by Joe Shea
American Reporter Editor-in-Chief
April 14, 2003
FROM THE CHAOS OF ORDER
I had the good fortune last Thursday to attend a seminar at the University of Southern California on "The Economy and Iraq." All four experts - one was a knighted Englishman on loan to the college - told us of a gloomy world where oil shortages are a fact of life, strategic moves are costly and counterproductive, news media is increasingly compromised and the world economy is more fragile than ever. There was just one problem: all four were probably wrong.
They are not alone. We spend a great deal of time in these pages telling readers why the war in Iraq, the Patriot Act and the War on Terrorism in general are wrongheaded, morally flawed and strategically perilous; in fact, I can't recall a single article in The American Reporter that has taken a contrary view, unless it was my editorial "Poised to Triumph," in which I wrote, "But history will recognize, we believe, that the effort to stop [Saddam] from accomplishing the fruits of all his illicit labors was an upward turning point of civilization. One single successful use of a biological agent anywhere in the word would be another, downward, turning point from which there might be no return, and it must never happen."
After the session, I discussed that point with Sir Anthony Gooch, spokesman and special adviser to the European Union's chief trade negotiator, Pascal Lamy. Like the others, he was gloomy about the outcome of the war and predicted tough going for President Bush when he meets with the Group of Seven (G-7) leaders and Russia's President Vladimir Putin. But I tried to engage him on another point: the potential cost savings of the war on terrorism.
That idea will probably make a lot of readers laugh, yet they were not laughing when the attacks on New York and Washington sent world markets plummeting, catalyzed the writing of the Patriot Act and the creation of the Dept. of Homeland Security. Quite some time ago, the cost of the attacks was measured at $800 billion; now - excluding the costs of the war in Iraq - it is probably about $1 trillion.
If one day's attacks cost a trillion dollars, how much will two attacks cost? And how much will further attacks cost until we are so inured to them that we have ceased to notice? At that point, our security regime would resemble Iraq's; protesters would probably be jailed or even have their homes and properties seized under one pretext or another. It could well be that our elections would be delayed or canceled. Insurance coverage for businesses and possessions would be unavailable in places like New York or Washington or Los Angeles, where terror attacks are most likely.
Every facet of life will have an additional layer of inconvenience as cars are checked on freeways and bridges leading into cities, and soldiers control access to more sensitive areas. We would have to give up what remains of our privacy to accommodate routine inspections of our homes, our checking accounts, phone bills and persons. At that point there is no cost because freedom - that ineffable quality we say we are fighting for - will not really exist. Every "subversive" movement imaginable would arise and prosper in this chaos of order.
The impulse some feel is to blame the government of the United States for taking steps that encourage such attacks. In particular, our support of Israel is blamed. And whether Israelis want to admit it or not, we were attacked as stand-ins for them. Our effort in Iraq - and now, it very much looks like we will also be going into Syria soon - is an effort that was proposed by Israel's spokesmen, Richard Perle and Paul, and backed by its political lobbies.
Every country has a right to try to get its people into our government and influence our agenda, and certainly Saudi Arabia's supporters have powerful voices at work in the Pentagon as well. But those voices do not consider America's best interest first and foremost and exclusively, so they drive policies that partly help this country and partly hinder it. Nothing is perfect in life, including foreign policy, and all of humanity limps along the best it can.
Yet Americans do want the best for their country, and we do fundamentally resent the influence of other agendas on our own, even if they cannot readily be avoided. No politician can stand up against either lobby, connected as profoundly as they are to our economic well-being. The politicians that thrive in this environment of ultimate powerlessness do well if they even consider the majority of Americans in their calculations of war and peace, economy and culture.
The advent of the administration of President George W. Bush, a Texas governor and millionaire, was remarkably influenced by the market forces that swirl around today's situation. The world's largest corporations gave huge sums for his election, and his lawyers moved Heaven and Earth to have him declared President-elect by the United States Supreme Court. Throughout the process there was the sense, and indeed the reality, of enormously influential engines at work on our democracy, changing it, shifting it, altering its consistency in myriad and unknown ways.
The attacks of September 11, 2003, and the President's response to them have defined those changes. They are anti-libertarian, pro-market, anti-cultural and pro-globalist. That was their nature before the attacks defined the Bush presidency and they only came into sharp, clear relief afterwards. They are aggressive rather than patient; they are demanding rather than persistent; they are divisive when necessary and unified when practical; their sense of patriotism extends beyond the patria, the nation, to include other nations that succor and support us. We saw those changes in individual form before the attacks, moving in individual patterns, and moving together in these patterns afterwards.
Mr. Gooch was difficult to engage. He is used to being a spokesman, so he is used to speaking, not listening. The one point I made that he seemed to respond to was that it is likely that Israel will be somewhat reduced in power by the success of our adventure in Iraq, if only because we now must heed new voices with greater acuity: we have six new neighbors in Iraq who can each make life difficult for us there in different ways, and none of them is Israel. I suggested to Mr. Gooch that in pursuing Saddam all the way to Baghdad, we had satisfied a key demand of Perle and Wolfowitz for Israel's security; now we owe Israel far less, and its neighbors far less. The first indication that this is so was Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's statement of yesterday, April 13, 2003, saying that it may be necessary for Israel to give up some of its West Bank settlements. Sharon is now in the position of someone who has to repay a debt, rather than someone who can bargain from strength.
