country Nationals” who are working, suffering injuries, and dying for the U.S. war effort.

As Sarah Stillman explains,

The expansion of private-security contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan is well known. But armed security personnel account for only about sixteen per cent of the over-all contracting force. The vast majority—more than sixty per cent of the total in Iraq—aren’t hired guns but hired hands. These workers, primarily from South Asia and Africa, often live in barbed-wire compounds on U.S. bases, eat at meagre chow halls, and host dance parties featuring Nepalese romance ballads and Ugandan church songs. A large number are employed by fly-by-night subcontractors who are financed by the American taxpayer but who often operate outside the law.

The wars’ foreign workers are known, in military parlance, as “third-country nationals,” or T.C.N.s. Many of them recount having been robbed of wages, injured without compensation, subjected to sexual assault, and held in conditions resembling indentured servitude by their subcontractor bosses. Previously unreleased contractor memos, hundreds of interviews, and government documents I obtained during a yearlong investigation confirm many of these claims and reveal other grounds for concern. Widespread mistreatment even led to a series of food riots in Pentagon subcontractor camps, some involving more than a thousand workers.

Amid the slow withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq and Afghanistan, T.C.N.s have become an integral part of the Obama Administration’s long-term strategy, as a way of replacing American boots on the ground.

How does it work?

The process of outsourcing begins at major government entities, notably the Pentagon, which awarded its most recent prime logistics contract (worth as much as fifteen billion dollars a year) to three U.S.-based private military behemoths: K.B.R. (the former Halliburton subsidiary), DynCorp International, and Fluor. These “prime venders” then shop out the bulk of their contracts to hundreds of global subcontractors, many based in Middle Eastern countries that are on the U.S. State Department’s human-trafficking noncompliance list. Finally, these firms call upon thousands of Third World “manpower agencies”—small recruiting operations like Meridian Services.

The business of war is flourishing in Iraq and Afghanistan, and an invisible army of desperate workers are being exploited so that K.B.R., DynCorp International, and Fluor can profit.

In the scholarly literature on the political economy of conflict, intrastate wars are all about the greed of insurgents for resources. That’s the argument made famous by Paul Collier (to combat the idea that conflicts are caused by poverty, inequality, and grievances). What Collier and others have forgotten about is the greed of occupiers and their business partners for resources.

James Bandler reports that, in Afghanistan, General David Petraeus and J. P. Morgan’s Ian Hannam have combined to “tap” Afghanistan’s vast mineral riches.

To Hannam, chairman of J.P. Morgan Capital Markets, Afghanistan represents a gigantic, untapped opportunity — one of the last great natural-resource frontiers. Landlocked and pinioned by imperial invaders, Afghanistan has been cursed by its geography for thousands of years. Now, for the first time, Hannam believes, that geography could be an asset. The two most resource-starved nations on the planet, China and India, sit next door to Afghanistan, where, according to Pentagon estimates, minerals worth nearly $1 trillion lie buried. True, there is a war under way. And it’s unclear how the death of Osama bin Laden will impact the country’s political and economic environment. But Hannam is not your usual investment banker: A former soldier, he has done business in plenty of strife-torn countries. So have all the members of his team, two of them former special forces soldiers who have fought here. . .

Hundreds of billions of dollars’ worth of iron, copper, rare earth metals, and, yes, gold are buried beneath Afghanistan’s deserts and mountains. This wealth has lain there mainly undisturbed for thousands of years as armies of Persians, Greeks, Mongols, Britons, Russians, and now Americans tramped above. Invaders have dreamed of exploiting it since the time of Alexander the Great, but no one has yet succeeded on a large scale.

That’s a war for resources the U.S. government and J. P. Morgan consider worth fighting.

Once again, Frank Rich hits the nail on the head: there is a real parallel between the 1971 Pentagon Papers and the Wikileaks release of the Afghan war logs. But it’s not what people think.

The logs won’t change the course of our very long war in Afghanistan, but neither did the Pentagon Papers alter the course of Vietnam. What Ellsberg’s leak did do was ratify the downward trend-line of the war’s narrative. The WikiLeaks legacy may echo that. We may look back at the war logs as a herald of the end of America’s engagement in Afghanistan just as the Pentagon Papers are now a milestone in our slo-mo exit from Vietnam.

The Vietnam War ended not because of the Pentagon Papers but as a result of a combination of Vietnamese resistance, opposition at home, and U.S. soldiers in Vietnam going on strike.

Clearly, the two first two conditions are met with respect to the current war in Afghanistan. I wonder about the third. . .