Bill Steigerwald

What if in the election of 2000 Al Gore had become president instead of George W. Bush?

Two terms of Commander in Chief Gore is a scary thought. But these days it's getting harder to deny that America and parts of the world would be better off if President Gore had been in charge the last 7.25 years.

It would have been a long national torture. But under President Al Gore there would have been no war in Iraq because he never would have had the crazy neocons pushing him to use 9/11 as an excuse to invade, occupy and democratize Saddam Hussein's savage land.

No Iraq war means no 4,000 dead American soldiers. No 40,000 wounded. No uncountable hundreds of thousands of dead Iraqi civilians. And no $3 trillion tab for what apparently has become the country's second most costly war after World War II.

That staggering price tag -- about 60 times the Bush administration's initial prewar estimates -- was determined by Harvard professor Linda Bilmes and Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz in their new book, "The Three Trillion Dollar War." It's roughly equal to the federal government's 2008 budget, or about 20 percent of our annual GDP.

The figure includes things like the interest on the $12 billion a month the Bush government has been borrowing for Iraq and the $500,000 indemnity paid to the family of each killed soldier. It also includes long-term costs like refurbishing the depleted military and paying for 40 or 50 years of health care for permanently maimed war vets.

The $3 trillion doesn't include the hard-to-measure but not insignificant Middle East "war premium" hidden in the price of a $100-plus barrel of oil -- which cost $25 in 2003 before the invasion of Iraq made the Middle East more chaotic and deadly than usual.

But forget the American taxpayers' $3 trillion bill for Iraq.

Could seven years of a President Gore have surpassed the long-term damage done to the economy by President Bush's federal spending sprees, his tripling of the national debt since 2000, his eroding of the value of the U.S. dollar?

Meanwhile, if Al Gore had become president in 2001, he would have immediately stepped into gridlock. He would have had to battle a unified and semi-principled Republican Party in Congress for every stupid, paleo-liberal social and economic thing he wanted -- just like Bill Clinton had to during the 1990s.

America's first Green president also would have had to confront the cost-benefit realities of greenhouse-gas-cutting schemes like the 1997 Kyoto Protocol -- and quickly discover that no Congress would approve anything so economically harmful and environmentally useless.

Bill Steigerwald

Bill Steigerwald, born and raised in Pittsburgh, is a former L.A. Times copy editor and free-lancer who also worked as a docudrama researcher for CBS-TV in Hollywood before becoming a reporter for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and a columnist Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Bill Steigerwald recently retired from daily newspaper journalism..