by Gary North
I listened carefully to President Bush's speech. I hope you did, too. These words especially impressed me:
To all the challenges that confront this region of the world there is no single solution, no solely American answer. But we can make a difference. America will work tirelessly as a catalyst for positive change. . . .
The consequences of the conflict in the Gulf reach far beyond the confines of the Middle East. Twice before in this century, an entire world was convulsed by war. Twice this century, out of the horrors of war hope emerged for enduring peace. Twice before, those hopes proved to be a distant dream, beyond the grasp of man. Until now, the world we've known has been a world divided — a world of barbed wire and concrete block, conflict, and cold war.
Now, we can see a new world coming into view. A world in which there is the very real prospect of a new world order. In the words of Winston Churchill, a world order in which "the principles of justice and fair play protect the weak against the strong. . . ." A world where the United Nations, freed from cold war stalemate, is poised to fulfill the historic vision of its founders. A world in which freedom and respect for human rights find a home among all nations.
I am, of course, quoting from President Bush's speech to Congress on March 6, 1991. In that speech, he laid the groundwork for his son's speech on Sunday evening, September 7. The father heralded "A world where the United Nations, freed from cold war stalemate, is poised to fulfil the historic vision of its founders." The son announced:
Some countries have requested an explicit authorization of the United Nations Security Council before committing troops to Iraq. I have directed Secretary of State Colin Powell to introduce a new Security Council resolution, which would authorize the creation of a multinational force in Iraq, to be led by America.
I recognize that not all of our friends agreed with our decision to enforce the Security Council resolutions and remove Saddam Hussein from power. Yet we cannot let past differences interfere with present duties. Terrorists in Iraq have attacked representatives of the civilized world, and opposing them must be the cause of the civilized world. Members of the United Nations now have an opportunity — and the responsibility — to assume a broader role in assuring that Iraq becomes a free and democratic nation.
The United Nations' blue helmets will go to Iraq if President Bush gets his way. Anyone who had hopes that the United Nations was dead and buried — I was among this pathetic group — did not foresee the obvious: the same people who were in charge of foreign policy under Bush 41 are now moving into the back-seat driver's position under Bush 43. They are advocates of solutions imposed by the United Nations. They run the State Department, and they have now re-gained the President's ear, as his speech reflected. The neoconservatives who are working in the office of the Secretary of Defense must now make their peace with the Department of State. The audible sucking sound of the quagmire that is Iraq has enabled the folks at State to re-gain access to the levers of power.
One of these men is Richard Armitage, a long-term foreign policy advisor. On September 2, he went so far as to say that the US will fly the UN flag over Iraq, as long as the US gets to command the show. This is from the September 2 issue of The International Herald Tribune, a joint effort of The New York Times and numerous national newspapers. It is an Establishment journal in the broadest sense. The article begins:
Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, who had pressed for five years to topple Saddam Hussein, admitted last week to mistakes in planning the war in Iraq. He said, for the first time, that the administration was considering placing U.S. and British forces there under a UN flag, provided their leader would be American. Armitage declined to give details. "I don't think it helps to throw them out publicly right now," he said.
The details are now becoming clear. The United States is going to have to bring in the UN in order to save face and save money. That's what it is: saving face. The UN flag will fly in Iraq. Conservatives will have to eat crow, the article says.
The deputy secretary's comments became part of a nascent chorus — tentative but unmistakable — of officials, lawmakers and others who have been re-examining their preconceptions about Iraq and calling for a midcourse correction. Reality has poked ideology in the eye. For conservatives, this has meant considering the idea that America cannot go it alone and may have to appease allies who benefited from the war but failed to support it. It means acknowledging that Iraq is so badly broken that it could well require a lengthy and extremely costly process of nation-building, a term that makes many on the right cringe.
But so will liberals.
For liberals — many of whom opposed the invasion — it may mean admitting there can be no swift departure because the stakes have become too high. Leaving now would place Iraqis under violent usurpers and set a precedent that could haunt the U.S. government for years.
