11 September 2002 - War Is Not a Good Idea

 ‘The event corresponds less to expectations in war than in any other case whatever.’ — Livy

 “War Involves in its progress such a train of unforeseen and unsupposed circumstances that no human wisdom can calculate the end.” — Thomas Paine

“The statesman who yields to war fever must realize that once the signal is given, he is no longer the master of policy but the slave of unforeseeable and uncontrollable events.”  — Winston Churchill


Looking for cheap stocks? Forget the New York Stock Exchange or Nasdaq. Try the Baghdad stock exchange. It’s a small exchange that trades a handful of inexpensively priced companies. Once the U.S. cleans house, pours in aid, and helps it exploit its oil reserves — the second largest in the world — Iraq could be the next Chile or China.

Don’t laugh. That’s the kind of logic coming from Washington D.C., these days. If we follow lock step with the party line from the White House, the war we’re supposedly about to enter (we may even be in it by the time this is printed) will be a quick fix, something like the last time we marched into Iraq. During the 1991 Gulf War, American and Allied forces swept in and took care of business in a matter of months. The financial markets swelled with enthusiasm: On Jan. 17, 1991, the first day of the war, the NYSE soared 4.6 percent.

It won’t be the same this time. Attacking Iraq would be madness. We’ve all heard the obvious reasons: Last time, we had the support of most of the world, but this time even our “staunch ally” Britain is wavering. Prime Minister Tony Blair, usually the U.S. government’s running dog, says he supports the U.S.’s decision, but polls show the British don’t. Europe and Asia also have not jumped on the bandwagon.

If we’re really going to attack, we’ll also need places from which to do so, and the options appear to be drying up. Jordan doesn’t want us. Syria never wants us. Qatar, a tiny pro-West country on a peninsula in the Persian Gulf, has given us an air base, Al-Udeid, but now opposes an attack on Iraq. Qatar is about half the size of Connecticut, bordered on three sides by water and on the other by Saudi Arabia. If the “evildoers” of the region have the destructive muscle the White House says, it isn’t the safest place for our troops to be.

The media has hashed out everyone of these perfectly valid points. But much larger reasons loom for why the U.S. should not start a war. And the roots of those reasons are planted firmly in the streets of the Middle East; those are roots of the deepest, and most dangerous, kind.

If we attack Iraq, then, win or lose, we risk destabilizing several other countries and placing power in the region in the hands of far more anti-American fundamentalist regimes. The result will have profound economic and political implications to Americans thousands of miles away not to mention Israel, which is in the middle of things. I cannot imagine a friend of Israel would support such an undertaking.

Take Egypt, for example. In late August, President Hosni Mubarak voiced his opposition to a military attack. Mubarak is largely viewed as a lackey of the U.S. Egypt, after all, is the second largest recipient of U.S. aid after Israel, pulling in about $2 billion in civil and military support each year. The bigwigs who get a piece of that pie love their monthly check.

That’s not most Egyptians. Distaste for Mubarak is growing among the citizenry. Should we engage Iraq, he’ll be forced to show his true colors, either continuing to drink at the spigot of aid or standing alongside those who oppose a military action. Any decision Mubarak makes could lead to riots in the streets. Even his overthrow is not inconceivable. It wouldn’t be the first time a strong dictator with military support has been ousted. Remember Egypt’s last leader, Sadat.

The same uncertainty exists in Pakistan. Prior to Sept. 11, 2001, no one wanted to have anything to do with what was considered a repressive, backward society. Its government had to beg Bill Clinton to visit while on his trip to India toward the end of his presidency. He agreed only to stop at the airport.

When I was there last year I was shocked at the poverty, the sad disrepair of the infrastructure, and the unhappiness of large parts of the population. General Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan’s military ruler, was a textbook pariah from the U.S. State Department’s perspective: He runs a repressive regime, threatens neighbors with weapons of mass destruction and has openly supported Islamic terrorism. Sounds a little like someone else, no? There are a lot of “evil” leaders in the world – some of whom we support.

Since 9/11, Pakistan would appear to be our best friend. And yet the tensions between various segments of Pakistani society — fundamentalists, military, landed gentry, to name a few — have only worsened. Pakistan, remember, is a remnant of British colonialism, a mishmash of cultures forced into arbitrary borders. Musharraf faces growing opposition and an attack in the region could further undermine the country’s stability.

Perhaps the most pivotal country is Saudi Arabia. Until now, our relationship with this strict fundamentalist nation has been good, but not great. Economically, it’s an important ally: Saudi Arabia has the world’s largest oil supplies, roughly 26 percent of all known petroleum reserves. And it’s clearly important strategically: We have troops based there. That’s angered many people who don’t want Christian troops in the land of the holiest sites of Islam, Mecca and Medina. I can’t understand why we don’t use Muslim troops from Turkey or Morocco there instead. A U.S.-led attack on Iraq will most likely only fuel distrust of our policy making at a time when Saudi Arabia is on edge already.

