The United States, like ancient Rome, is beginning to be plagued
by the limits of power. This fact is tactically acknowledged by
US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Joint Chiefs Chairman
General Richard B Myers that the war plan should not be
criticized by the press because it has been framed in a
diplomatic and political context, not merely pure military
considerations in a vacuum. They say that it is the best
possible war plan politically, though it may be far from full
utilization of US military potential. America's top soldier has
criticized the uniformed officer corps for expressing dissent
that seriously undermines the war effort. Such criticism is
characterized by Myers as "bearing no resemblance to the
truth", counterproductive and harmful to US troops in the
Only time will tell who will have the last laugh. The US Central
Command (Centcom) has announced that the next phase with an
additional 120,000 reinforcements will not begin until the end
of April. That is three times the duration of the war so far. In
Vietnam, the refrain of all is going as planned was heard every
few weeks with self-comforting announcements that another 50,000
more troops would finish the job quickly.
There is no doubt the US will prevail over Iraq in the long run.
It is merely a question of at what cost in lives, money and
time. Thus far, a lot of pre-war estimates have had to be
readjusted and a lot of pre-war myths about popular support for
US "liberation" within Iraq have had to be
re-evaluated. Time is not on America's side, and the cost is not
merely financial. America's superpower status is at stake.
This war highlights once again that military power is but a tool
for achieving political objectives. The pretense of this war was
to disarm Iraq of weapons of massive destruction (WMD), although
recent emphasis has shifted to "liberating" the Iraqi
people from an alleged oppressive regime. At the end of the war,
the US still needs to produce indisputable evidence of Iraqi WMD
to justify a war that was not sanctioned by the United Nations
Security Council. Overwhelming force is counterproductive when
applied against popular resistance because it inevitably
increases the very resolve of popular resistance it aims to awe
To dismiss widespread national resistance against foreign
invasion as the handiwork of coercive units of a repressive
regime insults the intelligence of neutral observers. All
military organizations operate on the doctrine of psychological
coercion. No-one will voluntarily place him/herself in harm's
way unless they are more apprehensive of what would appen were
they to do nothing. Only when a nation is already occupied by a
foreign power can the theme of liberation by another foreign
power be regarded with credibility. A foreign power liberating a
nation from its nationalist government is a very hard sell. The
US manipulates its reason for invading Iraq like a magician
pulling color scarves out a breast pocket. First it was self
defense against terrorism, then it was to disarm Iraq of WMD,
now it invades to liberate the Iraqi people form their demonic
leader. Soon it will be to bring prosperity to the Iraqi people
by taking control of their oil, or to save them from their
tragic fate of belonging to a malignant civilization.
There is no point in winning the war to lose the peace. Military
power cannot be used without political constraint, which limits
its indiscriminate application. The objective of war is not
merely to kill, but to impose political control by force.
Therein lies the weakest part of the US war plan to date. The
plan lacks a focus of what political control it aims to
establish. The US has not informed the world of its end game
regarding Iraq, beyond the removal of Saddam Hussein. The idea
of a US occupational governor was and is a laughable
Guerilla resistance will not end even after the Iraqi government
is toppled and its army destroyed. Drawing upon British
experiences in Malaysia and Rhodesia, the force ratio of army
forces to guerilla forces needed for merely containing guerilla
resistance, let alone defeating a guerilla force, is about 20 to
1. US estimates of the size of Iraq's guerilla force stands at
100,000 for the time being. This means the US would need a force
of 2 million to contain the situation even if it already
controls the country.
At the current rate of war expenditure at $2.5 billion a day,
the war budget of $75 billion will be exhausted after 30 days,
or until April 20, ten days before the projected arrival of all
reinforcements to the front. Nobody has asked how a doubling of
forces will win a guerilla war in Iraq. The US is having
difficulty supplying 120,000 troops now, how will doubling the
supply load over a 300 miles supply line help against an enemy
that refuses to engage face to face? Domestic political
opposition in the United Kingdom has started to demand that
Prime Minister Tony Blair should pull British troops out now,
based on the grounds that the US war plan has changed.
The White House is trying to protect Bush by feeding the media
video clips of his old speeches warning against high casualties
and a long war: a grand total of three times in the past six
months. Bush aides are also trying to deflect attention from
Vice President Dick Cheney's excessive optimism, in which he
said confidently that the war would be over in a matter of
weeks, not months.
There seems to be a link between the war on Iraq initially going
badly for the US and a lull in terrorist threats in the US,
despite heightened fears of terrorism risks at the start of the
war. No mainstream or anti-war commentators have pointed this
out, despite it seeming to be empirical evidence that terrorism
is only a weapon of last resort.