As if to confirm this, Senator Joe Biden, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, praised Bush's Sunday evening speech and promised to get behind the President. And why not? The winner will be the United Nations. This country will supply most of the money, of course, meaning American taxpayers. But any credit for nation-building will go to the UN — not that there is going to be any credit. The dream-spinners who sing of democracy in a stable Iraq have not had a clue from the beginning. Democracy is not going to be imposed on a Muslim country in the Middle East by Western military force. This na´ve dream of college professors and high-salary foreign policy experts in Washington and the related think tanks will cost American taxpayers hundreds of billions of dollars before some future President finally admits defeat and brings the troops home.
THE INITIAL PRICE TAG
The President's speech on Iraq on Sunday evening indicated just how high the economic burden will be that we taxpayers will be asked to bear, not to mention the burden for our troops. The first installment of the bill will now be presented to Congress. The figure exceeded previous estimates. The President said:
Our strategy in Iraq will require new resources. We have conducted a thorough assessment of our military and reconstruction needs in Iraq, and also in Afghanistan. I will soon submit to Congress a request for $87 billion. The request will cover ongoing military and intelligence operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere, which we expect will cost $66 billion over the next year. This budget request will also support our commitment to helping the Iraqi and Afghan people rebuild their own nations, after decades of oppression and mismanagement. We will provide funds to help them improve security. And we will help them to restore basic services, such as electricity and water, and to build new schools, roads, and medical clinics. This effort is essential to the stability of those nations, and therefore, to our own security. Now and in the future, we will support our troops and we will keep our word to the more than 50 million people of Afghanistan and Iraq.
This is an open-ended commitment. It is already huge. While most Americans did not hear the speech or read it, because they are just not interested in politics, those Americans in the top 20% of the income distribution curve (probably you) will wind up paying for most of this. These are the people who are also the source of new investment capital. While they are usually content to shrug off new commitments by the government, because they always assume that economic growth will somehow pay for new ventures, this time the deficits are getting very large very fast.
Every dollar that is taxed to rebuild Afghanistan and Iraq is a dollar that will not be invested. The same is true of every dollar spent to buy Treasury debt. We are no longer a nation of savers. Yet thrift, coupled with entrepreneurship, is the basis of economic growth. We are not eating our seed corn; we are sending it to Afghanistan and Iraq.
AN OPEN-ENDED COMMITMENT
James Dobbins is a foreign policy professional. He served under four presidents until his retirement last year. He now works for the RAND Corporation, a well-funded private think tank. I heard him interviewed on the morning of the President's speech.
He recently co-authored a book, America's Role in Nation-Building: From Germany to Iraq," published by RAND. In a press release for the book, we read:
Ambassador L. Paul Bremer, Interim Administrator for Iraq, says: "Jim Dobbins and his team have produced a marvelous 'how to' manual for post-conflict stabilization and reconstruction. I have kept a copy handy for ready consultation since my arrival in Baghdad and recommend it to anyone who wishes to understand or engage in such activities."
This means that Dobbins is a significant player, although from a desk at RAND.
He says that in order to be successful, there must be anywhere from 300,000 to 500,000 troops stationed in Iraq for at least seven years. The book says five years, but in recent interviews, he has added two years.
Obviously, the US cannot supply 500,000 troops. We have 130,000 there today, and we are stretched thin. As Dobbins said on Sunday, we now are facing a major threat from North Korea over the next 36 months.
President Bush admitted in his speech that he has now accepted the Party Line of the liberal internationalists and his father: the United Nations must now intervene to clean up the mess. I read several articles in the latest issue of Foreign Affairs, published by the Council on Foreign Relations, America's most influential private organization. The authors were unanimous: the United Nations should have been heavily involved in the Iraq operation from the beginning. They criticized Bush, not for invading Iraq, but for invading unilaterally.
Colin Powell will soon go to the UN and eat a heaping helping of crow on behalf of the United States. Dessert will be frogs' legs and sauerkraut. There is no doubt about the menu. President Bush sent Powell to the UN with an inaccurate weapons of mass destruction speech before we invaded. The UN didn't buy it. Now Powell returns to beg — no other word will do — for the UN to send in troops, money, and its precious flag to fly.
