Friday, July 21, 2006

The High Cost of War

Mark Hyman’s latest editorial on the cost of the war in Iraq and Afghanistan is summed up by its final sentence: “More than $400 billion is a staggering sum, but that figure could pale in comparison to the cost if there were another sensational terrorist strike on America.”

The unspoken assumption is that the war in Iraq is something that makes “another sensational terrorist strike on America” less likely. That, of course, is nonsense. It’s yet another version of the disingenuous rhetoric that attempts to link the attacks of September 11th to Iraq.

Hyman doesn’t even bother to offer any backing for this assumption. This is another rhetorical maneuver: to defend this assumption would suggest it needs to be defended, that it’s a matter of debate. Simply assuming it raises the chances that it will be accepted uncritically by the audience.

Not only did Iraq have nothing to do with the 9/11 attacks, but Bush’s foreign policy decisions have ignored the most obvious truisms about how to stop terrorism.

Let’s take a trip in the Wayback machine, to the weeks following September 11, 2001. Here’s an excerpt from the
Christian Science Monitor describing what the U.S. will need to do to successfully battle terrorism:

One important lesson, which the US is well aware of: Winning
the public-relations war is crucial. Terrorists try to whip up support among
disaffected populations. Dissipating that support - through humanitarian
actions, propaganda, even policy changes - is crucial to victory.

Another important element is international cooperation -
and indeed, the US is already benefiting from cooperation with Britain, Germany,
Italy, the Philippines, and some of the 60 countries where Al Qaeda terror cells
are believed to be operating.

Hmmmm…let’s check the Bush blunder checklist on this:

Winning the public-relations war: (un)check.
Dissipating support for terrorist causes: (un)check
Making policy changes to undercut terrorists’ appeal: (un)check
Launching humanitarian actions to help bolster America’s image: (un)check
Getting international cooperation: (un)check

Not only has the Bush administration not done any of these things, but they’ve actively gone the opposite way. Despite the U.S. being “well aware of” the importance of winning with ideas, not bombs, and “already benefiting” from international cooperation in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, the Bush administration has flushed all this down the toilet.

By the way, the source cited by the Christian Science Monitor as the authority on this conventional wisdom is the
RAND Corporation, an organization that includes a wide array of political figures from various ideological persuasions, including (ironically enough) Donald Rumsfeld and Condoleezza Rice. Not exactly a lefty institution. In fact, RAND is usually criticized for being too pro-military.

Yet, the Bush administration has taken these common sense approaches to fighting terrorism (approaches which, as the CS Monitor article notes, have proven effective in the past), and turned them on their head.

We abandoned Afghanistan without rebuilding it so we could invade Iraq.
We invaded Iraq unitarily with minimal international support.
We created a power vacuum that allowed an insurrection to develop.
We spent next to nothing on rebuilding the country (as Hyman himself tacitly admits).
We made the quality of life for Iraqis actually worse than it was under Hussein.
We’ve occupied an Arab country on a semi-permanent basis.
We’ve been responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians.
We’ve allowed American companies to profiteer in the aftermath of the invasion.
We’ve tortured and killed Iraqis with little or no cause.
We’ve imprisoned, tortured, and humiliated people without so much as a trial.
We’ve opted out of being an active broker for peace between Israel and the Palestinians.

All of this does the exact opposite of what common sense says we should do to control terrorism. It increases resentment among those groups that have traditionally been recruiting targets for terrorists. It shows the U.S. to be arrogant and unilateral in its decisions. It shows a lack of concern for the lives of those we claim to be “saving.” It suggests our motivations for military action have more to do with self-interest than in helping Arabs. It shows an unwillingness to even contemplate policy changes that might undercut the ideology of the terrorists. In fact, we’ve played up to the cartoonish stereotype of the “Great Satan” perfectly.

Meanwhile, Iraq has devolved into a low-grade civil war with 100 people dying a day, the U.S. passively looks on as the Israeli-Lebanon conflict continues to burn, the Taliban reasserts itself in Afghanistan, and Osama bin Laden still walks free.

To rephrase Hyman, $400 billion is a staggering sum, but it could pale in comparison with the price we will likely pay in the future, in both lives and dollars, as a result of launching a war of choice.

And that's The Counterpoint.

Hyman Index: 1.98


Post a Comment

<< Home

Cost of the War in Iraq
(JavaScript Error)
To see more details, click here.