Most of the arguments made in this piece have been made elsewhere. Then again, there is scant evidence that America’s leadership is listening to any of them …
It seems likely that Americans are underestimating the economic commitment involved in a war with Iraq. This is hardly new, for the record is littered with failed forecasts about the economic, political, and military outcomes of wars. The history of war is, as Barbara Tuchman entitled her wonderful book, the march of folly. Is America writing another chapter in the march of folly? It is impossible to know in advance, but historians may look back at several early warning signs of economic and political miscalculations.
The first concern is that the Bush administration has made no serious public estimate of the costs of the coming war. The public and the Congress are unable to make informed judgments about the realistic costs and benefits of the upcoming conflict when none are given. Particularly worrisome is the promise of postwar occupation, reconstruction, and nation-building in Iraq.
… Closely related is a second syndrome, frequently found in past conflicts, of entering war prepared militarily but not economically. The finances of the nation have deteriorated sharply since George W. Bush took office.
… Third, the predisposition of the United States under the Bush administration to undertake unilateral actions poses major risks. From a military point of view, attacking without a broad coalition of countries can make the conduct of the war more difficult and costly, and it may raise the hopes of the Iraqi leadership that others will come to their aid, thereby extending the conflict. From a political point of view, unilateral actions, particularly those taken without support from the Islamic world, risk inflaming moderates, emboldening radicals, and spawning terrorists in those countries. From a legal point of view, America’s insistence on the right to overturn foreign governments without the sanction of international law will undermine a wide variety of cooperative efforts on international finance, disarmament, the environment, nonproliferation, and anti- terrorism. From an economic point of view, unilateral actions imply that the costs will be largely borne by the United States.
… Fourth, strategists may be deluding themselves on the reaction of the Islamic world and the Iraqi people to American intervention. … even though no major Arab government is solidly behind the United States, the administration appears to be persuaded that Muslims are waiting for the overthrow of Saddam to dance in the streets and that Americans will be welcomed in Baghdad as liberators rather than infidels.
… Finally, one senses an obsession bordering on woodenheadedness in the Bush administration’s concentration on Iraq in general and on regime change in particular. In contrast to the clear danger from terrorist activities, there is no imminent threat from Iraq.
::William D. Nordhaus, The New York Review of Books: Iraq: The Economic Consequences of War