La guerre des $3.000 milliards (au moins)



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L’ancien Prix Nobel d’économie Joseph Stiglitz est devenu, en travaillant en équipe avec l’économiste Linda Bilmes, le spécialiste du décompte du coût réel de la guerre en Irak. Les deux auteurs viennent de publier The Three Trillion Dollar War, livre qui analyse le coût réel de cette guerre dans toutes ses implications et toutes ses dimensions. Aida Edemariam, du Guardian, publie aujourd’hui une analyse du livre, ponctuée par une interview de Stiglitz. L’impression qui en ressort est celle d’une catastrophe aux dimensions extraordinaires, qui dépasse les caractères d'un événement spécifique (une guerre) pour prendre les allures d'un événement systémique, – une catastrophe du système tout entier, entraînant des réactions en chaîne aux conséquences incalculables.

L’article décrit la démarche des deux chercheurs. D'abord cantonnée aux premières études nécessairement sommaires, elle s’est structurée jusqu’à leur décision d’écrire un livre. Ainsi apparaît mieux expliqué et étudié leur constat que le problème économique des dépenses posé par la guerre en Irak est événement extraordinaire.

«Appetites whetted, Stiglitz and Bilmes dug deeper, and what they have discovered, after months of chasing often deliberately obscured accounts, is that in fact Bush's Iraqi adventure will cost America – just America a conservatively estimated $3 trillion. The rest of the world, including Britain, will probably account for about the same amount again. And in doing so they have achieved something much greater than arriving at an unimaginable figure: by describing the process, by detailing individual costs, by soberly listing the consequences of short-sighted budget decisions, they have produced a picture of comprehensive obfuscation and bad faith whose power comes from its roots in bald fact. Some of their discoveries we have heard before, others we may have had a hunch about, but others are completely new – and together, placed in context, their impact is staggering. There will be few who do not think that whatever the reasons for going to war, its progression has been morally disquieting; following the money turns out to be a brilliant way of getting at exactly why that is.

»Next month America will have been in Iraq for five years – longer than it spent in either world war. Daily military operations (not counting, for example, future care of wounded) have already cost more than 12 years in Vietnam, and twice as much as the Korean war. America is spending $16bn a month on running costs alone (ie on top of the regular expenses of the Department of Defence) in Iraq and Afghanistan; that is the entire annual budget of the UN. Large amounts of cash go missing - the well-publicised $8.8bn Development Fund for Iraq under the Coalition Provisional Authority, for example; and the less-publicised millions that fall between the cracks at the Department of Defence, which has failed every official audit of the past 10 years. The defence department's finances, based on an accounting system inaccurate for anything larger than a grocery store, are so inadequate, in fact, that often it is impossible to know exactly how much is being spent, or on what.

»This is on top of misleading information: in January 2007 the administration estimated that the much-vaunted surge would cost $5.6bn. But this was only for combat troops, for four months – they didn't mention the 15,000-28,000 support troops who would also have to be paid for. Neither do official numbers count the cost of death payments, or caring for the wounded – even though the current ratio of wounded to dead, seven to one, is the highest in US history. Again, the Department of Defence is being secretive and misleading: official casualty records list only those wounded in combat. There is, note Stiglitz and Bilmes in their book, “a separate, hard-to-find tally of troops wounded during ‘non-combat’ operations” – helicopter crashes, training accidents, anyone who succumbs to disease (two-thirds of medical evacuees are victims of disease); those who aren't airlifted, ie are treated on the battlefield, simply aren't included. Stiglitz and Bilmes found this partial list accidentally; veterans' organisations had to use the Freedom of Information Act in order to get full figures (at which point the ratio of injuries to fatalities rises to 15 to one). The Department of Veterans Affairs, responsible for caring for these wounded, was operating, for the first few years of the war, on prewar budgets, and is ruinously overstretched; it is still clearing a backlog of claims from the Vietnam war. Many veterans have been forced to look for private care; even when the government pays for treatment and benefits, the burden of proof for eligibility is on the soldier, not on the government. The figure of $3 trillion includes what it will cost to pay death benefits, and to care for some of the worst-injured soldiers that army surgeons have ever seen, for the next 50 years.»

L’impression centrale qu’on recueille à la lecture de cette présentation du livre de Stiglitz est bien celle du lien extrêmement fort entre la guerre d’Irak et la situation économique des USA, jusqu’à l’affirmation que les deux crises ne sont qu’une seule et même crise. C’est une idée particulièrement riche pour conduire l’analyse de ces crises autant que de la situation aux USA. Stiglitz confirme explicitement cette appréciation en la plaçant dans le contexte réaliste de la situation courante, en observant que, dans l’élection présidentielle US, le “remplacement” de la question irakienne par la question de la crise économique comme principale préoccupation des éélecteurs, comme on l’a souvent observé, n’a pas eu vraiment lieu. Simplement, les deux choses se confondent et il y a eu une extension de la première préoccupation (l'Irak) à la seconde (la crise économique): «A lot of people didn't expect the economy to take over the war as the major issue [in the American election,] because people did not expect the economy to be as weak as it is. I sort of did. So one of the points of this book is that we don't have two issues in this campaign – we have one issue. Or at least, the two are very, very closely linked together.»

Mis en ligne le 28 février 2008 à 10H24