Both Bush and Obama have attempted to minimize or ignore the costs of the war in Iraq. But Americans, a majority of whom now oppose the war, are no longer allowing themselves to be fooled. At long last.
Joseph E. Stiglitz and Linda J. Bilmes have now revised upward their initial $3 trillion estimate of the financial costs of the war for the United States.
it appears that our $3 trillion estimate (which accounted for both government expenses and the war’s broader impact on the U.S. economy) was, if anything, too low. For example, the cost of diagnosing, treating and compensating disabled veterans has proved higher than we expected.Moreover, two years on, it has become clear to us that our estimate did not capture what may have been the conflict’s most sobering expenses: those in the category of “might have beens,” or what economists call opportunity costs. For instance, many have wondered aloud whether, absent the Iraq invasion, we would still be stuck in Afghanistan. And this is not the only “what if” worth contemplating. We might also ask: If not for the war in Iraq, would oil prices have risen so rapidly? Would the federal debt be so high? Would the economic crisis have been so severe?
The answer to all four of these questions is probably no.
Frank Rich, for his part, argues that the “single biggest legacy of the Iraq war at home was to codify the illusion that Americans can have it all at no cost.” But the costs of the war have been all too real, and include: tax-cut-induced deficit-spending, dead and maimed U.S. soldiers, and the credibility of journalists and of both political parties.
And yet here we are, slouching toward yet another 9/11 anniversary, still waiting for a correction, with even our president, an eloquent Iraq war opponent, slipping into denial. Of all the pro forma passages in Obama’s speech, perhaps the most jarring was his entreaty that Iraq’s leaders “move forward with a sense of urgency to form an inclusive government that is just, representative and accountable.” He might as well have been talking about the poisonous political deadlock in Washington. At that moment, there was no escaping the tragic fact that instead of bringing American-style democracy and freedom to Iraq, the costly war we fought there has, if anything, brought the bitter taste of Iraq’s dysfunction to America.
As with the war in Vietnam, the United States will be paying the real—financial, human, and political—costs of the unwarranted and unwanted invasion and occupation of Iraq for generations to come.