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January 11, 2006


I agree with this completely. Opportunity cost is such a basic concept that seems to be lost on even the most sophisticated analysis' of this war. One other, hugely important opportunity cost to consider is in relation to our military/diplomatic resources and worldwide political capital needed to effect them. Clearly Iraq drained these on all fronts. People forget that we had massive worldwide support for our actions in Afghanistan. Attacking Iraq diverted our efforts there and (i) hindered our ability to finish of Al Queda and (ii) hindered our ability to rebuild Afghanistan into a model Islamic country. More importantly, attacking Iraq prevented us from focusing on the true source of international terrorism and WMD threat...IRAN. If we had turned our and the world's attention on Iran early on, we would have found a terrorist supporting regime bent on stockpiling WMDs. Instead, we have let that real threat grow and perhaps even strengthened it by attacking an entirely contained Iraq.

Raising the funds and gathering political approval to develop renewable energy sources would have required educating the public about the biggest elephant ever in the livingroom. Educating them, and (gasp!) asking for change, (if not sacrifice) was less appealing than war, especially when after 9/11 the indignant country was spoiling to kick some Middle Eastern butt. Any Middle Eastern butt.

I don't endorce Bushco rolling the PNAC dice on Iraq, but I can see where they thought it a viable option. Bad news is political poison, and retooling the US would be a huge undertaking. Besides, they & their pals wouldn't have made any money if we didn't invade Iraq. They'll have their solar panels up & running while the rest of us try to organize car pools to work (and burn abandoned McMansions for fuel).

"You've no doubt heard of the Stiglitz-Bilmes study putting the real cost for the Iraq war at over one trillion dollars." Well, I am sorry to report that I missed Stiglitz-Bilmes, until I read your article. Thanks as always, whether we count our "opportunity costs" or not, they are as real as gravity. Life is a zero sum game. IMO the resources we "invested" in nation building in Iraq were committed out of sequence. Job1 for the U.S. was bringing Osama to justice. IMO Bush/Cheney/neocons thought the "catastrophic success" in Iraq would be easier (and look better on TeeVee) than pictures of caves. We Democrats have failed to prevent Bush and his chickenhawks from inaccurately hyping themselves as "tough on terror." Where is Osama? He is the one that committed 1st degree murder upon our civilians? Nothing emboldens terrorists more than the fact that Osama "got away with it." You want to deter terrorists, arrest or kill Osama.

I'm not informed enough about the right subjects to address these issues either -- but I want to thank you for the most succinct statement of our economic plight I've ever seen: "The US is just too reliant on debt rather than competitiveness to retain its role in the global economy." Sure hope some smart people get some power to address this before we bottom out. It could be so much more pleasant a landing than I anticipate.

Another alternative that I advocated throughout the 2004 campaign (and am glad to see Gov Schwarzenegger pick up) is using the money wasted on the war to rebuild our infrastructure. This would also have created good jobs here at home that would have revitalized our economy and given us something tangible in return that would increase productivity. And who knows, if levees had been on the list it might have saved lives too.

It could have been packaged as improving our security--port security, transportation security, security of our water supplies (especially here in California), and of course increased safety in case of weather-related disasters. Coupled with an increase in first responders, it would have made us so much safer and better prepared than Iraq. It seemed to me like a no-brainer, but Kerry never really picked it up.

In fairness, since the Bush people never foresaw the insurgency, they must have assumed (and in fact we know they assumed) that the war would be over in less than a year with few US casualties and Iraqi oil would pay for the reconstruction. Their failure to foresee what actually happened in the face of so many predictions of just those results is further evidence of they incompetence, not an excuse for what happened, however.


Yup, I didn't mean the alternative energy to be exclusive (hell, if the number is closer to two trillion, as Stiglitz suggests it might be, there's plenty of money to go around). We could also dump some into college education, to make education more accessible, and make the US more competitive.

I may be misreading you, but suggesting we went to war for security -- even energy security or economic security -- seems unnecessarily naive at this point. There is a case to be made that investing in alternative energy would have been at least a 10-20 year commitment, with no assurance of usable results, while securing mideast oil was expected to be quicker (we'll see) and foolproof (we underestimated the fool).

In short I can imagine someone making an intelligent argument for invading Iraq as energy and economic policy -- I wouldn't agree, but I can understand that argument. But, it seems naive to suggest that this argument was made in the halls of power, or that a reasoned analysis took place.

Nedweenie took the words out of my keyboard, above, saying "Besides, they & their pals wouldn't have made any money if we didn't invade Iraq." That, and personal grievances against Hussein, I think were all the debate that took place. To discuss this as an opportunity cost implies there was opportunity for spending the money as you suggest. Under Bush, I just don't see that that was ever possible.

And if we talk about the opportunity cost of having elected Bush, economic security may be just the tail end of the beast.

emptywheel - I dropped you a line at the general mailbox on the 6th. I haven't had a response. Don't necessarily expect one, but just wanted to make certain it made it to you. Thanks.


Those purposes are roughly based on what Karen Kwiatkowski describes as the reasons mentioned inside the halls of power (OSP) for the war. It also accords with the leaked oil development map of Iraq from Cheney's top secret energy task force.

