In this 10-point essay, originally delivered as a speech at the 2007 conference of the Allied Social Science Association, economics expert Dr. Intriligator tallies up the astronomical costs of the Iraq war (one estimation put the price tag for the war at $2.267 trillion) and rips apart the Bush administration’s list of purported “benefits.”
Out How: The Economics of Ending Wars
Ten points of Michael D. Intriligator, professor of economics, political science and public policy, UCLA, and vice chair of Economists for Peace and Security:
1. On the economics of ending wars, the decision to prolong a war or to terminate it in various possible ways can be studied using the economic tools of cost-benefit analysis and expected utility theory. One of the belligerents, such as the U.S. currently in Iraq (and also in Afghanistan) will continue the war if it sees the potential future benefits exceeding the costs, where each is weighted by its probability of occurrence and future benefits and costs discounted to the present. On the costs of the Iraq War, the most detailed study was done by Joseph Stiglitz and Linda Bilmes, presented at the 2006 ASSA meetings and published in the Los Angeles Times. They recently updated their study, which they published as “Encore: Iraq Hemorrhage, Update of “The Economic Costs of the Iraq War,” in The Milken Institute Review, Fourth Quarter, 2006, pp. 76-83. They estimated the total price tag for the war as $2.267 trillion, a stunning figure. Future costs will probably continue at more or less the same rate, depending on whether the U.S. changes its strategy by, for example, a surge in troops committed to the war.
As to the benefits, one must consider the real reasons for the Iraq war, in contrast to the reasons given by Bush and others that were excuses, rationales, or simply wrong. The ostensible reasons given by Bush were 1) Iraqi possession of WMD, 2) to fight terrorism, 3) retaliation for 9/11, and 4) building a democracy in the Middle East that would spread throughout the region. The real reasons, however, were: 1) retaliation for Saddam’s attempted assassination of President Bush’s father, 2) desire for U.S. bases and influence in the region, 3) protection of Israel. In my view, retaliation was the main motivation for President Bush while U.S. bases and influence and protection of Israel were the motivations for the “neocons” in the Project for a New American Century (PNAC), Century (PNAC), many of whom became important players in the Bush Administration, occupying many high offices. They were able to use Bush’s powerful personal grievance against Saddam in 1) to convince him to invade and occupy Iraq, as they had been planning for many years when they were out of office, during the preceding Clinton Administration, when they planned the operation as part of PNAC. In fact this plan came up in the very first meeting of President Bush’s Cabinet, to the surprise of some who had not been members of PNAC. None of these neocons had direct personal military experience and thus they were all “armchair generals.” They also had no deep knowledge of Iraq or the region as a whole and did not consult with people in the State Department and CIA who did know the country and region. The neocons had no appreciation for a culture that they did not understand and they had no opposition in the White House or Pentagon. Many people have alleged oil was the real reason for the invasion, but, as I see it, this was only a secondary reason for the neocons as well as for President Bush.
Of course, it is hard to quantify the value of these benefits based on the motivations for the war, and some were achieved, including the overthrow of Saddam and his execution as well as the establishment of U.S. bases in Iraq. No WMD were found, and as to the fight against terrorism, Iraq has become a training base for terrorists, which it never was under Saddam, and these terrorists are now much closer to Israel. It is hard or impossible to justify the continuation of the war based on these past and potential future costs and benefits