America’s Crisis is Payback for Bush 9-11 Deception

Posted on Sunday, 21st August 2011 @ 12:17 PM by Text Size A | A | A

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Bush said $60 000 000 000 and “Mission Accomplished” in 2003.

Nobel economist says $5 000 000 000 000 and counting in 2011 and beyond.



The September 11, 2001, terror attacks by Al Qaeda were meant to harm
the United States, and they did, but in ways that Osama bin Laden
probably never imagined. President George W. Bush’s response to the
attacks compromised America’s basic principles, undermined its economy,
and weakened its security.

The attack on Afghanistan that followed the 9/11 attacks was
understandable, but the subsequent invasion of Iraq was entirely
unconnected to Al Qaeda – as much as Bush tried to establish a link.
That war of choice quickly became very expensive – orders of magnitude
beyond the $60 billion claimed at the beginning – as colossal
incompetence met dishonest misrepresentation.

Indeed, when Linda Bilmes and I calculated America’s war costs three
years ago, the conservative tally was $3-5 trillion. Since then, the
costs have mounted further. With almost 50% of returning troops eligible
to receive some level of disability payment, and more than 600,000
treated so far in veterans’ medical facilities, we now estimate that
future disability payments and health-care costs will total $600-900
billion. But the social costs, reflected in veteran suicides (which have
topped 18 per day in recent years) and family breakups, are

Even if Bush could be forgiven for taking America, and much of the
rest of the world, to war on false pretenses, and for misrepresenting
the cost of the venture, there is no excuse for how he chose to finance
it. His was the first war in history paid for entirely on credit. As
America went into battle, with deficits already soaring from his 2001
tax cut, Bush decided to plunge ahead with yet another round of tax
“relief” for the wealthy.

Today, America is focused on unemployment and the deficit. Both
threats to America’s future can, in no small measure, be traced to the
wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Increased defense spending, together with
the Bush tax cuts, is a key reason why America went from a fiscal
surplus of 2% of GDP when Bush was elected to its parlous deficit and
debt position today. Direct government spending on those wars so far
amounts to roughly $2 trillion – $17,000 for every US household – with
bills yet to be received increasing this amount by more than 50%.

Moreover, as Bilmes and I argued in our book The Three Trillion
Dollar War,
the wars contributed to America’s macroeconomic
weaknesses, which exacerbated its deficits and debt burden. Then, as
now, disruption in the Middle East led to higher oil prices, forcing
Americans to spend money on oil imports that they otherwise could have
spent buying goods produced in the US.

But then the US Federal Reserve hid these weaknesses by engineering a
housing bubble that led to a consumption boom. It will take years to
overcome the excessive indebtedness and real-estate overhang that

Ironically, the wars have undermined America’s (and the world’s)
security, again in ways that Bin Laden could not have imagined. An
unpopular war would have made military recruitment difficult in any
circumstances. But, as Bush tried to deceive America about the wars’
costs, he underfunded the troops, refusing even basic expenditures –
say, for armored and mine-resistant vehicles needed to protect American
lives, or for adequate health care for returning veterans. A US court
recently ruled that veterans’ rights have been violated. (Remarkably,
the Obama administration claims that veterans’ right to appeal to the
courts should be restricted!)

Military overreach has predictably led to nervousness about using
military power, and others’ knowledge of this threatens to weaken
America’s security as well. But America’s real strength, more than its
military and economic power, is its “soft power,” its moral authority.
And this, too, was weakened: as the US violated basic human rights like habeas
and the right not to be tortured, its longstanding
commitment to international law was called into question.

In Afghanistan and Iraq, the US and its allies knew that long-term
victory required winning hearts and minds. But mistakes in the early
years of those wars complicated that already-difficult battle. The wars’
collateral damage has been massive: by some accounts, more than a
million Iraqis have died, directly or indirectly, because of the war.
According to some studies, at least 137,000 civilians have died
violently in Afghanistan and Iraq in the last ten years; among Iraqis
alone, there are 1.8 million refugees and 1.7 million internally
displaced people.

Not all of the consequences were disastrous. The deficits to which
America’s debt-funded wars contributed so mightily are now forcing the
US to face the reality of budget constraints. America’s military
spending still nearly equals that of the rest of the world combined, two
decades after the end of the Cold War. Some of the increased
expenditures went to the costly wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the
broader Global War on Terrorism, but much of it was wasted on weapons
that don’t work against enemies that don’t exist. Now, at last, those
resources are likely to be redeployed, and the US will likely get more
security by paying less.

Al Qaeda, while not conquered, no longer appears to be the threat
that loomed so large in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. But the price paid
in getting to this point, in the US and elsewhere, has been enormous –
and mostly avoidable. The legacy will be with us for a long time. It
pays to think before acting.

Joseph E. Stiglitz is University
Professor at Columbia University, a Nobel laureate in economics, and the
author of
Freefall: Free Markets and the Sinking of the Global

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