We will cut France in on the oil. Watch. All the chest-thumping about "sticking it to the frogs" last March will be replaced by begging. My bet is that the French will buy in if they get a large enough payoff. Who will have the last laugh then?
Osama bin Laden, that's who.
Terrorists in the Middle East are now mobilizing. They are coming to Iraq to shoot our troops, blow up oil pipelines, and generally make trouble. The symbol of this resistance is bin Laden. We hear nothing verifiable from him these days. We hear little about him. But, dead or alive, he has become the symbol of successful resistance. What is happening in Iraq daily proves his point: fundamentalist Islam rather than modern, secular, socialist politics, is the way of the future in the Middle East. The US removed bin Laden's enemy, Saddam Hussein, whom bin Laden contemptuously dismissed as a socialist, which is exactly what he was.
Now the West faces a long-term crisis — the one I wrote about almost years ago: talking tough and then retreating. It's clear what bin Laden and the radicals are doing. They are running Hezbollah's Lebanon strategy on us. It worked with Israel. It took Hezbollah almost two decades to pull it off. The Israelis invaded confidently in 1982. They pulled out quietly in the night almost 20 years later. Yet Lebanon was on their border. Iraq is not on our border. To imagine that American voters have the same stamina to remain in the Middle East that Israeli voters had in 1982 is ridiculous.
President Bush used the argument that it's better to keep the terrorists pinned down in Iraq, so they won't attack American cities. "And the surest way to avoid attacks on our own people is to engage the enemy where he lives and plans. We are fighting that enemy in Iraq and Afghanistan today so that we do not meet him again on our own streets, in our own cities." This assumes that the terrorists are short of volunteers to come here. Why should anyone assume that?
On Sunday, I watched "60 Minutes." They broadcast an old report on the porous border with Canada and just how easy it is to gain refugee status in Canada: show up, say that you're a refugee, and 90 minutes later, you're a resident of Canada. It's literally that easy. The man who once ran Canada's immigration program said on-screen that the so-called refugees present fake papers, and that nothing is done to verify who they are. Then they disappear into the population. Nobody in authority follows up.
There are in essence open borders in Iraq with Syria and Iran. There are also open borders north of the United States. There are basically open borders between Canada and the Middle East. Combine these factors over an indefinite period of time, and we have the makings of a never-ending series of increases in terrorism and government spending to pay for counter-terrorism.
HOW MANY BILLS? HOW LARGE?
Anyone who voiced doubts about the wisdom of this ill-fated invasion was roundly criticized by supporters of the President. But now the President has sent the first installment of the bill to taxpayers. The bill is two-fold: hundreds of billions of dollars and a UN bail-out of the operation.
The American economy is not in good shape. The Federal deficit is large and may grow much larger unless business profits rebound sharply and individual income rises. There will be some government budgetary relief from the tax-paying side of the ledger if the economy avoids a recession, but the costs of Afghanistan and Iraq will continue to rise.
Uncertainty is a cost that must be paid for. Rising uncertainty means rising costs. The magnitude of the first installment — $87 billion — points to expenditures far larger than anyone in authority imagined last February.
There are advocates of the Administration's Iraq policy who are now calling for an invasion of Iran. Dr. Michael Ledeen of the influential American Enterprise Institute recently made this case.
. . . Syria is easier to intimidate than Iran, but the Syrians will help the terrorists as much as they can. I also agree that we will eventually win, but that requires the liberation of Iran, at a minimum. And I am sure we will get there, because there is really no way to escape. They have declared war on us, and our only choices are to win or to lose. "Internationalizing" the Iraqi battlefield won't help; it will only diversify the dead.
This really is a war of freedom against tyranny. The Iranians and the Saudis fully understand this (I'm not so sure about the Syrians), and I think President Bush understands it too, in exactly those terms. Alas, it does not seem that Secretary of State Powell sees it that way, and he keeps convincing himself that with only a bit more time, and bit more effort, we can settle this like gentlemen.
I wish he were right, but I don't think so. At the end of the Gulf War, we left Saddam in power, to our great regret. If we try to leave the mullahs and the sheikhs in power this time, it will be terrible.
