A War in Iraq is the Best--or Worst Thing to Happen 

by Alex Dashevsky al2223@aol.com


Columnist Thomas Friedman once quipped that anti-Americanism has replaced soccer as the universal sport. I am convinced that a little anti-Americanism is actually a healthy thing, as it reminds the world’s only superpower that it must not throw its unparalleled economic, military, and political weight with impunity. On Valentines Day weekend, when millions of people took to the streets in London, Paris, Berlin, New York, and 300 other cities in support of one of the most despicable regimes on the face of this planet, it is much more than the healthy dosage of anti-Americanism I prescribed. This was a reflection that the Bush Administration has not done a good job of explaining why the war is so important to either the American people or the world. 


This is unfortunate, because a successful war and rebuilding can have positive effects on the entire Middle East, ensuring an adequate supply of oil, success against a major sponsor of world terrorism, and encouraging democracy. It can also be a disaster, if we are not prepared to follow through with our commitments and engage in a half-hearted self-interested occupation. Doing so will inflame the fears of colonization, and could have disastrous effects throughout the Arab world.



This could be a success if…

The Americans were to rebuild Iraq and stabilize the oil market. America’s economy is dependent on oil. Economists have a rule of thumb for gauging the macroeconomic impact of higher oil prices on the US economy: Every $10 per barrel rise that lasts for a year cuts economic growth by about 0.5% and adds about 1% to inflation.[i] Oil has risen $24 per barrel since 1999, and any Instability in the region has price ramifications, for example crude oil rose to a 26-month high on February 8 after President Bush said that the United Nations Security Council must enforce its resolution on disarming Iraq.[ii]


An economically strong Iraq could help stabilize the oil market for years to come. As of 2001, Iraqi oil production stood at 2.8 million barrels a day, down from 3.5 million barrels in 1990. By applying more-modern equipment currently not allowed by sanctions, Iraq has the potential to double its production to 6 million barrels a day by 2010. [iii]


This could be a disaster if…

The United States were seen as colonizing Iraq for its oil. Even assuming the most benevolent of US intentions, we would not be in the Persian Gulf at all if it were not sitting on black gold. Both the President and Vice-President have strong economic and political ties with big oil. The world fears that this administration is convinced that its oil is stuck under the Iraqi desert. If the Americans are seen as colonizing Iraq for their oil, it will incite instability throughout the Arab world. So far, the administration has been sounding very encouraging. National Security Advisor Dr. Condoleezza Rice responded to a question about what will happen to Iraqi oil: “Well, the oil revenues that would come from the oil fields of Iraq, of course, first and foremost have to go to make certain that the Iraqi people are taken care of, and there are many complications in terms of how one deals with oil fields.”[iv]


Iraq after Saddam will be in a similar situation to Kuwait in 1990 after the war. Even after an overwhelming military victory, windfall profits for Western oil firms from a thankful ‘liberated’ Kuwait never materialized. After hiring Western firms to put out its oil field fires and repair surface facilities, Kuwait's parliament has routinely voted against contracting with foreign firms for oil field development. [v] There have been some exceptions for politically connected companies such as Landmark Graphics, a subsidiary of Vice President Dick Cheney’s former company Halliburton, which signed a large technology services contract last summer with Kuwait Oil Co.[vi]


The political and economic reality exists that the US will get some contracts following the war, but the United States would lose all credibility unless it proves that all (or at least most) contracts going to American firms were given fairly.  In order to demonstrate the benevolence of the American led occupation, the US should give priority to Iraq’s state oil company for any oil drilling contracts. For what cannot be handled domestically, the rest of the contracts must be open to fair bidding to all foreign oil companies. The first test to American credibility will be the flurry of oil deals signed by a desperate Saddam Hussein with critical European allies including TotalFinaElf (of France), Eni (Italy) and Repsol YPF (Spain).[vii]   These deals will probably be torn up, and the challenge for the US is to prove that they will be replaced fairly, with preference given only to the Iraqi State Oil Company.



This could be a success if…

The United States were to remove a major supporter of world terrorism. Iraq is a safe haven for many of the world’s terrorist groups including the recently deceased Abu Nidal, Black June, Black September and many others. [viii] Iraq also incites violence in Israel through money it gives to the families of homicide bombers (along with Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia, among others).  During the Gulf War, Saddam broadcast appeals to terrorists worldwide to strike at US interests. 200 incidents were reported worldwide, although the few successful were low level--firebombs, gunshots, and bricks thrown through windows. [ix] 


