March 28, 2003

Calculating the costs of this war

As 20,000 parcels of food aid and much-needed water reached the Iraqi border town of Safwan, a spontaneous pro-Saddam demonstration erupted as the television cameras rolled: the shoeless, ragged young men who crowded around the trucks pumped their arms in the air and shouted that they would give their lives for the Iraqi strongman. Even as we fill their stomachs, it's clear we haven't won their hearts and minds.

So much for the perpetually clueless Jonah Goldberg's prediction that Safwan would be the harbinger of a warm welcome afforded the invaders by a grateful Iraqi people, who would jump at the chance to be "liberated." Snookered by an early Associated Press report of a few half-hearted cheers and this rather lame photo, Goldberg wrote:

"There's every reason to assume that such stories will be multiplied a hundred, if not a thousand times over as U.S. forces approach the capital of the Republic of Fear."

The real story of "liberated" Safwan is told by Geoffrey York of the [Canada] Globe and Mail:

"The Iraqi teenager pointed to the stains on the chest of his robe. 'See,' he said. 'They shot my brother, and this is his blood.'

"Few people in Safwan are willing to forgive and forget. As many as a dozen people were killed here at the start of the war, when U.S. and British forces bombarded the town and headed northward toward Basra. The deaths have provided an easy propaganda victory for the Saddam Hussein loyalists, who still hold considerable influence here.

'The British troops are shooting civilians,' said Kathem Sajed …"

Goldberg and his fellow cheerleaders for the administration's war policy had better hope that such stories will not be repeated a thousand times over. If so, then we may ultimately "win" this war – but at a price that no one ever bargained for, least of all the War Party.

The Rumsfeld-Wolfowitz-Perle strategy was always predicated on a certain amount of support from the Iraqi people, who, you'll remember, were supposedly just waiting for their cue to rise up. The invasion, Perle crowed, would be a "cakewalk." Challenged by Chris Matthews of MSNBC as to why this would necessarily be so, Perle averred that all people have "an inherent desire for freedom," and this primordial instinct would confer success on our military mission. Unfortunately for our soldiers in the field, this desire for freedom is much broader than Perle and his co-thinkers ever imagined: it apparently includes the desire to be free of foreign invaders. Oh well, back to the drawing board….

Perle's resignation as chairman of the Pentagon's
Defense Policy Board
is bound to be blamed on his dubious business dealings involving Adnan Khashoggi and a mysterious "homeland security" outfit d.b.a. Trireme Partners. But the failure of Perle's policy, and the subsequent collapse of the military strategy that evolved out of it, is reason enough to have tossed him out on his ear.

Perle's disgrace underscores the lesson of the first week of this war. The Powell Doctrine of intervening only when all other avenues have been exhausted, and then only in overwhelming force, is right – at least, in a military sense – and the Democratist ideologues who have taken over the top civilian posts in the Defense Department are dead wrong. Remember way back in summer of 2002 when the first plans for the invasion were being floated? While senior military officers wanted to replay Gulf War I and go in with half a million troops, the ultra-hawks, grouped around Perle, were touting a scheme to go in with a "light force" of 68,000 troops. (Perle told David Corn that we could do it with 40,000.) The Pentagon, already highly dubious about the plans for an immediate invasion, vetoed this harebrained scheme. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld split the difference between the ideologues and the old guard: we went in with 200,000-plus – and even that, as it turned out, isn't going to be enough.

When voices of dissent were raised by senior military officers, who questioned the rationale for invading Iraq, Perle was contemptuously dismissive. As the [UK] Guardian reported at the time:

"Richard Perle, a Pentagon adviser and an advocate of an assault on Iraq, rejected the anxiety voiced as irrelevant. The decision to take on Saddam, he said, was 'a political judgment that these guys aren't competent to make.'"

Who's incompetent now?

The costs of this war are just now being toted up: not only the blood of our young people, and that of the Iraqis, but also $75 billion to start with – with no end in sight. Worse, a Republican President will probably wind up abandoning his campaign promise of a meaningful tax cut, and drag us into an economic quagmire of spiraling deficits and increased government spending.

"It's got nothing to do with the war," griped Senate Finance Committee Chairman Charles Grassley (R., Iowa), in response to the Senate vote cutting the tax cut in half. "The people defeating it want to spend money. They ain't worried about paying for the war. They ain't worried about the deficit."

Yes, but how worried is the President? Someone should tell Grassley to stop whining and face reality: George W. Bush's war mania gave the Democrats the political opening to make their move. We all have to make "sacrifices" in wartime, they argued, and the Republicans could muster no effective answer. When it comes to choosing between the war and the economy, this President is committed to focusing all his energies on the former – much to the dismay of his conservative constituency, where dissent from the Bushian foreign policy is already fermenting.

Perle was only forced to resign after the failure of his policies on the ground in Iraq – but what about their consequences right here on the home front? We are now told that this war could last for months: be that as it may, the longer this war lasts, the more the costs will pile up, not only in troops, treasure, and national prestige, but in the manifold encroachments on our civil liberties enacted in wartime. We are poorer in every way since the start of this war: we are less wealthy, less safe, and far less likely to avert a ruinous "war of civilizations" against the entire Muslim world.

Unfortunately, the only price "the Prince of Darkness" has to pay is the loss of his non-paying position as chairman of the Defense Policy Board. Our fighting men and women will pay with their blood. Resign? If Perle had any sense of honor, he would commit hari-kiri.

In a pointed editorial the day before his resignation, the St. Petersburg Times named Perle as "the guru of the civilian ideologues who are the architects of the Bush administration's Iraqi war plans" and the author, along with Vice President Dick Cheney, of "a vividly optimistic scenario" in which the Iraqis would take care of the Ba'athist regime with little help from the U.S. military:

"The lives of American soldiers are put at risk if our battlefield plans are based on the political assumptions of civilian ideologues instead of the expertise of our military leaders. Some of those ideologues within and outside the White House painted a scenario of an easy military victory in Iraq because it fit their broader political goals."

These goals included rushing us into war before the anti-interventionists had time to mount an effective
opposition. Perle and his friends foresaw a quick victory in Iraq that would enable them to move on to their real objective: re-drawing the map of the entire Middle East, overthrowing the governments of Iran, Syria, Yemen, Libya, Lebanon, Somalia, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, and the Palestinian Authority. Perle's advice, when it comes to these countries, is: "We could deliver a short message, a two-word message: 'You're next.'"

Thursday's [March 27] Washington Post records the plaintive cry of a senior military officer, who asks: "Tell me how this ends."

It doesn't, unfortunately – unless Americans wake up in time and rein in their rampaging rulers.

– Justin Raimondo

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Justin Raimondo is the editorial director of He is also the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement (with an Introduction by Patrick J. Buchanan), (1993), and Into the Bosnian Quagmire: The Case Against U.S. Intervention in the Balkans (1996). He is an Adjunct Scholar with the Ludwig von Mises Institute, in Auburn, Alabama, a Senior Fellow at the Center for Libertarian Studies, and writes frequently for Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture. He is the author of An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard.

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