The US has overwhelming strategic superiority in the sense that
given enough time, the sheer military and economic power of the
US will prevail. But the problem is that the political
objectives of the US do not lend themselves to unrestrained use
of military power. The need of presenting the US invasion as a
liberating force prevents the full application of both
"shock and awe" and US air superiority.
"Smart" bombs are both expensive and ineffective
because they need specific targets. Yet such targets are also
ones that the Iraqis expect the US to hit. These weapon can
easily be neutralized with a tactic of preemptive dispersal.
What is the point of firing 40 cruise missiles costing a total
of $1 billion to hit a few empty buildings in one night.
If the Iraqis manage to hold out past the summer, the war is
going to be a new ball game. The other Arab governments in the
region can manage to stand by if the US scores a quick victory,
but Arab governments would have to come to yield to popular
demand to come the aid of Iraq if the war drags on for months,
even if the US makes steady military progress, but fails to
bring the war to a convincing close. Syria and Iran are at risk
of becoming part of the war. The prospect of Russian
intervention is not totally out of the question. Bush already
has had to warn Russian President Vladimir Putin about alleged
Russian military aid to Iraq, which Moscow summarily dismissed.
For the US, it is not a matter of winning the war eventually, it
must win a quick and decisive victory, or its image of
superpower invincibility will suffer. An offensive war must
conclude within a short time, while a defensive war only needs
to continue. This is particularly true with a superpower. Every
day that passes without a decisive victory for the invader is an
incremental victory for the defender. Stalingrad did not need to
destroy the German Wehrmacht. It only needed to hang on without
surrendering. Despite orchestrated denial, the US has failed to
deliver on its original war scenario of a quick and easy win
with both military and moral superiority. Claiming that it had
always anticipated a long war now only adds to the credibility
gap on new assurances of the reliability of any new war plan.
Globally, two traditional allies of the US, France and Germany,
will now want to be treated with more equal status with more
political independence. The European Union may even begin to
claim the moral high ground in world affairs over the US,
promoting more tolerance for diversity of cultural values and
historical conditions, over the impositions of US values as a
universal standard for the whole world, for which no non-US
citizens will be willing to die to implement. Even US citizens
may only be willing to die to defend the US, but not to project
by force US values all over the world, particularly if this war
should show that even with much sacrifice in the form of
American soldiers' lives, success remains elusive.
The US must bring the war to a successful conclusion within a
matter of weeks, or it will be fighting a defensive war on all
fronts. There is only one thing worse than an empire, and that
is an empire that fails to conquer a small nation.
The "collateral damage" from this war is not limited
to Iraqi civilians. The US economy will also be considered
collateral damage - and by extension global economy as well. The
first Gulf War, notwithstanding its military success due to
clear political objectives, the uncertainty over oil prices
further weakened an US economy already in recession. Despite the
Federal Reserve's aggressive cutting of short-term interest
rates, the economic slowdown persisted and cost the first
President George Bush his re-election in 1992.
Today, the Fed again faces the impact of war against Iraq on the
global economy, coupled with what chairman Alan Greenspan calls
a "soft patch" at home. Business confidence may remain
low for some reasons not related to the war, even if the war
should end quickly - an unlikely prospect at best. Unemployment
has continued to climb, industrial production remains stagnant
and the economies of Europe and Japan are slumping even more
than that of the US. Much of the Third World, except China, is
gripped by economic and financial distress.
If the war drags on further, or if the economy does not bounce
back when the fighting ends, Fed officials have suggested they
are prepared to pump money into the economy by reducing interest
rates even more than they have done already.
Despite its institutional role as an central bank that is
independent of political influence, the Fed is constitutionally
obliged to support the White House on national security issues
that affect the economy. Thus Greenspan has not made public any
anxiety he may have about the endless costs of war or the risks
of disruption to world oil supplies, in aquiescence of Bush's
war plans. Greenspan was reported to have been at the White
House at least three times in the first 10 days of the war, and
he met with Bush on Monday to review the US economic outlook.
The impact of war costs on the federal budget deficit played a
part in Congress' gutting of the proposed Bush tax cut package.
Some have even accused the White House of denying the military
adequate troops in Iraq for fear of its adverse impact of the
budget deficit, which would jeopardize chances of congressional
passage of the tax package. Charges of exposing US soldiers to
unnecessary danger merely to protect tax cuts for the rich have
been heard. In the end, Congress cut the Bush tax cut proposal
by half anyway. Former White House chief economist R Glenn
Hubbard argued that the country could afford both the war on
Iraq and the Bush tax cut plan, which had been largely put
together by himself.
Hubbard reasoned that the tax cut would add one percent to the
US gross domestic product (GDP) for the next two years and would
help to pay for the war, the expenditure for which is a fraction
of the GDP. One percent of the GDP would be $100 billion. The
budget revenue boost from $100 billion of GDP would be $30
billion a year. The war is costing $2.5 billion a day at current
engagement levels. In the past 11 days, the war cost is already
over $30 billion. Perhaps the Harvard-educated Hubbard should
brush up on his arithmetic.
It is true that the Persian Gulf now accounts for a smaller
share of world oil production than in 1990, and the major
industrial economies have become more efficient in oil
consumption than a decade ago. Yet the global economy now
operates in a globalized market so efficient that its
vulnerability comes not from an industrial slowdown caused by a
disruption of oil supply, but from oil price volatility in an
uncertain market. For Japan and Germany, even a slight rise in
oil prices would do great damage to their respective prospects
Greenspan's reputation was built mostly on his response to
financial crises. When the stock market crashed on October 19,
1987, two months after Greenspan became chairman, the Fed lent
tens of billions of dollars to financial institutions and pushed
down overnight lending rates. The moves flooded financial
markets with money, which helped preserve liquidity and restore
confidence in the financial system, but it started the bubble
economy of the 1990s.
After the attacks on September 11, 2001, the Fed pumped $100
billion into the monetary system in four days. On September 12
alone, the Fed lent a handful of key banks $46 billion
unconditionally. The Federal Reserve Bank of New York, which
runs the Fed's trading operations, flooded the banking system
with additional billions of dollars by buying up treasury
securities at record volumes throughout the week.
Greenspan's record has been blemished since the stock market
bubble burst in 2000. He was stubbornly late in recognizing the
excesses of the "new economy" in the stock market
bubble by hailing it as a spectacular rise in productivity.
Since 2001, the Fed has lowered interest rates 12 times and
reduced its benchmark federal funds rate to the lowest level in
41 years. When talk of war escalated last year, raising anxiety
levels in business and among investors, the Fed reduced the
federal funds rate in November by an additional one-half
percentage point, to 1.25 percent from 1.75.
Fear of deflation provides the argument is that if oil prices
move up, the Fed could easily reduce interest rates further,
without causing inflation. Yet the ramifications of higher oil
prices go beyond inflationary effects. Higher oil prices distort
the economy by siphoning consumer spending away from non-oil
sectors, which at the moment are holding up much of the economy.
If the war drags on, depressing business confidence further and
tilting the country toward a new recession, the Fed has little
room for further cutting interest rates, since it cannot reduce
the federal funds rate for overnight loans to below zero.
But Greenspan and other Fed officials have recently insisted
that even if the overnight Fed funds rate is lowered to zero,
they still have other tools to stimulate the economy. The Fed
can buy longer-term Treasury securities, such as two-year or
five-year or even ten-year securities. By paying cash for such
securities, the Fed would essentially be pumping money into the
economy and pushing long-term interest rates even lower from the
current 4.5 percent to 2.5 percent. But that would be virgin
territory for the Fed, and officials have acknowledged that the
precise impact would be unpredictable.
There are other issues as well. The Fed's easy-money policies
have already stimulated home buying and refinancing, prompting
consumers to convert the appreciated equity in their homes to
cash by so-called cash-out refinancing, to buy big-ticket
consumer goods. But this easy money has done nothing to
rejuvenate business spending, which had been held down by
overcapacity and poor earnings, as well as war jitters.
Furthermore, abrupt changes in interest rates, particularly
long-term rates, does violence to structured finance
(derivatives) which is already exceedingly precarious. The Fed
may fall into the trap of setting off an implosions of
derivative defaults, what Warren Buffet has called
"financial weapons of mass destruction".
The militant right in the US has committed suicide with the war
on Iraq. It has given itself a fatal dose of poison in an
attempt to cure the Saddam virus.
The link between war expenditure and the Federal budget and the
Bush tax cut is complex. The size of the invasion force was
arrived at more by the constraints of logistics and the new
"trasnsformational" doctrine, championed by Rumsfeld,
behind the war plan. The myth upon which the war plan was based
was that there would be instant domestic rebellion against
Hussein, at least in the Shi'ite south - not concerted Iraqi
guerilla resistance. The plan for a two-front, north-south
attack on Baghdad was foiled by Turkey, the support from whom
the US had been overconfident and did not secure with sufficient
bribing. Washington was also unwilling to pay the political
price of accommodating Turkish interests in a post-war Iraq at
the expense of the Kurds. The Rumsfeld war plan was a fast
moving, light forward force to enter Baghdad triumphantly with
little resistance after a massive "shock and awe" air
attack and wholesale surrender by the Republican Guards.
The plan was flawed from the start, a victim of Washington's own
propaganda of the war being one of liberation for the Iraqi
people. Instead, the invasion acted as a unifying agent for
Iraqi and pan-Arabic nationalism and elevated Saddam to the role
of hero and possibly martyr for the Arab cause in a defensive
battle by a weak nation against the world's sole superpower.
The Democrats can do nothing, for it is their party that cut the
Bush tax cut by half, and with the exception of a few brave
voices, the Democrats went along with the fantasy war plan.
Geographically, without the northern front, Iraq is a big bottle
with a narrow bottleneck in the south and one lone seaport which
could be easily mined. The long supply line of over 300 miles
from the port to Baghdad is along open desert, vulnerable to
easy guerilla attacks at any point. The US war machine requires
massive supply of fuel, water, food and ammunition. The fuel
trucks are 60 feet long and cannot be missed by even an
untrained fighter with a long range rifle with an explosive
bullet. As the weather turns hot this month, US troops will find
nature a formidable enemy. If these factors weren't enough to
frustrate US war plans, even Lieutenant General William Wallace
has openly admitted that US troops were not effectively prepared
for the enemy it is now fighting.
Now the war is threatening to spill over to Syria and Iran and
is creating political instability in all Arab regimes in the
region. NATO is weakened and the traditional transatlantic
alliance is frayed. This war has succeeded in pushing Russia,
France, Germany and China closer, in contrast if not in
opposition to US interests worldwide, a significant development
with long term implications that are difficult to assess at
present. Globalization is dealt a final blow by this war. The
airlines are dead and without air travel, globalization is
merely a slogan. The freezing of Iraq foreign assets is
destroying the image of the US as a financial safe haven. The
revival of Arab nationalism will change the dynamics in Middle
East politics. The myth of US power has been punctured. The
geopolitical costs of this war to the US are enormous and the
benefits are hard to see.
This war will end from its own inevitable evolution, even
without anti-war demonstrations. It will not be a happy end.
There is yet no discernible exit strategy for the US. After this
war, the world will have no superpower, albeit the US will
remain strong both economically and militarily. But the US will
be forced to learn to be much more cautious, and more realistic,
about its ability to impose its will on other nations through
the application of force. The UK will be the big loser
geopolitically. The British military has already served notice
to Blair that Britain cannot sustain a high level of combat for
The invasion of Iraq represents a self-inflicted blow to US
imperialism. Anti-war demonstrations all over the world and
within the US will raise public consciousness on what the war
really means, and for what it really stands. The aim is not to
simply stop this war, but the forces behind all imperialistic
Saddam is not insane, his record of rule is not pretty, but it
is typical of all regimes afflicted with garrison state
mentality. That mentality has been created by a century of
Western, and most recently US, imperialism.
Americans, even liberals and radical leftists, cannot possibly
sympathize with the natural need for violence in the political
struggle of nationalists in their struggle against imperialism.
They harbor a genuine sense of repugnance for political
oppression unfamiliar to their own historical conditions. Be
that as it may, only Iraqis are justified in trying to rid Iraq
of any leader not to their liking, not a foreign power, no
matter how repugnant the regime may seem to foreigners. Moral
imperialism is imperialism nonetheless.
Further, this invasion is transforming Saddam into a heroic
fighter in defense of Iraqi and Arab nationalism and as a brave
resistance fighter against the world's sole superpower. The only
people in the entire world buying the liberation propaganda are
Americans, and even many Americans who supported the idea of
regime change in Iraq are rethinking its need and feasability.
The populations in most Arabic nations are increasingly wishing
they had Saddam as their leader.
In a world order of nation-states, it is natural for all
citizens to support their troops, but only on their own soil.
Support for all expeditionary or invading forces is not
patriotism. It is imperialism. All nations are entitled to keep
defensive forces, but offensive forces of all countries must be
condemned by all, socialists and right-wing libertarians alike.
Some of the most rational anti-war statements and arguments in
the US at this moment are coming from the libertarian right, not
The real enemy is neo-liberalism. The war on Iraq is part of a
push to make the world safe for neo-liberalism. This war is a
self-destructive cancer growing inside US neo-imperialism. Just
as the Civil War rescued Abraham Lincoln from the fate of an
immoral segregationist politician and projected him in history
as a liberator of slaves, this war will rescue Saddam from the
fate of a petty dictator and project him in history to the ranks
of a true freedom fighter. That has been Bush's gift to Saddam,
paid in full by the blood of the best and bravest of Iraqi,
American and British citizens.