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The Three Trillion Dollar War

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According to a new book by Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz and author Linda J. Bilmes. In "The Three Trillion Dollar War: The True Cost of the Iraq Conflict," they warn that the war's "true budgetary cost," excluding interest, "is likely to reach $2.7 trillion." Aside from the price of munitions, contractors, transport, fuel and other fixed costs, their calculations are based on the government's continuing obligation to provide medical care and disability payments for the thousands of wounded Iraqi and Afghanistani veterans over the coming decades.

Those costs represent a moral debt on which we cannot default — and they will grow larger every day that we maintain the occupation. Even if the war could be ended immediately, the fiscal obligations incurred by the invasion and occupation will continue. Beyond the mandatory disability payments, medical and psychiatric care and additional benefits to which the troops are entitled, the nation will face years of increasing military budgets to restore the equipment and readiness of our battered armed forces, especially the Army and the National Guard.

Even in the "best-case" scenario envisioned by Stiglitz and Bilmes, with our troop presence declining rapidly, the U.S. commitment in Iraq is still likely to cost no less than $400 billion over the next several years, on top of the $800 billion or so that we have spent to date. Those figures, which don't include veterans' benefits, add up to $1.2 trillion. What the authors call their "realistic-moderate scenario" for a prolonged presence in Iraq will cost twice as much or more.

According to a new book by Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz and author Linda J. Bilmes. In "The Three Trillion Dollar War: The True Cost of the Iraq Conflict," they warn that the war's "true budgetary cost," excluding interest, "is likely to reach $2.7 trillion." Aside from the price of munitions, contractors, transport, fuel and other fixed costs, their calculations are based on the government's continuing obligation to provide medical care and disability payments for the thousands of wounded Iraqi and Afghanistani veterans over the coming decades.

Those costs represent a moral debt on which we cannot default — and they will grow larger every day that we maintain the occupation. Even if the war could be ended immediately, the fiscal obligations incurred by the invasion and occupation will continue. Beyond the mandatory disability payments, medical and psychiatric care and additional benefits to which the troops are entitled, the nation will face years of increasing military budgets to restore the equipment and readiness of our battered armed forces, especially the Army and the National Guard.

Even in the "best-case" scenario envisioned by Stiglitz and Bilmes, with our troop presence declining rapidly, the U.S. commitment in Iraq is still likely to cost no less than $400 billion over the next several years, on top of the $800 billion or so that we have spent to date. Those figures, which don't include veterans' benefits, add up to $1.2 trillion. What the authors call their "realistic-moderate scenario" for a prolonged presence in Iraq will cost twice as much or more.

Having served at the highest levels of the federal government, both authors understand that the Bush administration's war budgeting has been a travesty. Instead of accounting honestly for the war's costs and requesting the necessary funds to pay for them, the White House has routinely used "emergency" supplemental requests as a device to hide the truth. The emergency process prevents the Office of Management and Budget as well as congressional staff from thoroughly reviewing the data. Inevitably, they explain, this lack of transparency and competence has resulted in waste, fraud and corruption in payments to contractors, most of them politically wired, while essential equipment and veteran care remain underfunded.

Compounding the disgrace is the fact that the Bush administration and Congress financed these "emergency" budgets by borrowing, rather than raising taxes, as the United States has traditionally done in times of war. The Bush administration has insisted on reducing taxes, with most benefits accruing to the wealthiest individuals, while piling on debt for succeeding administrations and generations (and leaving the nation's infrastructure to rot away, too).