Strangely, the administration has hyper-focused on the doomsday scenario of a relationship between the secular Saddam and religious fundamentalist al Qaeda which could include the transfer of biological, chemical, or even nuclear technology. The evidence of this connection is indirect at best. There has been a number of high level meetings between al Qaeda and Iraq, but in the Middle East association does not necessarily reflect collaboration. There was that now famous meeting in April of 2001 between Mohamed Atta, one of the 9-11 hijackers, and an Iraqi secret agent in Prague. It is also known that Osama bin Laden was a frequent visitor to the Iraqi Embassy in Khartoum up until 1996. Finally, In December of 1998, the Iraqi Ambassador to Turkey, Farouk Hijazi, traveled to Afghanistan and met with bin Laden. [x] Secretary of State Collin Powell testified before the United Nations that Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi, a Jordanian of Palestinian origin has been heading an Iraqi based al Qaeda network in Northeastern Iraq, where neither Saddam’s regime nor the Kurds have control. He spoke of how they also operate freely in Baghdad for the past 8 months, and plan terrorist attacks in a half dozen European countries, and were responsible for the murder of American diplomat Laurence Foley on the orders of Mr. Zarqawi. [xi]


This alleged connection is considered controversial at best from both the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), according to reports in the New York Times. Analysts in both agencies have complained that senior administration officials have exaggerated the significance of some intelligence reports about the connection between Iraq and al Qaeda. [xii] Osama himself has released an audio tape calling Iraq one of the infidel nations where true Muslims should rise up and overthrow their leaders. Also, Saddam has invested and risked so much for his biological, chemical, and nuclear program for so many years that it is unlikely that he would just give them away to a group which he shares nothing in common with outside of hating the US.


This could be a disaster if…

We push Saddam Hussein into using weapons of mass destruction against the US, its troops or our allies. The Senate recently declassified a letter from CIA director George Tenet detailing how Iraq had decided not to conduct terrorist attacks against the United States, but the letter contained a caveat that Mr. Hussein might resort to terrorism if he believed that an American-led attack was about to begin. [xiii] If Saddam has nothing to lose, and his fait has been sealed, he will act by either giving these weapons to al Qaeda or using the weapons himself. Despite Iraq’s military weakness since the Gulf War, they have developed Scuds that go faster and farther, which could hit either Israel or attacking American troops. [xiv]




This could be a success if…

We rebuilt a stable, democratic Iraq. Democracy has spread to every corner of the globe except for the Middle East. Throughout most of recorded history, the Arab peoples have been leaders economically, technologically and intellectually. Yet years of colonization, internal corruption, authoritarian regimes, religious fundamentalism and war have prevented the world from benefiting from their rich culture and intelligent people.  If the United States dedicates its political and economic resources towards building a successful democratic government in the heart of the Middle East, other countries such as Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt may start transforming their governments. Once again, the administration has been saying the correct things. Paul Wolfowitz, the Deputy Secretary of Defense predicted that “a post-Saddam Hussein Iraq, subjected to an American occupation similar to the one imposed on Japan after World War II, would become the "first Arab democracy" and would cast a "very large shadow" over its neighbors.”[xv]


According to General Tommy Franks, who would be in charge of the US forces post Saddam, the US is dedicated to rebuilding Iraq after the war through a multi-lateral coalition modeled on Afghanistan. “300 schools have reopened, running water has been restored to several towns, hospitals are treating thousands of women and children and multi-million dollar road projects are being constructed.” [xvi] The Afghanistan rebuilding will involve a 10-year, $20-billion effort to put Afghanistan back on its feet after two decades of economic chaos under Soviet occupation, warlordism, Taliban rule and the 2001 US invasion.[xvii]


Unlike Afghanistan, the Iraqi people have an educated populous, excellent scientists, and an oil potential that rivals Saudi Arabia’s. The light might be bright at the end of the tunnel, but the journey to the end will be difficult. It also is a country that has suffered under years of sanctions, corruption, and intermittent war. Its Infrastructure is falling apart, malnutrition and crime are rampant, and once the healthiest people in the Middle East have seen the child mortality rate doubled with 500,000 children dying under the age of 5. [xviii] Iraq’s technology is frozen in time, as most advances after 1991 including the internet have yet to reach Iraq. [xix] Most estimates place its gross domestic product at somewhere between $25 - $30 billion, with a population of 24 million. By way of comparison, Kuwait, with a population of 2.1 million, has a GDP of $31 billion. [xx]


This could also be a disaster if…

We rebuild Iraq into a colony of the Americans and British. Estimates for rebuilding Iraq range between $127 billion to $682 billion, and it could get messy as rival Shiite, Kurdish, ethnic Turk, and Assyrian tribes seek retribution against the ruling Sunni. [xxi] Will the UK and US be dedicated to rebuilding Iraq even when the going gets tough, or will they ‘shoot, oil and run’ by installing a puppet dictator like they did in Iran, when they supported the overthrow of nationalist Mohammed Mossadegh by the Shah in 1953.[xxii] The United States and Britain need to show that they are dedicated to instituting democracy, rebuilding infrastructure, and really liberating the Iraqi people, and not exploiting Iraq for strategic reasons. The Arab world views their intentions with skepticism, and for good reason. Both the British and the United States in particular have a very poor record of installing democracy in the Middle East. After World War I, Britain sloppily and haphazardly carved together the state of Iraq in 1921, deciding then that the only way to hold such a mix of warring tribes together was a strong dictator, something that has existed in Iraq for 80 years. [xxiii]   The British had selfish reasons for inventing such an unnatural creation, as they had signed a treaty with France giving the British control over Iraq's oil reserves. This lasted until Iraq nationalized the oil industry in the 1970’s. [xxiv]