This sounds like military action to me. Ledeen says elsewhere that he doesn't mean military action. He means political action. But America began political action against Iran in 1979. What has America's foreign policy establishment got to show for it?
I don't think the President will be able to persuade Congress or the voters to invade Iran. But if Ledeen is correct about the nature of Iran's long-term threat, and if American political action fails, as it surely has failed all over the Middle East for fifty years, then we are going to lose this war. And if we lose this war, Osama bin Laden's vision of what Muslims ought to do will attract more supporters.
President Bush has verbally begun the pull-out. It's going to take a couple of hundred billion extra dollars, but he has begun to lay the groundwork for our retreat from Iraq. The shift from the neocons, whose reign over military policy was brief, to the Old Hands at the CFR and State has begun. Ledeen sees it coming, as well he should. He wrote this the day after the President's speech:
My guess, listening between the lines, is that so many people all over the world viewed our appeal to the United Nations as a clear sign of retreat, that the president decided he'd better get out there and look tough. He rightly said that we've learned that weakness invites terrorist attack while strength deters it, and he insisted that we're strong, that we're taking the battle to the bad guys, and we're going to track them all down. Let's hope it works, but I doubt it. I think we're in for a new wave of attacks, both here and in the Middle East, in part because the terrorists have to show signs of real strength, and in part because so much of what has been coming out of this administration of late really does reek of retreat.
As usual, it was a good speech, carefully crafted and elegantly presented. I like his clearly heartfelt reiteration of the theme of freedom versus tyranny, which is indeed the heart of the matter. He's clearly pleased, as we should all be, that there has been great progress throughout Iraq, electing local governments, getting schools up and running, and so forth.
But, alas, he has lost focus. He reminded us that he had always expected this to be a long war, but he never mentioned the Evil Axis, never once talked about the several countries that are supporting the terrorist attacks against us, never mentioned the Iranian atomic bomb or the North Korean nuclear program or the ongoing Saudi and Syrian support for terror. This speech was narrowly about Iraq, with a couple of afterthoughts about Afghanistan. If he's aware that we can't possibly win in Iraq unless we bring down the mullahcracy in Tehran, he didn't give any sign of it.
Bringing down the mullahcracy in Tehran has been high on America's foreign policy goals since 1979. Nothing has worked. Why should Ledeen or anyone else think that this is going to change, especially when American troops are bogged down trying to keep the lid on a country that is two-thirds Shi'ite, as Iran is? Why should our bogged-down status not call forth a generation of terrorist attacks on our troops?
Iraq is a nation that had a ruler who suppressed the mullahcracy. We just chased him out of office. Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld insists that Iraq's future democracy will not be a theocracy. If true, then this much is sure: it won't be a democracy. Majority voting will produce a mullahcracy in Iraq, and a Shi'ite one at that.
The President says that our troops have the enemy pinned down in Iraq. But to pin anyone down, you have to be in the ring with him. The terrorists have our troops pinned down in Iraq. There is no way that the Congress will authorize another invasion in the Middle East. The Great Satan is immobilized at the expense of Iraq, Iran's enemy. Why should this worry the mullahcracy in Iran?
We are now caught in the tar baby. It was easier to get into than it will be to get out of.
As an investor, you had better factor in the costs of (1) a permanent war, (2) permanent counter-terrorism, and (3) an eventual retreat from Iraq. The cost of funding the Federal deficit will be borne immediately. I think the Democrats will vote to accept Bush's request for funds, but there will be a quid pro quo. Biden has already submitted the bill; the implementation of a multinational foreign policy. Bush has surrendered in advance. At some point, this will be symbolized by the UN flag. Armitage said as much earlier this month.
I had hoped that the war in Iraq would have one major benefit: the burial of the UN. But the UN, like Dracula, always comes back. The blue helmeted UN troops always get legitimized by American Presidents. Its flag always flies. No matter how tough a President talks, no matter how much patriotism is fanned, the UN flag always winds up flying over American ventures abroad. "O, say, can you see?" Yes, sadly, I can.
September 13, 2003
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