Leading article: Payback time for the White House

Share

Interviewed by the BBC yesterday, the US Treasury Secretary, John Snow, was insouciant when asked about the mounting cost of the Iraq war. The bill, he suggested, would not come near denting an economy as robust as that of the United States. Indeed, all his answers in this wide-ranging interview were bullish in the extreme. Whether on the yawning US trade deficit, the negative savings rate of US citizens or the prospects for the dollar, Mr Snow was all sunny optimism and confidence. If awkward figures lurked around the corner, Mr Snow wearily professed not to know.

Were his ignorance deliberate, this would hardly be the first time that the memory of a Cabinet minister or his equivalent had been selective. It would merely confirm that Mr Snow is more of a politician than his loose-lipped predecessor, Paul O'Neill. If, on the other hand, Mr Snow did not know or accept the costings published this week by the Nobel laureate and former World Bank chief economist, Joseph Stiglitz, a rude shock may just be winging his way. Two trillion dollars, his upper estimate, is still $2 trillion (£1.13 trillion), even for the richest country in the world.

It is true that this headline figure contains many projections - such as the continuing care and pension costs for wounded servicemen, the loss to the civilian economy from the call-up of reservists and the rise in oil prices -which is not commonly included in the cost of the war. It is also true that Joseph Stiglitz and his co-author, Linda Bilmes of Harvard, are outspoken critics of the Bush administration. Neither caveat, however, invalidates their calculations.

Even their most conservative figure - $1 trillion - is still many, many times higher than the "too-high" estimate of $200bn that cost Lawrence Lindsey his job as President Bush's economic adviser. And while $1 trillion may not actually dent the US economy, it is a loss that inevitably limits the money available for other purposes and could prompt difficult questions in Congress. Was it entirely coincidental that the White House recently made known that it would seek no new funds for reconstruction in Iraq?

Mid-term congressional elections take place this November, and in an election year any financial cost automatically becomes political. All the early signs are Mr Bush and his strategists hope to make the resilience of the US economy the Republicans' campaign theme. The Vice President, Dick Cheney, somewhat surprisingly, made his first speech of the year a paean to the economy. If the Democrats were somehow able to link the war and economic concerns in voters' minds, however, this Republican strategy could backfire. The Stiglitz analysis shows how much of a risk it could be.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A opportunity has arisen for a ...

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped commission: SThree: Does earning a 6 figu...

Recruitment Genius: SEO Executive

£18000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Errors & Omissions: A widow’s tale with an unexpected twist

John Rentoul
 

For all his faults, Russell Brand is utterly sincere, something politicians should emulate

Janet Street-Porter
The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

The saffron censorship that governs India

Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

How did fandom get so dark?

Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

Disney's mega money-making formula

'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

Lobster has gone mainstream

Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

14 best Easter decorations

Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

Paul Scholes column

Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss