by Randolph T. Holhut
American Reporter Correspondent
November 15, 2002
THE PRICE OF EMPIRE IS TOO STEEP FOR U.S. TO PAY
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- President Bush got everything he wanted from the United Nations Security Council when it acquiesced to his desire to get a multinational imprimatur for Persian Gulf War II.
The 15-0 vote in favor of Resolution 1441 by the UN Security Council on Nov. 8 was a triumph of strong-arming over diplomacy. It was drafted and rammed through by the U.S. over the legitimate objections of the other Security Council members. It pretty much gives the U.S. the unilateral right to attack Iraq if the U.S. - and not the UN - determines Iraq to not be in compliance with the resolution.
The U.S. has built up its forces in the Gulf region for months and has been ready to attack Iraq with or without the UN's approval. Never mind that Iraq had zero involvement with the Sept. 11 attacks. Never mind the absence of any credible proof that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction in any deployable state or that it will have them in the near future. Never mind the lack of support from the rest of the world (save for Britain) for a war with Iraq. The U.S. now stands fully ready to attack and now has the added bonus of a UN seal of approval.
Iraq has until Dec. 8 to present a full accounting of what chemical, biological or nuclear weapons it has. Saddam Hussein has been put on notice that any breach of Resolution 1441 will be grounds for war. But the chances that he'll quietly go along with the UN (read, U.S.) demands to disarm are about nil. Likewise for the chances that Iraq could prevail on the battlefield. Given the massive amount of men and materiel in the region, Iraq will be blasted into surrender or oblivion by the United States.
But that leads us to the two big questions that remain unanswered by the Bush administration. Is this war necessary? And can we afford the cost of waging it and the even higher cost of keeping the peace after the shooting stops?
The necessity of the war is debatable, especially in the context of the unfinished work in Afghanistan. If al-Qaida is still the primary threat, a war with Iraq doesn't do anything to address that danger.
What's clearer is the cost of this war. The U.S. economy is still in a slump, and the rest of the world is in even worse shape. The federal deficit is rising fast and the Bush administration is still pushing for more tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations. Yet the current U.S. military budget is up to $400 billion a year and a war with Iraq similar to Persian Gulf War I in 1990-91 would cost an additional $200 billion. If the war spreads to Iraq's neighbors, the cost will go higher. And unlike Gulf War I, where Saudi Arabia and Japan picked up the bulk of the tab, the U.S. would be almost totally on the hook for this new war.
In an article in the Nov. 18 issue of The American Prospect, economist James K. Galbraith points out that the U.S. does not have the financial or material capacity to wage continuing war around the world.
While Galbraith believes Gulf War II might provide a short-term boost to the economy in terms of stabilizing world oil prices once the U.S. installs a government to its liking in Iraq (the real reason for this war), the long-term picture isn't as good.
"The real economic cost of Bush's empire building is twofold: It diverts attention from pressing economic problems at home and it sets the United States on a long-term imperial path that is economically ruinous," writes Galbraith.
According to Galbraith, private business investment is now at the capital replacement level. In other words, businesses are spending only what's needed to stay running. This is happening because consumer spending is iffy and almost entirely based on credit cards and home equity loans - two sources of cash that are about maxed out. The financial markets have lost more than $8 trillion in shareholder value in the last two years.
Deficits in state and local governments are stand at a combined $100 billion and are steadily rising. There are no prospects for help from the federal government and as long as the economy limps along, there will be no increase in tax revenues. Budget cuts and tax hikes are a certainty in the next few years.
Then there is the U.S. position on international trade - keep other nations' currencies low so their exports and the labor costs of producing them will be cheap. Galbraith believes this might be the most explosive part of the economic scenario against war.
"Such a policy of dollar hegemony amid worldwide financial instability, of crushing debt burdens and deflation throughout the developing world, is perverse," writes Galbraith. "It will make lives miserable elsewhere, generating even more resistance, terrorism and military engagement."
This policy also postpones the day when cheap oil - the cornerstone of the U.S. economy - is no longer cheap. That day can't be postponed forever, no matter how many wars are waged for access to cheap oil.
Galbraith writes that if the U.S. doesn't start preparing for the day when oil is scarcer and more expensive, "we will someday face a double explosion: of anger against our arrogance and of actual shortage and collapsing living standards, when the confidence of investors in the dollar finally gives way. Compared with this future, a new commitment to collective security, to a new world financial structure, to a rational energy and transportation policy, and to spending to meet our actual domestic needs would be a bargain."
History teaches us that empires don't come cheap and they don't last. That's because empires are predicated on warfare and war, in Galbraith's words, "is ruinous - from a legal, moral and economic view."
If this is the path that the leaders of our nation are prepared to send us down - launching a war without the slightest bit of thought to the ultimate political, diplomatic or economic outcomes - then our nation, and the planet as a whole, are definitely in trouble.
Randolph T. Holhut has been a journalist in New England for more than 20 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books).