The $3,000,000,000,000 War

A March 4 headline at the Huffington Post read as follows:

The defining constant of the war over its disastrous almost-five years has been the complete lack of honesty from those who got us into it and have championed its continued prosecution — led by head war cheerleader John McCain.  Including about its financial costs.  Maybe Saddam Hussein’s head was worth the $3,000,000,000,000 that Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz estimates the war has cost, maybe it wasn’t (like most of the country, I believe the latter), but if McCain wants us to be there for 100, or 1,000, or a million years, he should be forced to make the case that the benefits outweigh the costs – foreign and domestic – rather than offering empty, clichéd nods to "sacrifice."

This headline linked to a commentary by Arianna Huffington (though dated March 3), wherein the author fleshed-out her insight that any candidate for the U.S. presidency who opposes the withdrawal of the invading forces of the United States and its allies must (to repeat the point again for the sake of clarity) "make the case that the benefits outweigh the costs — foreign and domestic."


Making nice with the authors of the important new book, The Three Trillion Dollar War: The True Costs of the Iraq Conflict, Huffington continues:

[The book] makes the case that no country can fight a protracted war without deep and long-lasting effects on domestic policy.  Particularly a protracted war paired with tax cuts. Now this doesn’t mean a war shouldn’t be fought (see World War II), but it does mean that our leaders should be honest about what the real costs will be. And not just in terms of dollars and cents but also in opportunity costs.

Okay.  This is true: The book does make this point — and its authors have been making it in print at least since January 2006, when the paper from which this book was developed first went into circulation.  (See "The Economic Costs of the Iraq War," National Bureau of Economic Research, Working Paper 12054.)

Were Huffington in the least bit serious about what she uses the language of "costs" and "benefits" to caution about the "foreign" and "domestic" costs of the American war over Iraq, she would highlight, first and above all, the death and destruction the Americans have caused in Iraq, and not content herself with gestures about the $3,000,000,000,000 – $5,000,000,000,000 price-tag this war is racking-up in the domestic column of the U.S. ledger.  Where human life is the issue, either the human person is the philosopher’s end-in-himself or -herself — or we needn’t tarry for another moment over ethical concerns.  Because when costs are construed in as one-dimensional a fashion as $$$$$, rapacity is the rule.  As long as you can afford it, everything is permittedNothing denied 

Recall, moreover, the much different point that was made in the opening paragraphs of Noam Chomsky’s "Why Isn’t Iraq in the 2008 Election?" where he compared the liberal-end of the U.S. establishment’s attitude to the major imperial war of conquest some 40 years ago to the liberal-end of the U.S. establishment’s attitude to one of its major imperial wars today — Iraq:

  Actually, the reason is not very obscure. It was cogently explained forty years ago, when the US invasion of South Vietnam was in its fourth year and the surge of that day was about to add another 100,000 troops to the 175,000 already there, while South Vietnam was being bombed to shreds at triple the level of the bombing of the north and the war was expanding to the rest of Indochina. However, the war was not going very well, so the former hawks were shifting towards doubts, among them the distinguished historian Arthur Schlesinger, maybe the most distinguished historian of his generation, a Kennedy adviser, who — when he and Kennedy, other Kennedy liberals were beginning to — reluctantly beginning to shift from a dedication to victory to a more dovish position.

  And Schlesinger explained the reasons. He explained that — I’ll quote him now — "Of course, we all pray that the hawks are right in thinking that the surge of that day will work. And if it does, we may all be saluting the wisdom and statesmanship of the American government in winning a victory in a land that we have turned," he said, "to wreck and ruin. But the surge probably won’t work, at an acceptable cost to us, so perhaps strategy should be rethought." Well, the reasoning and the underlying attitudes carry over with almost no change to the critical commentary on the US invasion of Iraq today….


Yes.  They sure do carry over.  And with almost no change to the critical commentary.  Whether at the New York and West Coast kaffeeklatch or the ultra-jingoistic ends of the establishment spectrum.  From South Vietnam and the whole of Indochina through YugoslaviaAfghanistan and Iraq.  And all the conquered peoples and territories and "counter-insurgency" surges in-between. 

"The $3,000,000,000,000 War is a Domestic Issue," Arianna Huffington, Huffington Post, March 3, 2008
"Why Isn’t Iraq in the 2008 Election?" Noam Chomsky, AlterNet, March 3, 2008

The Three Trillion Dollar War: The True Costs of the Iraq Conflict, Joseph E. Stiglitz and Linda Bilmes (W.W. Norton & Co., 2008).

"The Language of ‘Costs’ and ‘Benefits’," January 18, 2006

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