It is my understanding, too, that the President has expressed some unhappiness to Mr. Wolfowitz about the speed with which we are building tensions against Syria, already charging that they possess chemical weapons and harbor some of Iraq's alleged war criminals even before there is hard evidence to support those claims. Reportedly, as they danced around the issue of forcing the President's hand on Syria, the President sought to allay Wolfowitz's worry that he was pushing too hard: "I'm not saying this is your fault," the President reportedly said, and, reassuring him, added, "It's fine, Paul."
Whether this occurred or not, it probably will, and soon. But, and this is a critical point: Is the President's aggressive style, now played out on a global scale, a plus for the United States? Is it possible that a surly aggression against Syria, and then Iran, and then Libya, actually very much in the best interests of the United States? In this newspaper, we do not ask such questions; normally, we are content to observe the President's immediate past actions and condemn them for their future consequences. On this one occasion, however, we ought to explore whether a better world will come of aggression against its worst regimes, regardless of how it impacts Israel.
Some preliminary points, then, are in order. This nation is the only one on Earth that could have survived the Sept. 11 attacks. That is to say, there is no other nation on this planet that can absorb a trillion-dollar loss and keep going. At the same time, we cannot afford even one more. Whether it is chemical, biological or nuclear, the cost will be beyond our capacity to absorb, and so our best and most idealistic institutions must collapse. Only the armed forces and some local police forces, along with a modicum of health facilities that are necessary to support them, will survive. Banks will not; local governments will not; order as we know it will not. That is a key consideration when we discuss aggression against states that have either the desire or capacity to sponsor terrorism; if we are not certain we have eliminated the roots of Islamic terror, then we cannot be sure this nation will survive in any form that is recognizable to us today.
Weighing the cost of such wars against the cost of devastating new attacks, then, it's readily apparent that they would cost far less cold hard cash than attacks do. We would probably take Syria in a matter of weeks, and Iran in several months. We might also have to take Libya, which would probably last about as long as Iraq's formal resistance did. If things did go well for our forces, a substantial part of the Middle East would again be controlled by the United States and Britain. But this would not be a control of the Imperial kind, or of the colonial kind; it will be control of a police kind, so that interference in domestic affairs will only come when certain thresholds are met concerning threats either to the police powers or to other nations, or to their basic economies through disruption of oil supplies.
Those, I think, would be the dimensions of a New Order. For other countries in the Middle East, the arrival of the U.S. and Britain - ending the "long twilight" of their retreat from world domination - would definitively rule out state-sponsored terrorism, and our presence on the ground would similarly rule out guerilla terrorism of the al-Qaeda kind. There would not and could not be an end to Islamic fundamentalism, because that is a spiritual matter that politics cannot assuage, and I suspect it would slowly evaporate; we could be assured of the end of Islamic aggression. For Israel, that would certainly be a boon, but it is likely one that would cost them all the moral capital and all the possible political favors they could ever ask. Strengthening our ties with a newly pacific Islamic world would be the central priority of U.S. foreign policy for the next five decades; a safer Israel would be a happy afterthought.
What would be the economic consequences - the positive inflow vs. the avoided outlays - of that New Order? Oil would continue to flow freely, and for the 60-80 years the supply may last, it would be less expensive. If American military planners plan well, civilian governments will quickly consolidate the institutions of democracy and not require us to have a large standing army in the Middle East; those demands on our budget would be slaked. Insurance costs, which are now frankly unbearable, destroying institutions like the Little League and degrading schools and medical care, would fall sharply. In that environment, demand for technology would increase on a global scale as poorer nations sought to improve living conditions in response to democratic elections. Fusion power could be introduced in that generous time frame in a way that would not then destroy any oil economies, even if both oil and fusion would become corporate property. Religious longings could be expressed in any manner except through violence. Corruption would revert to its smaller scale; the media may not have to like it, but could watch it and report it freely across the world. In this smaller, more prosperous, freer, safer and more informed world, hunger and health issues would subside, and prosperity would grow - perhaps even as Nostradamus allegedly predicted - towards a "Golden Age" of human civilization.
What this essay does not want to address are the geopolitical issues that would come with the ascendancy of Western authority in parts of the world where China and Russia and Japan hoped to one day have great influence; suffice it to say, given our porous, business-oriented and interconnected economies, they would gain by the dollar, the ruble, the yuan and the yen what they will never gain by war. Businessmen have rarely been great patriots, and have sometimes started wars, but universally they prefer to work in peace.
If we have indeed come this far - seizing Baghdad without a fight and nary a whimper from the world - behind the gallant charge of our cowboy President, perhaps we should make it our business to keep him in the saddle and support him as he goes forward. But he must indicate his direction, and so he must remove his agenda from the small country of Washington, D.C., to that of the whole American continent, so that we can know where he wants us to go, and have some reason to hope and believe we can get there.