A few months ago, I was in a television studio with one of Washington’s leading pro-war cheerleaders. After we finished our mini-debate, he asked if I thought war was coming. Well, I said, it seems to me that when enough people want a war, it is likely to happen. “But,” he said, only half in jest, “we’ve wanted so many wars, and we didn’t get them. And we’ve wanted this one for years.” Well, now his dream has come true.
I hope that the get-Iraq crusaders–neocon kingpin Bill Kristol; columnist/bombardier Charles Krauthammer; more-hawkish-than-thou Democrats Joe Lieberman, Dick Gephardt and John Edwards; reluctant warrior Colin Powell; inspections-thwarter Dick Cheney; strategic kibitzer Richard “of Arabia and the Entire World” Perle; unilateralist extraordinaire Donald Rumsfeld; and, oh, yes, President/Sheriff George W. Bush–are right.
That the war goes easy, with few casualties and little collateral damage (which is also known as crushed, maimed, and burned children and adults). That Saddam is dethroned. That liberation occurs, with flag-waving and moustache-shaving in the street. That food, medicine, electricity and water reach the Iraqi people, many of whom are already undernourished. That the country remains intact and does not descend into chaos marked by fighting among or between its various ethnic groups and battles between Kurds and Turks. That if there are awful weapons of mass destruction or scientists with dangerous know-how in Iraq, the US military is able to prevent these arms and their designers from reaching those who would put them to evil use, all while prosecuting the war and securing a nation of 23 million or so people. That the subsequent occupation proceeds smoothly.
That democracy and human rights sprout in a society with no democratic tradition and spread to other nations in the region. That the Iraqis select public-interest-minded democrats and secularists–not religious fundamentalists, demagogues, or Iranian-backed America-haters–to represent them. That the abilities of global terrorists are curtailed. That the invasion and occupation do not bolster al Qaeda recruitment, embolden terrorists to strike American targets, or cause other governments to tumble and fall to Islamo-fascists. That the reconstruction of Iraq is well-financed and managed effectively–in a multilateral manner. That the nation’s oil wealth is used for the benefit of its people. That its economy–destroyed by sanctions and Saddam Hussein’s ways–rebounds. That the United States does not become a despised occupier. That somehow the changes in Iraq enable a peaceful solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. That America’s security is enhanced and the Middle East starts to be transformed into a region of tranquility, stability, prosperity, and justice.
There are a lot of promises being attached to this war. It’s not just a matter of chasing off a ragtag bunch of Islamic fundamentalist students who have taken over a poor and undeveloped country and blasting the remnants of several terrorist camps. War in Iraq has been presented as a cure-all. We can protect the United States and the world, transform a dictatorship into a democracy, and address the many dilemmas of the Middle East by mounting an unfriendly takeover of Iraq using an army of nearly a quarter-million people. And–at no extra charge–we can enforce the United Nations’ mandate, for the UN is too weak to do that itself.
But in addition to fifty states (and the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, American Somoa, the Virgin Islands, and Guam), Bush will now also be responsible for Iraq. Forget reforming Medicare, how do you keep the hospitals in Basra open and stocked with sterile gauze? CEO of Iraq–how will that look on his résumé? Some of the costs of the war and occupation can be calculated in advance. After months of ducking the question, the administration has conceded that the military action alone will probably run in the $70 billion to $100 billion range. And an estimated cost of occupation is $20 billion a year. For how long? Who knows? (Perhaps John Kerry, John Edwards, Howard Dean and the other Democratic presidential wannabes are now running to be in charge of two countries.)
But the less tangible costs are impossible to calculate. What’s the price of the United States’ image in the world? A poll conducted in early March by the Arab American Institute and Zogby International asked Arabs in various countries whether they possessed a favorable or unfavorable view of America. In Jordan, the positive/negative ratio had dropped from 34/61 in March 2002 to 10/81. In Morocco, it fell from 38/61 to 9/88. Pissing off people in other countries may not be reason not to act on principle or in self-defense (assuming that’s what this war is about, which I don’t). But it is foolish to behave as if the opinions of others do not count and are of little consequence. In calculating security threats to the United States, how do you factor in overseas animosity?
During his get-out-of-Dodge speech, Bush declared, “The terrorist threat will be diminished the moment Saddam Hussein is disarmed.” Yet how can he assert that? The repercussions of war are unpredictable. (Did the first Gulf War, which ended with a US military presence in Saudi Arabia offensive to Islamic extremists, lead to September 11?) Consider the opening line of a recent New York Times front-pager: “On three continents, al Qaeda and other terror organizations have intensified their efforts to recruit young Muslim men, tapping into rising anger about the American campaign for war in Iraq, according to intelligence and law enforcement officials.” A senior American counterintelligence official told the newspaper: “An American invasion of Iraq is already being used as a recruitment tool by al Qaeda and other groups.”
So you remove Saddam Hussein–who, according to a CIA finding last fall, did not pose a terrorist threat to the United States unless directly threatened by Washington–but there’s a recruitment boom for al Qaeda (at a time when Osama bin Laden’s network seems to be under the gun). Is that a net diminution of the “terrorist threat” to America? No one can accurately say. Yet Bush–disingenuously–has been guaranteeing results. He has been over-promising. Just as he has been hyping the still unproved link between al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein, a connection that would call for severe action. Just as he has been misrepresenting criticism of his policy by suggesting that his opponents prefer “inaction.” No, war skeptics in the United States and the Security Council have proposed other courses of action, including coercive inspections and hard-and-fast deadlines. Bush could have argued these alternatives were not likely to succeed. Instead, he dishonestly has ignored their existence. Likewise, he has claimed to be pursuing diplomacy, when all that meant to him was pressing the Security Council to endorse war.
A tangent: in his most recent war speech, Bush called on Iraqi military and civilian personnel to “not destroy oil wells, a source of wealth that belongs to the Iraqi people.” Was that an affirmation of socialism? Can the Iraqis expect to see the US viceroy in Baghdad oversee the revitalization of a nationalized oil industry?
Perhaps the war-backers will triumph and the assorted scenarios mentioned above will come to pass. Unlike other big-time endeavors sought by the neocons and conservatives, this is a no-holds-barred effort. To use a cliché, a swing for the fences. Conservatives often gripe that their principles are never fully put to the test. Ronald Reagan cut taxes, but deficits occurred because Congress didn’t curtail spending. Welfare reform was passed, but it wasn’t strict enough. Ballistic missile defense hasn’t gone operational yet because the program has not been sufficiently funded and supported. Saddam Hussein was pushed back in 1991, but not pursued. This time out, the cons and neocons should have no complaints. This is what they have desired for years. Bush has his war, and it’s step one in their (and his) crusade.
Bush and the rest are placing much at risk for their grand promises. Let them take credit, if success transpires. And let them bear responsibility for whatever might be unleashed.