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Bill Orton
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March 1, 2003

THE COST OF WAR, PEACE AND SECRECY

by Bill Orton

Ari Fleischer -- the reincarnation of another combatitive and secretive White House spokesman, namely the recently deceased Ronald Ziegler -- is right.

"The world," said Fliescher last week, "stands on the verge of war."

Put simply and cynically, this President wants war.

Military officials talk of attacking Iraq on two fronts by mid-March, at the latest, to avoid the Iraqi summer heat.

It's a matter of "days or weeks, not months," says National Security Advisor Condeleeza Rice.

Our leaders are marching us to a headfirst charge into battle, largely alone, and barely giving American any sense of the costs or after effects that await us in the long occupation that shall follow.

By all appearances, war it shall be.

Some say it is wrong to step around the case for or against war and to instead look beyond the battle to the peace.

After all, to speak in such terms is to say that war is inevitable, which is a tragic admission, for cool heads and calculated leadership could easily avoid this war.

But listening to the words of the President, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, Ari Flesicher and Condoleeza Rice, I'd say that cool heads clearly have not prevailed.

Like his father before him, this President Bush is impatiently checking his watch to see when the unpleasant act of waiting is over.

Two thousand three, then, shall be a year of blood and toil. War shall be waged against Iraq in the spring and victory most certainly shall be won by summer's end.

The mother of all battles, however, will have only begun by the fall, for through this year and all of 2004 shall be waged a far more difficult struggle, one whose impact shall stretch the globe and whose costs shall run into the hundreds of billions of dollars.

Disarmament and regime change seem to be simple and tangible goals, but securing the peace and lessening tensions worldwide are not easily achieved with a heavy hand.

Even as military planners prepare for the "civil administration" of Iraq, the President's own men are secretly preparing for a long, costly occupation that could involve hundreds of thousands of American troops stationed on what can only be called a grand exercise in "nation building."

Floating like a mirage in the discussion of a post-Saddam Iraq is how we shall in victory bring democracy to the long suffering people of that country.

Yet National Public Radio quotes military planners who state coldly that "we'll deal with whose left standing," a brutal recognition that in the chaos after Saddam falls, internal retribution shall largely determine the face of power in Iraq.

The army -- our army -- will be in the midst of the chaos, making order of the chaos, all the while as internal retribution is reshaping the country.

What form of democracy emerges from a bloodbath?

When, exactly, do Americans occupation forces step in and stop the recrimination and bloodshed to make real the mirage of democracy?

And how much does all this cost? The war? The occupation?

It was the President's own chief economic advisory, Larry Lindsay, who speculated that the cost of a war would likely be "between $100 and $200 billion."

Officials in the White House and Pentagon were infuriated by Lindsay's comment, as they said just before the election that the war would cost "less than $50 billion."

Lindsay got sacked months ago, but Pentagon officials are about to show that he was right.

Bush Administration officials must ask for money up front that will be needed to fight this war. Reports are that they're preparing for submission to the Congress a military funding request of $95 billion to cover the initial stages of the war. These funds would not include the long term occupation of Iraq, nor would they anticipate a long, bloody mess if the war goes badly.

One thing for certain is that this won't be like the first Gulf War, which cost about $60 billion. After that one was done, then-Defense Secretary Dick Cheney and Secretary of State James Baker went around to world capitols, hats in hand. They eventually collected checks to reimburse the United States treasury for about $50 billion.

With the go-it-alone bent in Washington and with Germany and France out of the picture, it is unlikely we will see any real money come back to cover the costs of the Gulf War II.

War is seldom as quick or easy as the planners expect, and with no deep pocketed help from allies, the American public will be left to soak up the $95 billion in costs.

This is at a time when the President is calling for an economic stimulus package that consists of giving away hundreds of billions of dollars to the rich from a "surplus" that no longer exists.

Ultimately, no one will quibble over money, but it is a mark of the President's faith in the American people that he should honestly and openly discuss the potential costs in advance of our attack.

If war it is, then the President shall enjoy the support of a broad base of Americans, certainly in the congress, for our soldiers must not be the ones to suffer for lack of resources.

Once war is won -- for, of course, we shall win -- the questions become how damaged will the region be? How much reconstruction will be necessary? How long will Americans have to stay? And what impact will this all have on the opinion that people around the world hold of America?

On damage to the region, remember that Saddam lit aflame 700 oil wells in Kuwait as his forces were driven back. Those wells were concentrated in a region about the size of metopolitan Houston.

Now, the whole of Iraq at stake. The number of wells is quadruple the Kuwaiti figure, pipelines figure in to the equation and the territory is roughly equal to Texas.

If oil becomes a weapon, Saddam could tie down his own oil production capacity for several years.

The first cost then is to the global economy.

The war may -- or may not -- be all about oil, but get one thing clear: the after effects damned well will be about oil.

Experts project that a short, easy war could see access to oil -- and thus prices -- stabilize at about $20 a barrel after the initial spike after the war. This assumes no lasting damage is done to the oil fields or pipelines.

