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US Marines go ashore in Kuwait last month. While reflecting on the Napoleonic wars in the 19th century, the Prussian philosopher-soldier Carl von Clausewitz penned his famous line that "war is a continuation of politics by other means". Later in the same century, having witnessed first-hand the destructive power of war, American General William Tecumseh Sherman would assert, war "is all hell". (US Navy photo)...





Problems with a 'painless' war

By Ahmad Faruqui

While reflecting on the Napoleonic wars in the 19th century, the Prussian philosopher-soldier Carl von Clausewitz penned his famous line that "war is a continuation of politics by other means". Later in the same century, having witnessed first-hand the destructive power of war, American General William Tecumseh Sherman would assert, war "is all hell".

In one of the last wars of the 20th century, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan on Christmas Day in 1979, claiming that the Afghans had invited them in. Ten years later, a humiliated Red Army crossed the Salang Pass back into the Soviet Union. The war claimed 1.5 million lives and pushed 5 million refugees into Pakistan and Iran.

As the 20th century drew to a close, it seemed that war would no longer be used to redraw political boundaries and would cease to be an instrument of state policy. Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in August 1990 came as a rude shock to post-modern analysts, and the subsequent Gulf War of 1991 to eject Iraq out of Kuwait was an even bigger shock. In December of that year, the breakup of the Soviet Union into 15 countries transformed the entire world political situation, and created an air of optimism that the scourge of war had been finally lifted.

In his speech last Wednesday to the American Enterprise Institute, US President George W Bush not only rehabilitated the Clausewitz definition of war, but went a step farther by presenting war as a painless way of accomplishing regime change. By laying out a Wilsonian vision of what a post-Saddam Iraq would look like, he sought to give war a justification that it had lacked previously. In this vision, regime change in Baghdad would be followed by the implementation of democracy in Iraq. This would permit the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, presumably by removing a fundamental threat to Israeli security. Once this conflict was resolved, creative forces would be unleashed that would liberalize the entire Arab world. Almost parenthetically, the president noted that a major threat to US (and global) security would be removed by the elimination of Saddam Hussein.

In the Bush vision, given America's significant military advantage over Iraq, war carries no downside for the United States. Victory is assured, leading the president to aver repeatedly, "We shall prevail." Against such a backdrop, war develops an irresistible allure, since it is the only policy instrument with the potential for bringing about such great benefits that nobody would question its costs.

Unfortunately, this vision reflects poor judgment. As Joe Klein has noted in Time magazine, the world would have more confidence in Bush's judgment if "if he weren't always bathed in the blinding glare of his certainty". David Frum, the president's biographer, notes that Bush is providing a new kind of leadership to the United States, "a spiritual leadership". But even Frum is led to note, "In Iraq, it is about to be put to its most severe test yet."

Just because the costs of the war are masked does not mean they don't exist. A variety of scholars around the globe have concluded that war with Iraq would result in substantial costs to the United States, Iraq and the world community.

Costs to the US
In his study for the American Academy of Arts and Sciences on the economic consequences of the war, Professor William Nordhaus of Yale University has quantified the economic costs of the war based on a detailed analysis of several best-case and worst-case scenarios. He finds that the war would cost US$99 billion over the next decade in the best case and in excess of $1.9 trillion in less favorable circumstances. The latter figure is 10 times the estimate provided by the Bush administration. None of these costs have been included in the US budget, which even without accounting for these costs is expected to record a deficit in excess of $300 billion during the current fiscal year. A deficit of this magnitude represents 3 percent of the US gross domestic product (GDP), and has become a major cause for concern among US policymakers. When the costs of the war are factored in, deficits of $400 billion to $500 billion per year are possible. These would represent a threat to US economic prospects. To place this fiscal threat in perspective, deficits above 5 percent of GDP would disqualify developing countries from International Monetary Fund (IMF) lending.

In addition to these economic costs, the US is likely to experience casualties among its troops. The director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), George Tenet, testified before Congress that Saddam Hussein was likely to use his biological and chemical weapons if he viewed himself and his regime in mortal danger, trapped by an invading force that wanted to effect regime change. His conventional military capability has deteriorated substantially since the Gulf War. According to the US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Iraqi conventional military capability is down by half from what it was during the Gulf War. Others have argued it may be as low as a quarter of that capability, since much military hardware is obsolete and in poor repair even compared with that of Iraq's neighboring countries, much less compared with what the United States has in its inventory. The Iraqi Air Force is dysfunctional, and Iraqi air defenses have not been able to shoot down a single allied plane that has patrolled the no-fly zones over northern and southern Iraq during the past 12 years. One can assume that troop morale within the Iraqi military is a tenth of what it was before the Gulf War. All of this lowers the "redlines" for using biological and chemical weapons, and raises the probability that Saddam will resort to using non-conventional weapons during the conflict.

Even though US forces have been equipped with various types of protective gear, many US analysts are skeptical about its workability. For example, retired US Colonel David Hackworth believes that US troops are poorly prepared for dealing with chemical and biological weapons and would suffer high casualties if they were exposed to such weapons.

Finally, the war would expose the US civilian population to greater risks at home, by raising the probability of terrorist attacks being carried out. These may not happen during the course of the war, but may come several years later. The damage could be astronomical. Ironically, a war that is being fought to eliminate such risks to the US civilian population has a significant chance of increasing them.

Retired US General Wesley Clark, the former head of North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) forces, has called the war against Iraq an elective rather than necessary war. According to Clark, this war will "put us in a colonial position in the Middle East following Britain, following the Ottomans. It's a huge change for the American people and for what this country stands for."

