|Costs of war by far outweigh
By Jim Lobe
WASHINGTON - Regardless of how quickly US troops
roll into Baghdad, the second Gulf War already looks
like a historic defeat for the United States.
While there is no doubt that Washington's
awesome military machine - the product of a defense
budget greater this year than those of the world's 15
next-largest military establishments combined - will
prevail, the long-term strategic costs of Iraq invasion
are certain to be much greater.
Start with the
cost in US alliances and the gaping split between
Washington and Britain on the one hand and France and
Germany on the other. Put bluntly, "this war will
produce a poison in the United States' closest
alliances", the former director of the National Security
Agency (NSA) and retired Army general William Odom told
the Washington Post, "It comes close to risking
exchanging Europe for Iraq."
Even in the
best-case scenario - a quick and relatively bloodless
campaign in which US and British troops are greeted as
liberators with flowers, much as they were in France in
1944-45 - the consequences of going to war unilaterally
and without the sanction of the United Nations Security
Council are certain to weigh heavily against the United
States for years, if not decades.
witnessing the dissolution of an international system,"
said New York University professor Tony Judt, who wrote
in the New York Review of Books this week that, as the
globe's most powerful nation, the United States has
enjoyed enormous leverage in using that system to
promote its own interests and values. Judt wrote that
instead of America acting like a status quo power by
preserving and strengthening the system to its benefit,
President George W Bush has decided that it has become
simply too constraining.
Like Gulliver in the
famous Jonathan Swift tale often cited by the
neoconservative and right-wing ideologues behind Bush's
foreign policy, Washington cannot permit itself to be
tied down by "Lilliputian" nations, like France or
Germany or Russia, let alone Guinea, or Chile, or
It must instead create a "unipolar"
world order in which Washington, as opposed to a larger
community of nations, formal alliances, or even
international law, acts as the ultimate arbiter of what
is permissible and what is not, even to the extent that
it arrogates to itself the right to act preemptively
against presumed dangers, a clear violation of the UN
"This may be the week that the old
world ends," wrote R C Longworth, senior correspondent
of the Chicago Tribune, "That old world, the only world
most Americans have ever known, was a world of
alliances, of power wrapped in law and of an American
leadership of like-minded nations that accepted this
leadership because Washington treated them as allies,
not as subjects."
Bush's decision to pursue war
with Iraq in the absence of a Security Council
authorization and in spite of a deep split within the
ranks of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO)
marks a decisive repudiation of this view and signals a
decisive new drive to establish that "unipolar world".
But is this really a feasible objective?
The right-wing coalition behind Bush - the
neo-conservatives, the Christian Right, and the
traditional Republican right-wingers like Defense
Secretary Donald Rumsfeld - clearly believes that it is.
Max Boot, one of their spokesmen based at the
Council on Foreign Relations in New York, recently
likened Washington's military power in the world today
to its military dominance of the Caribbean Basin one
century ago, suggesting that "America's destiny is to
police the world".
But most analysts - indeed
most of the US foreign-policy establishment - believe
this is a fantasy, a very dangerous one that is likely
to lead sooner rather than later to a new world
For one thing, Washington's
self-proclaimed right to preempt threats long before
they actually materialize could very easily be claimed
by other countries, such as nuclear-armed India
vis-a-vis Pakistan, or China vis-a-vis Taiwan, or Russia
vis-a-vis Georgia. "This is a recipe for chaos that we
can't control," said one State Department dissident.
Second, there is no evidence that the US public
and Treasury - which is currently forecasting a deficit
this year of at least 300 billion US dollars - is either
willing or able to sustain the kind of imperial mission
on which the Iraqi adventure is predicated.
are stronger than anyone else," Zbigniew Brzezinski,
former president Jimmy Carter's national security
adviser told the Post this week, "but we are not capable
of simply dictating to the world".
years of polling have shown that the public rejects by
an overwhelming margin precisely the role that Boot and
the other hawks are assigning to Washington. "If America
acts virtually on its own," warned the New York Times,
"it is hard to imagine either the Bush administration or
the American people having the staying power to make
Washington has already signaled
that it wants help in reconstruction and possibly in
peacekeeping in Iraq, as it did in Afghanistan. But,
unlike in Afghanistan, the unilateral decision to go to
war has some allies, such as the European Union (EU)
suggesting that they may not be very enthusiastic about
"The degree to which we act alone
correlates with the price we will have to pay in lives,
dollars and influence around the world," warned
Democratic Senator Joseph Biden last week.
Washington may thus find itself with a stark
choice of paying billions of dollars more in occupation
and reconstruction costs or simply giving up and going
home, much as it did in Afghanistan, where stability is
still elusive more than one year after the Taliban's
"Look at Vietnam. Look at Somalia. Look
at Afghanistan," noted Quentin Peel in the Financial
Times this week. "It needs an effective UN to do the
dirty work for it. And yet this administration seems
hell-bent on undermining the institution it most needs."
Even among the hawks in control, there are
serious differences that will surface the morning after
the troops reach Baghdad. Republican right-wingers, like
Rumsfeld and Vice President Dick Cheney, have signaled
their eagerness to get out as soon as possible, a la
Afghanistan, while the neoconservatives, such as Deputy
Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, say Washington has to
be committed for the long haul. Even now, with US troops
moving across the border from Kuwait, there is no
consensus within the administration.
But just as
when Julius Caesar crossed the Rubicon, the crossing of
US troops into Iraq without a Security Council or NATO
mandate now marks the point of no return.