I don't doubt revenge for daddy and self-enrichment was part of the reason. But honestly, they did go to war, also, to solve some long-term vulnerabilities in the hegemonic position of the US. You can't be the most powerful country in the world without control over energy. That was true in WWI, in WWII, and is still true today. Problem is, that ties us to the Middle East and some unsavory allies in ways we really ought not to be tied.

emptywheel, you do always manage to teach me something! (a difficult feat not for the fullness of my brain but for the thickness of my skull.)

what I wrote was, as some say, "inapt." The argument to which I meant to refer was not "we need more oil to keep this country moving" but rather the debate you pose up top -- whether to keep us moving through (A) investing in a war for oil or (B) investing in research into alternative energy sources. THAT argument (A vs. B) was the one I don't think took place in this administration. (Instruct me otherwise and you will help restore my hope for the next few years!)

Oh, sorry.

You're right. BushCo, the Administration in which ExxonMobil and Halliburton have a majority stake, did not consider the alternatives. In fact, no one did. At least no one in power.

I remember making such arguments, even talking about weighing the likelihood of sectarian violence against the other possibilities. But no one has elected me President, nor are they likely to have an opportunity to do so.

"It's too simple to say it's all about oil. But it is about the economic and strategic system which oil fuels. And don't get me wrong--our current economic system can't last much longer without doing something. The US is just too reliant on debt rather than competitiveness to retain its role in the global economy."

It is WAY too long to post here, but I just posted about our reliance on debt over at my blog. You have no idea how right you are and how precarious our situation is. We are quickly moving away from an Asset Economy to an Income Economy. And guess what? We don't have much income.

And for the HUMAN cost of this war, I seriously encourage you to read my co-blogger's post (and here)about the banality of our troops' sacrifice. I'm biased, but I think it's one of the better things I've read recently.

I think the alternative energy development taskforce exists already within the oilmegapoly. Bush-son, was ductile. There was a prefabricated warplan for a different purpose in 1991, morphed throughout the no-fly interbellum, but sufficiently serviceable to invoke for flypaper, putting the frustrated anarchists into conflict in their own terrain; the nationbuilding categorically declared by newly elected Bush-son repugnant was only rhetorically so for debating vs. Kerry purposes, and a nationbuilt would serve the oilmegapoly purposes you suggest, EW. Russia's rejoined Gazprom monopoly is playing havoc in Ukraine this week for similar reasons; and Turkey is a logistical presence; look at the EU membership debate Byzantine which occurred over this past year. A lot of oil still courses through Anatolia. Let's keep sight of your yearlong effort to prototype neocon thinking, as the minority Bush-2 first term relied greatly on the n-c's stepfather his V-P, Cheney; and with the dawning second term the N-Cs got their appointees. There is a lot of stragegy in the conflict besides keeping the Republican Party in office by rallying 'round the flag, which is a traditional Democratic Party ditty; credit the oilmegapolists with the insight that the spot market and Kenny-Boy's client industry could sock away capital from $3.00/gallon gas. The savings give them leverage going into the future. They want to be the same outfit that sells you your hydrogen fuel cell vehicle.

Where are the threads in this tale: payback to Iraq for losing its tethers to the US. I appreciate your link to the Columbia research document, which I will read. I guess I think local on this: as Red Adair put out Kuwait well fires in 1991 marine biologists lamented loss of pristine coastal water conditions; and as Hussein filled in wetlands, professors in the US went on NPR to plan for restoration.
The way I viewed the Social Security hype last year by Bush-2's sales reps was it was their trapdoor accounting method to tap funds for Iraq instead of enduring the risk of congress's power of the purse. Only problem was the first blush retrenchment effect following 28k modem internet spread netted in a readjustment in NASDAQ, so even moderate economists realized the SocSec private account paradigm crashed with tech stocks and would be a nonissue throughout the second term of Bush-2.
Brad De Long has a new blog, and is into economics; you might check it out; got to study now.

Whatever life is, our political/economic life is anything but a zero-sum game. Bush did what many mediocre presidents have done - the short-sighted, quarterly report-oriented, half-assed, EZ thing. However, he is an object lesson: the leader on whom greatness is thrust, who, in a kind of perfect solipcism, manages to stubbornly resist it - he positively thrusts it back.

It is an historical tragedy that Bush was president of the US in '01. The question implicit in all the discussions here of 'opportunity costs' is: how does a nation deal with the tail end of a necessarily fleeting hegemony (post WW2)? Do we float down, or thud down? It is still, literally politically incorrect - taboo - to even vaguely imply that America won't always be the absolute 'number one' in in the world in all realms. (Bush is the accidental pres in so many ways - his inheritance of the grimly optimistic House That Ronnie Built a particularly difficult and parochial one.). The tax cuts, the desparate attempt to force the maintenance of Reserve Currency status on the dollar - particularly vis a vis oil, as EW noted...eh! His choice has been to make sure his buddies get paid off before the bubble bursts.

It's not a zero sum game at all. The opportunity cost is quite literally incalcuable.

I hate to be gloomy gus here, but we may as well face reality. The upside of the fact that this isn't quite a zero sum game is that there will still be real opportunities in the future. The idea of the leading polluter in the world investing in and selling innovative pollution clean-up and prevention technologies to the world is still there, and dovetails with eventual energy independence (I know that others have jumped into this breach, but we will too, and we're still crushingly big). Most of the time, nothing is all good nor all bad, and I subsequently prefer to see an opportunity in a situation which is mostly bad (the truly *bush* administration). The Republican Revolution's main impetus, at the grassroots, has been to shake things up, and they surely have been successful in that. It's really almost innocent, in a way. Left, right or center, we ALL want to shake things up, really. The key to power for us anti-backlash people is not just having better arguments; we have to actually believe in our own vision.

Sorry for the rambling. People on this blog tend to get down to brass tacks, and it's just irresistable to me.

Dead on the heavy funk. Another bookmarked TNH post.

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