It’s Both the War and the Economy, Stupid!

I was musing about the day, now almost five years ago, the War in Iraq began. I had already determined that it was not--as a pre-emptive war and a war where the inspection of the UN inspectors was not uncovering any evidence of weapons of mass destruction--a just war. No war which ended up being called "a war of choice" ever is. So, I decided the day after the war was declared, to join a group of non-violent religious protestors and to stop traffic near the Federal Building in Los Angeles. I was arrested to protest the war (the judge threw the case out a month later). I was recently worrying about the slide from a national debate about the war to a shifted emphasis on the economy (health care costs; the sub-prime mortgage crisis; lost jobs due to globalization). Would that take off the agenda the need to confront the still morally flawed war (lacking justification according to jus ad bellum criteria of just cause, being purely defensive and a last resort? The "fog of war" has also raised some serious jus in bello arguments about torture and systematic care to protect non-combatants. Now Joseph Stigletz, the Nobel economist and Linda Bilmes have written a new book, The Three Trillion Dollar War, which might help connect the dots between the horrendous cost of the war and the economy. Daily military operations in Iraq (prescinding from the added costs of future care of the war wounded) have now cost more than our 12 years in Vietnam and twice the cost of the Korean War. Stiglitz and Bilmes dispel the myth that "wars always benefit the economy." Money spent on armaments is money poured down the drain. By carefully trying to calculate the real costs of the war in Iraq, Stiglitz and Bilmes suggest that it has already cost the United States 3 trillion dollars (the authors estimate the rest of the world will need to pay out about the same amount). Monthly running costs of the war (at $16 billion) equal the entire annual budget of the United Nations. And the costs will continue to rose: with continuing real and large costs for veterans, the wounded, and aid to Iraq, Stiglitz estimates that a two year continuance would cost half a trillion dollars. To get a context for what this cost entails, it is worth calculating what one of those trillions might have bought instead: 8 million housing units; 15 million public school teachers; healthcare for 530 million children for a year. Those three trillion would have stabilized the U.S. social security fund for half a century. In this interview in the British newspaper, The Guardian, Stiglitz helps us make the connections between the war and the economy. He notes the reaction to his data on the real costs of the war from US Administration officials: "We don’t go to war on the calculations of green eye-shaded accountants or economists." To which Stiglitz responds: " No you don’t decide to fight a response to Pearl Harbor on the basis of that, but when there’s a war of choice, you at least use it to make sure your timing is right, that you’ve done the preparation. And you really ought to do the calculations to see if there are alternative ways that are more effective at getting at your objectives". As Stiglitz notes in the interview, any idea that war can be divorced from the economy is naïve. "A lot of people didn’t expect the economy to take over the war as the major issue in the American election, because people did not expect the economy to be as weak as it is. I sort of did. So one of the points in this book is that we don’t have two issues in this campaign--we have one issue. Or at least, the two are very, very closely linked together. Linking the two issues together just might allow American citizens both to get a fresh perspective on a bungled (by everyone’s account) and unjust (by the account of Jimmy Carter and Pope John Paul II) war and to help see through how we can now, with all deliberate speed, disengage with some honor and humanity. John Coleman, S.J.
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