The Three Trillion Dollar War: The True Cost of the Iraq Conflict.

AuthorEllis, Michael G.
PositionBook review

The Three Trillion Dollar War: The True Cost of the Iraq Conflict by Joseph E. Stiglitz and Linda J. Bilmes. New York: W. W. Norton and Company. 2008. Hardcover: ISBN 978 0 393 06701 9, $???. 192 pages.

This was a difficult book to review in the sense that I approached it with a strong sense of bias in its favor. Its title tells us where the argument is going so we know the trajectory before we launch ourselves into the statistics. This book holds accuracy and credibility that stems partly from the presentation, and partly from its authors. Joseph Stiglitz is a Nobel Laureate who is not to be taken lightly and Linda Bilmes writes from the Harvard School of Government. Together they provide us with a roadmap of the path this country took to war in Iraq and Afghanistan. In so doing, they show us how the institutional safeguards that should have been there either were missing, lacking or simply circumvented by the current administration. This is the story of the failure of the institutions of a democracy.

The evidence contained here is stated in "economic form." That is, it is concerned with the different types and magnitudes of costs associated with the war in Iraq. Because the amount of material is staggering, and the numbers mesmerizing after awhile, I chose three issues whose descriptions I could memorize easily and leave the rest to look up later if need be.

The first chapter forms a synopsis of the book. Each subject mentioned there is explained in detail in later chapters. The first issue that stands out in stark relief is that the current administration purposely understated the early estimates of the cost of the war. Our war efforts and their direct costs already exceed those associated with the 12 year conflict in Vietnam, and they are more than double those that we incurred in the Korean war. Stiglitz and Bilmes simply give us the figures from prominent Bush administration personnel. Larry Lindsey, head of the National Security Council suggested that war costs might approach $200 billion. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, dismissed those numbers and publically estimated them at no more than $50-$60 billion. In a wildly inaccurate estimate, Andrew Natsios, the administrator in charge of the Agency for International Development claimed that post war Iraq could be rebuilt with no more than $1.7 billion in U.S. taxpayer expenditure. As of the writing of the Three Trillion Dollar War, direct U.S. expenditures for military operations...

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