Joseph Stiglitz
Economist; Professor, Columbia University

Joseph Stiglitz's Iraq Exit Plan

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Joseph Stiglitz's Iraq exit plan

Joseph Stiglitz

A graduate of Amherst College, Joseph E. Stiglitz received his PHD from MIT in 1967, became a full professor at Yale in 1970, and in 1979 was awarded the John Bates Clark Award, given biennially by the American Economic Association to the economist under 40 who has made the most significant contribution to the field. He has taught at Princeton, Stanford, MIT and was the Drummond Professor and a fellow of All Souls College, Oxford. He is now University Professor at Columbia University in New York and Chair of Columbia University's Committee on Global Thought. He is also the co-founder and Executive Director of the Initiative for Policy Dialogue at Columbia. Stiglitz helped create a new branch of economics, "The Economics of Information," exploring the consequences of information asymmetries and pioneering such pivotal concepts as adverse selection and moral hazard, which have now become standard tools not only of theorists, but of policy analysts. In 2001, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in economics for his analyses of markets with asymmetric information, and he was a lead author of the 1995 Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which shared the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize.  His most recent book, The Three Trillion Dollar War: The True Cost of the Iraq Conflict measures the war's opportunity cost to Americans.


Card: What’s your advice for getting out of Iraq?

Stiglitz:    Well, in our new paperback version that is coming out this week, we address precisely that kind of issue.  We look at, for instance, the [question of the surge].  Some people have said, “The surge is a success, if we leave now, we will be snatching defeat out of the… out of victory.”  One has to look a little bit more carefully and what has happened.  Now, anywhere else in the world, the level of violence that we see in Iraq would be front page stories day after day.  We become immured to this level of violence.  The violence was less than it was 2 years ago, a year ago, but it’s still in an intolerable level.  Open up the paper and you’ll see, 25 people got killed in a bombing in one city, one day.  Three days later, 50 people got killed and elsewhere.  This is not stability.  And the way got to… what little stability that we got was basically paying some of the [IB] insurgence to fight with us.  But as the experts point it out at that time, this was a very risky strategy because rather than strengthening the national government, you were fractionating the country.  You were providing finance to an independent militia.  It was exactly the same strategy that the British had tried in the South, in Basra, with such disastrous consequences.  So, yes, the British did not lose as many people but the result is when the British basically withdrew, you had this independent militia controlling much of the city at the south of Basra and that was a strategy that pursued.  So this insurgency has not been a success.  Just to give you one… a little inkling of how… how insecure things are and how bad Iraq is being manage, we are now paying contractors to fill sandbags up in Kuwait to ship to the north of Iraq, now can you imagine?  [Shipping]… this expression [IB] , shipping sand from Kuwait to a desert in Iraq, why?  Well, sandbags are important for the military but it’s too risky for contractors to fill the sandbags in Iraq, they have to do in Kuwait and then we have to spend all these money in shipping it, a huge amount of oil used and these vehicles are very very [IB] and costing us huge amounts of money.  So, to go back to your question, it is very clear we need to withdraw, we are not winning.  We need to withdraw in a way that it tries to maintain what stability there is, they… it’s very clear that Obama is committed to that kind of a policy, it’s very clear that McCain talks about victory but what does victory mean?  You know, what does victory mean?  We keep lowering… we keep changing the bar.  Five years ago, we talked of victory, was going to be a sound democracy that would lead to a wave of democracy in the Middle East, no one talks about that now.  When there’s been an election, it’s been an election against what we stand for.  We’ve created enemies.  We’ve lost the minds and hearts of the people.  We lost.  The critical war of the hearts and minds of the people in the Middle East, I mean, we have to recognize that, the way they engaged in torture, they way they conducted the war.  Now, one of the reasons we’re losing the hearts and minds is collateral damage, the longer we’re there, the more collateral damage.  We call it collateral damage, they call it killing their families.  So it’s… unfortunately, this is the reality, I wish it weren’t that way.  I wish the war had been conducted in a different way but we’ve changed the goal post, you know, a good while ago, the goal post was set, you know, when we had this surge and they said, “We will measure the success of the surge by a political resolution,” you know, we knew we couldn’t… we… you know, putting troops in there, you can… you can temporarily reduce the level of violence but would it lead to real stability would be a political solution.  Now, we recognized there wasn’t that political solution so what do we do?  We move the goal post.  We say, “Well, we didn’t… we didn’t’ really mean that stuff about the political solution.  We said we’re going to set benchmarks, those benchmarks hadn’t been met.  Oh, we forget about it.”  So, the know… you know, as far as we can tell McCain has no notion of what victory means and that means, it’s a very dangerous policy.