Even if the US could plead Cold War insanity for installing the Shah, this does not excuse their policies since then. First of all, for the US to declare Afghanistan in 2003 a model to be replicated in Iraq is extremely premature (and optimistic), as democracy and the economy have not yet been restored. The Afghans remember how the United States hastily left Afghanistan 12 years ago, a country that did more to bankrupt the Soviet Union than anything America did. Abandoned with thousands dead, millions of refugees, and war torn infrastructure, the political vacuum was ripe for the Taliban to take over in the late 1990’s. [xxv] Even Kuwait, the country ‘liberated’ from Iraq after the Gulf War remains a very repressed society ruled by a pro American but un-elected Royal elite.



The world has a right be worried about the disastrous effects of a war for the wrong reasons.  Were the US to be seen as colonizing Iraq, it would cause instability throughout the region and will have terrible ramifications in the rest of the world. By contrast, a democratic and prosperous Iraq will have historic repercussions that will effect the entire Middle East, supporting democracy and stability in this economically vital region. This Administration may very well have the best of intentions, but it has to prove this to a skeptical world and American people. The Administration is saying the right things about what they plan to do, but the problem has been their inability to explain why. To say we are going to war because Iraq has failed to comply with UN Resolutions, or that Saddam is a bad person that has links to al Qaeda is misleading. For the world to support a war with Iraq, they have to believe that it will be done for the right reasons. The best way to get the world to believe him is to tell the truth. Bush has wanted to remove Saddam for some reason for a long time, way before September 11th. The world has viewed him with suspicion because he has not been totally honest about why. It is difficult for the world to accept that this life long isolationist has suddenly become a Wilsonian internationalist, dedicated to the United Nations and world democracy. For that reason, they are correct to question what the US plans to do after the war. It looks like war is inevitable at this point, and whether it will be successful or disastrous depends on how much dedication this Administration has to democratizing and rebuilding Iraq.      



[i]Will Oil Worries Send the Economy Skidding?” Business Week 1/20/2003

[ii] http://www.nytimes.com/2003/02/08/business/08OIL.html?tntemail0

[iii] “Business to Gain From a Reshaped Iraq.” Kiplinger Business Forecasts 1/14/2003

[iv] “NBC News’ Meet The Press.” 1/19/2003

[v] “Guiding Principles for U.S. Post-Conflict Policy in Iraq”  Baker Institute Working Paper http://www.rice.edu/projects/baker/Pubs/workingpapers/iraq/iraq_15.html 12/2002

[vi] The Oil Daily, June 25, 2002 v52 i121 pITEM02176013

[vii] “Saddam's charm offensive” Economist 10/10/2002

[viii] “’Next Steps In Iraq’ Hearings Before The Committee On Foreign Relations United States Senate One Hundred Seventh Congress Second Session” 9/25 – 9/26/2002

[ix] “Saddam's secret weapon?”  U.S. News & World Report 1/20/2003

[x] “Hearings To Examine Threats, Responses, And Regional Considerations Surrounding Iraq” Hearings Before The Committee On Foreign Relations United States Senate ” 7/ 31/02 & 8/1/02

[xi] http://www.nytimes.com/2003/02/06/international/middleeast/06QAED.html?pagewanted=1&tntemail0

[xii] “Split at C.I.A. and F.B.I. on Iraqi Ties to Al Qaeda” NY Times 2/1/2003

[xiii] “Split at C.I.A. and F.B.I. on Iraqi Ties to Al Qaeda” NY Times 2/1/2003

[xiv] “’Next Steps In Iraq’ Hearings Before The Committee On Foreign Relations United States Senate One Hundred Seventh Congress Second Session” 9/25 – 9/26/2002

[xv] “Some Mideast realism, please: the war on terrorism hinges on renewing the peace process.” The American Prospect 1/13/2003

[xvi] “Franks says Afghan model could work to rebuild Iraq.” Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service 1/12/2003

[xvii] “Business to Gain From a Reshaped Iraq.” Kiplinger Business Forecasts 1/14/2003

[xviii] AI-index: MDE 14/010/1999 24/11/1999

[xix] “Business to Gain From a Reshaped Iraq.” Kiplinger Business Forecasts 1/14/2003

[xx] “Business to Gain From a Reshaped Iraq.” Kiplinger Business Forecasts 1/14/2003

[xxi] “The Price We Pay”  NY Times 2/15/2003

[xxii] “Some Mideast realism, please: the war on terrorism hinges on renewing the peace process.” The American Prospect 1/13/2003

[xxiii] “’Next Steps In Iraq’ Hearings Before The Committee On Foreign Relations United States Senate One Hundred Seventh Congress Second Session” 9/25 – 9/26/2002

[xxiv] “Iraq Is a Strategic Issue for Oil Giants, Too” NY Times 2/22/2003

[xxv] “’Next Steps In Iraq’ Hearings Before The Committee On Foreign Relations United States Senate One Hundred Seventh Congress Second Session” 9/25 – 9/26/2002