The real fear is of a longer war, in which serious damage is done to Iraqi oilfields and pipelines and where sabotage is done to the oil capabilities in Kuwait or Saudi Arabia. In such a scenario, oil capacity could slump dramatically and for two years or more. The price of oil could hit $80 a barrel, sending the world into a global recession.

In addition to oil, another major cost is that the political situation in Iraq will demand a vast occupation force.

Because we're going it alone -- yes, Spain and Bulgaria are with us, but where are the big players -- we will be standing guard in Iraq virtually alone.

Our airlift capability will be stretched to the limit, as Germany -- the only other nation in the world with any significant airlift capacity -- cannot be expected to make its planes available to fly military and humanitarian missions to help in the occupation.

Our troop levels will be stretched thin, as well. Spanish and Bulgarian troops will be nice additions to our occupation force, but who will be joining Americans in significant numbers to occupy Iraq? Any who do will operate under an American chain of command. The former 3-star general who shall run the country may be telling everyone to call him by the name Jim, but the real power in Iraq will belong to Tommy Franks and Donald Rumsfeld.

As the clock ticks down to war, the American public is not even being told how many troops are likely to stay in a post-Saddam Iraq.

Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, testifying to Congress this week, refused to answer repeated questions from lawmakers about how many troops would be needed. 100,000? 200,000? For a year? Two years? Five years?

NPR reports that a force of 200,000 would cost $50 billion a year just to maintain. If, as with Afghanistan, we're still actively fighting 12 months into the operation, that dollar figure could skyrocket.

Cost of personnel is not the only factor making occupation so expensive. Pure availability of our troops is another concern.

Around 175,000 reserve and national guard troops have been activated for this war. It is not unfair to assume that tens of thousands of these part-time soliders will be called upon to stay in Iraq for months at a time.

Since many reserve and guard troops are firefighters, police or other "first responders," our homeland defense suffers as our domestic protectors serve in the occupation of Iraq. And families and workplaces lose these the comfort and productivity of men and women who must stay on the front-line during years of the occupation.

Even buying our way into this war is costing a bundle.

State Department spokesman Richard Voucher said this week that American policy "is not about buying votes," but our strategy in the Security Council has come down to openly bargaining with Angola and Guinea for their support of our war resolution.

Even NATO ally Turkey is said to be holding out for a bigger aid package if American combat forces are to use Turkish bases and territory for a northern invasion of Iraq.

The final and most difficult question is what will people around the world think of Americans, after we wage this war and occupy Iraq?

Not only is this the most difficult question, but the answer is potentially the scariest.

Some of the greatest threats we could face -- globally and in the homeland -- could come in direct response to our actions and demeanor in the world.

Certainly fanatics who turn despair into rage and who dispatch the desperate against us on missions of death cannot be brought to our side. They can only be combatted. And this combat is to the death, for this is what they seek against us.

This is why it is so regrettable that the war on terrorism is being sidelined for the effort in Iraq. (Remember the guy named Osama?)

But the greater risk is that the moderate middle everywhere will be galvanized against us and lost due to the war. These good people around the world -- especially moderate Muslims and Europeans, and others who understand the reality of this difficult world -- will no longer view America as a balanced player for good in the world.

Ironically, the greatest weapon we possess -- the potentcy of our ideals -- is the one exercised least by this administration.

As we turn from words of reason over to bombs and bombast, we embolden others to unite against our power.

As we abandon our role as impartial arbiter in the Middle East, we lose the power to bring peace there and elsewhere.

As we turn to war in Iraq, we forment warlike responses among those who have always hated us.

As we focus our attention on Saddam, the irrational regime in North Korea is ratcheting tensions and its nuclear weapons program for a future confrontation.

Whether it is there or elsewhere, the more we turn to force, the more we must prepare for violent attacks against Americans and symbols of the west.

In this way, war waged today for the clear goals of disarmament and regime change could cause a broader, longer, less definable conflict.

Without wishing to do so, we could ignite a long-burning conflagration that eventually links against us forces that are today not yet allied.

Worst of all would be if this is precisely the desire. Are political choices being made subservient to military desires, in direct contravention to the constitutional mandate of civilian control over the armed forces?

Added together -- if anyone in the Administration would do so publicly -- the costs of the war and ensuing peace are enormous and shall be borne by the American people alone.

We can expect no financial help from our allies, as we have abandoned the idea of a grand coalition, as in Gulf War I.

We will ask for no sacrifice from the rich, for while the administration prepares a $95 billion request for the war, the President wants to give hundreds of billions to the wealthy from a surplus that no longer exists.

If war it must be, Mr. President, then war it is.

Good fortune in the speedy and successful conduct of this action.

But be wary, sir, for the risks are great.

Foremost, sir, be fair and honest to the American people, for no public shall forever bear forseen-but-unspoken costs.

Begin today to tell the truth about the long term costs in people and money that we shall be expected to bear for this war and your exercise of nation building in Iraq.


Bill Orton is a writer and historian living in Long Beach, California.