More federal chickens are coming home to roost every day. Yesterday — yes, Sunday — the Federal Reserve, in obvious panic over the state of the financial markets, was working overtime to come up with a bailout plan for Bear Stearns, also using the opportunity to lower interest rates again rather than simply wait until its regularly scheduled meeting on Tuesday.
Do you remember in 2003 when President Bush and Vice President Cheney were saying that an invasion of Iraq to get rid of Saddam Hussein wouldn’t cost Americans very much money? Among the many things they told the American people (the WMD threat being among the more notable), was that a “coalition of the willing” would help bear the costs of the war. They also suggested that once U.S. forces took over the country, U.S. officials could use Iraqi oil to “rebuild” Iraq.
Alas, it was not to be. After a year or so, it was obvious that the coalition of the willing either wasn’t willing to keep forking over the money or its members were too broke to do so.
Using Iraqi oil to fund the operation hasn’t panned out either. According to an articlein the Washington Post today, Iraqi oil production under U.S. occupation is less than it was during the pre-invasion period. Part of the reason for this, according toanother article in the New York Times yesterday, is that Iraqi insurgents are skimming large portions of the oil profits to fund the insurgency, with bribes playing a major role in the operation.
Meanwhile, it turns out that it’s not just the much-vaunted surge in U.S. forces that has brought down casualty levels of U.S. troops. Another reason is that U.S. officials have been doing a bit of bribing themselves — paying off members of the Iraqi insurgency to switch sides. Those bribes are costing hundreds of thousands of dollars and obviously must go on indefinitely since everyone knows what will happen if the bribes stop.
So, what’s the cost of getting rid of Saddam Hussein?
Well, one cost is 4,000 U.S. troops who are now dead. By and large, Americans still feel that that cost has been worth it.
Another cost is the estimated one million Iraqis who are now dead. By and large, Americans feel that that cost has been worth it.
There are also all the injured, maimed, and disabled U.S. soldiers and Iraqis. By and large, Americans feel that that cost has been worth it.
There is also the total destruction of Iraq and the millions of Iraqis who have had to flee the country. By and large, Americans feel that that cost has been worth it.
There is also the torture, spying, and assaults on privacy and civil liberties at the hands of U.S. officials. By and large, Americans feel that that cost has been worth it.
But now comes Nobel Prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz, who has co-authored a book with Linda Bilmes, former assistant secretary of commerce, entitledThe Three Trillion Dollar War: The True Cost of the Iraq Conflict. According to them, the U.S. government has spent $600 billion on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. However, that figure omits several important hidden costs, such as medical care and disability benefits for veterans, which will have to be paid out for decades. When such hidden costs are factored into the calculations, Stiglitz and Bilmes contend that the costs of the war and occupation will exceed $3 trillion.
Now, isn’t that a wonderful thing for young families to look forward to — working diligently for the next 20 or 30 years with an enormous tax albatross over their heads to not only pay off the costs of getting rid of Saddam Hussein but also to fund the generous Social Security benefits of those who were responsible for incurring the costs to get rid of Saddam. I’ve got a strong hunch that as the years continue, those Americans who are in their 20s and 30s today are going to conclude that getting rid of Saddam just wasn’t worth it after all, at least not for them.
In fact, as more people continue to losing their homes to foreclosure, as the dollar continues to crash in international markets, and as the entire financial system begins to teeter, I can’t help but think that some of the older crowd might start thinking the same thing.