Ali’s blog

Mostly quant stuff with occasional digressions

More “shock and awe”

Posted by alifinmath on March 18, 2008

In the FT:

Six months before the start of the US led-invasion, Larry Lindsey, then White House economic adviser, estimated that the war in Iraq could cost as much as $200bn.

The claim, which cost Mr Lindsey his job, was dismissed as baloney by Donald Rumsfeld, the then defence secretary whose own estimate was $50bn to $60bn. Andrew Natsios, head of the Agency for International Development, estimated the reconstruction of Iraq would cost the US $1.7bn (€1.1bn, £849m).

The Iraq war will be five years old on Tuesday, and serious estimates suggest it will be, with the exception of the second world war, the most costly in US history. Two academics estimate the government is spending $12bn a month in Iraq, while the Joint Economic Committee of Congress says the war has so far cost a US family of four $16,900, a bill that could rise to $37,000 by 2017.

Their government spending estimate for the war comes to $1,292bn-$2,039bn, rising to $1,754bn-$2,655bn if interest is added.

To this, Stiglitz and Bilmes add social costs not paid by the government, including the loss of productive capacity of those killed or wounded and quality of life impairments. These, they estimate, would amount to $295bn-$415bn for Iraq and Afghanistan

Finally, they add macro-economic costs deriving from higher oil prices and other effects including the impact on the economy of higher interest costs. For both Iraq and Afghanistan, they calculate this would come to between $187bn and $1,900bn. Yet, these estimates do not cover the cost outside the US (including the £20.1bn of budgetary and social costs they estimate will have fallen to the UK up until 2010).

And yet in spite of this, and in spite of 600,000+ Iraqi casualties, we still can’t get an honest debate about what US policy should be and why exactly the US wants to prolong its occupation indefinitely. There are well-defined (but not very pretty) reasons to do with realpolitik, but they’re deliberately buried under an incessant barrage of propaganda and disinformation about “being resolute and staying the course.” Some democracy. As in Star Wars, the empire should shrug off the last remaining vestiges of a democratic facade and cosmetic adherence to law internationally and domestically and simply show its true colors as rogue empire.


7 Responses to “More “shock and awe””

  1. Chris Prouty said

    I’m utterly baffled that the American people haven’t put their foot down on the war in Iraq. I’m shocked that nobody has stood up and said “no, you can’t have any more of my tax dollars to flush away.” What happened to the indignation and rage that we saw during Vietnam? The American sheeple should be ashamed of themselves.

  2. alifinmath said

    This is conjecture on my part: the first possible reason is that Americans haven’t felt the bite directly as the dosh has all been borrowed (from the Japanese). In any case the US administration intends to welsh on the debt (either by letting the dollar sink through the floor and/or through sustained inflation or simply direct default). The empire and its loony adventures, in other words, is being funded by foreigners. The second is that there’s no conscription at present (though the administration has tested the waters to see what the reaction would be). The third is the relatively low level of casualties. And the fourth is that anti-war sentiment merged with the civil rights movement. And having pointed out the differences, I should add that the riots and protests of the ’60s probably had scant impact on US policy in Viet Nam (besides persuading LBJ not to run for office in 1968).

  3. Anonym said

    I’m personally relieved that we haven’t attacked Iran yet and opened up that can of worms. I’ve heard that Bush’s strategy in Iraq is to run out the clock on his second term and hand the mess over to his successor. Perhaps the American public’s strategy is to look the other way, not antagonize our belligerent president, and hope to run out the clock on his war ambitions. He’ll find out the true extent of public opinion once he’s out of office. I predict that he and his acolytes will be in severe legal jeopardy at that time. Here’s hoping that Christopher Hitchens Tony Blair doesn’t become EU president.

  4. alifinmath said

    US grand strategy — irrespective of who’s in the White House — is to use American military strength as a substitute for (non-existent) economic power. The troops in the Middle East help up to prop up America’s sagging economic fortunes by providing control over Middle East oilfields — thus providing an instrument of blackmail against Europe and Asia. Cheney proposed as much back in 1992. This is the “Project for the New American Century.” And if I were a policy-maker, I’d probably be suggesting the same: there aren’t that many options on the table to stave off a sharp decline in US prosperity and influence. The problem is that this strategy has all come horribly unstuck, with the plans and hopes of neo-con armchair warriors going terribly awry. Regardless of who assumes office, the grand plan will remain the same, albeit with a more sophisticated rhetoric. Either that or US policy-makers and public must reconcile themselves to sharply reduced circumstances. I reiterate: the troops in the Middle East are not combating “extremists” or even Arabs: they’re combating China, India, Japan, and Europe. Great power rivalries and spheres of influence are at stake, with the USA threatened with relegation to the second division (though not immediately). Just one point of view, as always.

  5. Anonym said

    Yes, PNAC stated openly that they sought to cement America’s hyperpolar moment for 100 years through war in the Middle East (specifically Iraq.) But rather than straddling the region with our hands on the world’s energy chokepoints, we find ourselves in something akin to Brzezinski’s “Afghan trap.” Perhaps a more macbrely poetic analogy would be fervent and foolish Iraq war proponent Thomas Friedman’s statement in the NYT shortly before the war: “Congratulations, you’re the new Saddam.”

  6. Anonym said

    I meant to say “unipolar” or “hyperpower”.

  7. alifinmath said

    Appropriate that you bring up Brzezinski’s name. This student of realpolitik authored “The Grand Chessboard,” some quotes of which can be found here:

    Nothing he says is inconsistent with neo-con outlook or policy — which is why I say it’s irrelevant who assumes power: US strategic imperatives won’t change and any policy team will see the situation and choices in much the same way. And incidentally, Brzezinski is Obama’s foreign-policy guru, strengthening my contention that it matters not one whit with regard to foreign policy as to who gets elected.

    Right now, I just wanted to extend the chessboard metaphor a bit further (being a chessplayer myself). The object of the game is always to mate the other king. Beginners often mount crude attacks against the opposing king, which are usually easily repulsed. More sophisticated players often initiate attacks on the queen’s wing — either play with pieces, or a minority attack, or employing a Q-side pawn majority to push forward a passed pawn. These are genuine attacks (and not merely feints) but the end purpose is always to mate the opposing king — only it’s done in a more oblique fashion. The same with the US attempted occupation of the Middle East: the ultimate aim is to checkmate the other major (or latent) industrial powers — but again in oblique fashion. This is the gist of all strategy: avoiding caveman-style frontal assaults and going after either strategic strongpoints or what appear to be secondary targets — and always with a strategic plan driving the various actions.

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