It is likely that that the United States would be no more welcome in Baghdad than the Soviets were in Kabul in 1979. Notes Christopher Preble of the Cato Institute in Washington, "We should expect that American troops would remain in this troubled region for many years. In the case of Iraq, the American people must recognize that a benign mission of liberation may become an obligation of occupation, and we should expect that those who already hate us will use the excuse of a US troop presence in the Middle East as a vehicle to promote their mission of violence against Americans around the globe."

Cost to Iraq
As 3,000 cruise missiles rain on them within the first 48 hours of the war, the people of Iraq will be the first to bear the immediate cost of the war. It is useful to recall what happened during the Gulf War to the Iraqis. As the war began, John Major, then prime minister of Britain, declared: "We have no quarrel with the people of the Iraq." Yet the war took a deadly toll on the people of Iraq, as sociologist Beth Osborne Daponte at the Heinz School of Public Policy and Management at Carnegie Mellon University was to show a year later. It killed 205,500 Iraqis, including 109,000 men, 23,000 women and 74,000 children. Three-quarters of the dead were civilians. More than a 100,000 died of postwar adverse health effects.

The very large number of casualties in the Gulf War put to rest the myth of precision bombing and high-tech weaponry. This hypothesis was rejected once again in the US-Afghan war. Between October 7 and December 20, 2001, military operations carried out by the US military killed 3,400 civilians, according to a dossier compiled by Professor Marc Herold of the University of New Hampshire. These casualties continue to mount with every passing month, even though they only occasionally make it to the world news media. The US has indeed installed Hamid Karzai in Kabul, but his ability to tame the warlords in Afghanistan is suspect at best. It is questionable whether Afghanistan has been liberated or moved back in time to the pre-Taliban period.

After the Gulf War, the West imposed economic sanctions on Iraq. These had no impact on Saddam Hussein or his regime, but have had a devastating impact on the well being of the civilian population. According to the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), the sanctions kill 5,000 children under the age of five every month. Says The Economist, "Even if the truth is half that number it would still mean that about 360,000 children had died as a result of 12 years of sanctions."

Will the new Iraq war, which is postulated to be a war of liberation, be any kinder to the people of Iraq than the Gulf War? The United Nations does not believe so. Its secretary general, Kofi Annan, estimates that this new war could swell the number of displaced people in Iraq to 2 million; create a million refugees; and leave as many as 10 million (or 40 percent of the population of 25 million) dependent on the outside world for food assistance.

A recently released UN document predicts that 30 percent of children under the age of five in Iraq, or 1.26 million, "would be at risk of death from malnutrition" in the event of a war. The draft document, "Integrated Humanitarian Contingency Plan for Iraq and Neighboring Countries", was produced by the UN's Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) on January 7.

The cost to the world community
The fallout of a war with Iraq would not stop with the people of Iraq. There is a reasonable chance that it would stir up auxiliary regional conflicts, leading to more casualties and chaos. In addition, the war would set a dangerous precedent in international law, and render asunder the compact of multilaterallism embodied in the UN Charter. According to Judge Christopher Weeramantry, former vice president of the International Court of Justice, there is no provision for a preventive war in the UN Charter. He argues that the Security Council cannot make decisions that are contrary to the charter without consulting the UN General Assembly. The Bush administration has, of course, no interest in going to the General Assembly.

For the same reasons, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder remains opposed to preemptive strikes because "no realpolitik and no security doctrine should lead to the fact that, surreptitiously, we should come to regard war as a normal instrument of politics".

What is the probability that the war would achieve its ends? The neo-conservatives in Washington, who seem to have a lock on the thinking of the Bush administration, regard this as a certain outcome. But given their poor understanding of Arab politics and culture, one cannot give much weight to their ability to assess probabilities of events in the Middle East.

A more illuminating response comes from Yossi Alpher, former director of the Jaffe Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University, and now co-editor of, an Internet-based Israeli-Palestinian dialogue. Commenting on the neo-conservative obsession with establishing a Wilsonian democracy in Baghdad, Alpher says, "this is wishful thinking that appears to have little basis in the likely postwar reality. Indeed, the very opposite scenario - a wave of anti-American radicalism and terrorism sweeping the Middle East, Iraq engulfed in ethnic unrest, and millions of refugees destabilizing neighboring countries - is equally plausible."

The inevitability of war
The millions who marched in protest against this war on February 15 have been labeled "wimps, appeasers, and lefties" by the proponents of this war. A new strand of arrogance has emerged in US political thought, which argues that France and Germany have no right ever to disagree with the United States, since it liberated them from Adolf Hitler's evil regime. President Bush's advisors have told him to ignore the protesters, as have some leading pro-war Republicans. Senator John McCain of Arizona said it was foolish for people to protest on behalf of the Iraqi people, because the Iraqis live under Saddam Hussein and they will be far better off when they are liberated from his oppressive rule. Retired General Norman Schwarzkopf and former secretary of state James Baker, who had been opposed to invading Iraq without any provocation, have withdrawn their opposition to the war.

However, there are still people such as Douglas Hurd, Britain's foreign secretary during the Gulf War, who remain opposed to fighting a preemptive war in Iraq. Writing in the RUSI Journal, he opines, "We might win the war in six days and then lose it in six months." He says the Bush administration has made a serious mistake by swallowing "whole [Israeli Prime Minister Ariel] Sharon's argument that Israel is a straightforward ally against terrorism. We run the risk of being viewed not as liberators but as protectors of an oppressor." Lord Hurd says a war against Iraq has the risk of turning "the Middle East into a region of sullen humiliation, a fertile and almost inexhaustible recruiting ground for further terrorists".

Oblivious to all these views, the neo-conservatives are continuing to push ahead with their agenda. War against Iraq is almost a certainty now. What is equally certain is that it will not be an anodyne war.

(2003 Asia Times Online Co, Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact for information on our sales and syndication policies.)

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