The country is a mix of two worlds, old and new. Half of its population is under the age of 25, yet it’s run by a bunch of guys who are around 80 years old and completely out of touch with the thoughts and desires of the 15-year-old girl in the shopping mall or the 18-year-old boy in the mosque. (That’s all you see driving through the country: mosques and shopping malls). Thousands of members of the royal family get paid every month while a large part of the population gets nothing. As a result, the monarchy is under attack and popular dissension is growing.

When President Bush goes on television and says certain cultures hate us for our democracy and freedom, he’s just wrong. Everywhere I went in the Middle East, everyone told me how much they loved America and Americans; the hatred is directed at American policy. Guess what was the favorite country of young Arabs and Muslims, according to a study conducted by the British Council after the terrorist attacks on the U.S.A. Yes, the U.S.A.

Why not build on that reservoir of goodwill rather than cause a backlash that will last a generation? Patience and smarter tactics paid off in South Africa, Russia, Poland, and China, countries where the United States now is loved.

Our deep cry for justice and to send a warning to madmen is justifiable and understandable, but we have to be aware of the outside world. The bottom line is this is not a war we want to get into. We can win the battle of Iraq, but that is not the war. It’s not a war that can be won in the traditional sense. If we succeed in ousting Saddam Hussein, what then? Who is going to run Iraq afterwards? We cannot do it. The country is a mish mash of factions who hate each other. Suppose they elect an Islamic fundamentalist leader? Then there would be a long arc of fundamentalists covering thousands of miles. Saddam was anti-fundamentalist, but the radicals may attract more followers once he is gone. Even if we kill everybody in Iraq, it only makes the situation worse. Occupy another Muslim country? We will be fueling more terrorism and more sympathy for anti-Americanism. Don’t forget that Egypt; Pakistan and Saudi Arabia represent 230 million people and I have not even gotten to the effects action might have in Turkey.

What if it takes longer than expected? Morale in the military is already low especially among the reservists, and we would be leaving our troops in an exceedingly hostile part of the globe. What do we do about the Kurds in Iraq, Iran, and Turkey who want their own nation? What happens if another region heats up like, say, Israel? Look at a map and see how vulnerable our ally Israel would be if more surrounding nations become anti-American.

Can we wage war in many places? I’m not sure, especially if this turns into a 1914 kind of situation. A horrible terrorist act then led to a high-minded crusade and serious “preventive” bumbling and a disaster which no one could even explain, much less defend, a few years later. Closer to home, our own “Best and Brightest” stumbled onto the quagmire of Viet Nam with terrible results. And remember how our “Intelligence” got Iran and Somalia so hopelessly wrong?

There’s all this talk about our winning the war in Afghanistan? I’d like to know exactly how we define “winning.” So far all we have done is throw out the Taliban and gain control of a couple of airports and a few hundred square miles. Now we are stuck there trying to prop up yet another unpopular leader. We do not have the necessary manpower or equipment if things heat up elsewhere. We only have 12 aircraft carriers now; our ships are nearly all old as are our planes and much of our equipment. Besides the magnificent fighter planes we have may be of limited use in these kinds of wars.

Let’s think this through. What if we continue making enemies at an accelerating rate? Then one of their madmen explodes a nuclear suitcase bomb in Washington D.C. We immediately destroy Baghdad and all of Iraq. What if a second madman does the same thing in San Francisco? What do we do then since there is no one else to bomb, but millions of madmen still are furious at our policies?

There has to be a better way to save the U.S., Israel, the Middle East and the world.

Economically, you just can’t get around many of the facts: We are the world’s largest debtor nation and this war could be very expensive. The economy is already incredibly vulnerable. The Gulf War in 1990-1991 threw our then-strong economy into recession and it was a short, simple war at a time when the rest of the world was growing – the opposite of today. I’m concerned about the stability of the U.S. dollar. Many nations appear to be pulling their money out for fear the dollar will continue to stumble or the U.S. government will freeze foreign assets, even those of our allies. Suppose this leads to a run on the U.S. dollar? Remember we have to attract $1.7 billion of foreign capital every working day just to finance this year’s trade deficit.

The need to service our previous deficits makes it even more. Next year will be worse – not better.

Hey, we’ve done it before. As is often the case, this action against Iraq appears driven by hubris more than thoughtful consideration. The risks are clear; I’m really not sure what we gain even if things work exactly as Washington hopes.

And remember U.S. Senator Hiram Johnson’s famous warning …[He was apparently quoting Aeschylus the Greek tragic dramatist (525 BC – 456 BC)]…: The first casualty when war comes is truth.