The Iraq War Bluff Revisited

Thanks to Mark Ganzer for digging back out a long post of mine from summer of 2002 about the Iraq War, then looming, and its likely consequences:

Reprint edition from July 31, 2002:

There is not any doubt that Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz intend to go to war against Baghdad, and the signs I’ve seen are that they have convinced President George W. Bush to do it. Apparently the top officers in the US armed forces are unanimous in not wanting this war, but then Colin Powell initially opposed the first Gulf War, as well. Who wants to be dragged into an uncertain operation that might make you look bad? Nevertheless, if Bush orders the war, it will happen.

The varying Pentagon war plans being leaked are not a sign of unseriousness. They are a sign that different factions within the Pentagon want to do the war in different ways, and they are jockeying for position by releasing their opponents’ plans with a negative spin on them. War departments always have varying scenarios for fighting a war, and often only in the actual event are the hard choices made. Those with good memories may remember that the geniuses over at The New Republic were insisting on putting 100,000 U.S. troops into Afghanistan last October, and apparently there were some in the Pentagon who agreed that might be necessary (what a recipe for disaster) before the Taliban collapsed so startlingly.

The Senate and the House don’t appear to be opposed to the project. And, the drumbeat of the intellectually dishonest members of the war party, such as former CIA director James Woolsey, intimating that perhaps maybe somewhere there is not impossibly a possibility that it is not unthinkable that there is an Iraq-al-Qaida connection appears to be being bought by the naive. (Of course, there is no such evidence).

The lack of enthusiasm for such a war on the part of the militarily important Powers in continental Europe, in Russia, and in the Arab World, does not mean it cannot be done, I’ve decided. It simply means that the U.S. will be acting almost unilaterally. Since it will need Saudi or Jordanian air space, which won’t be on offer, it is entirely possible that the US will simply use it anyway, on the theory that there is nothing that the Saudis or Jordanians can do about it.

While it seems likely that Bush will go to war, the outcome of such an action is very much in doubt and could haunt him (and us) in the future. The negative possibilities include:

1) Iraq could be destabilized, with ethnic forces becoming mobilized and squabbling over resources, as happened in Afghanistan after the Soviet invasion.

2) Iraq could be reconstituted as an unpopular American-backed dictatorship, as happened in Iran in the 1950s. So far, close US allies in the War on Terror in the Middle East include Egypt, which is a military dictatorship that just jailed Saad Eddin Ibrahim for human rights work; Pakistan, a military dictatorship whose leader is attempting to manipulate the fall elections to keep himself in power; Saudi Arabia (nuff said); and other countries with extremely bad human rights records or which are involved in imperial occupations. A Pinochet in Iraq would potentially harm the US diplomatically for decades to come.

2) The loss of civilian life will be significant, further turning much of the world against the United States and losing any sympathy generated by September 11.

3) Recruitment of terrorists to strike the U.S. in the Muslim world may well be easier in the aftermath of a bloodbath in Iraq.

4) The unilateral nature of the action may well provoke Europe, Russia, China and India to begin trying to find ways to unite against the U.S. on such issues in the future, so as to offset its massive military superiority by isolating it on the Security Council and in other international venues. Europe’s relative economic clout could grow if war uncertainties keep the US economy weak.

5) The Bush First Strike doctrine may well be emulated by other nations who fear their neighbors, producing copy cat wars that destabilize entire regions.
It should be remembered that the German army in 1914 had a first strike doctrine, which dragged Europe into an unnecessary and highly destructive maelstrom.

6) There may be no dividend to an Iraq war in the form of lower petroleum prices in the long run. Saudi Arabia and Kuwait both have significant excess capacity, and OPEC always has an incentive to pump less oil for higher prices, as they have done in the past. Even if Iraq could pump 5 million barrels a day instead of 2, OPEC can just reduce its output by 3 mn. barrels a day and put the price back up. They would have every incentive to do so since they could get about the same amount of income from less oil, benefiting them over time.