Iraq: It was Never the Right Choice (and We Told You So)

McCain and Co. will tell you that the problem with the war in Iraq has been in its execution. The war was not the problem, just bad management. Yet, contra McCain, others insist that had we known then, what we know now, we would not have gone to war. But the fact is that many of us did know, or at least knew enough, and were angry and demoralized because there was nothing we could do to stop the war. Through poor judgment or political calculation (or both), our representatives in the House and Senate voted to authorize Bush's war on October 11, 2002. Just five five months later, on March 18, 2003, the war began. And now, five years later, in some sort of bizarre parody of Churchill, we have McCain calling for victory and promising never to surrender. (Never surrender to what or to whom?)

At the time I wrote many drafts of op-ed pieces that I never bothered to polish or edit for publication. Quite frankly, I thought that they would do little, and just gave up on them. A correct assessment at the time. However, I now offer one from October 1st, 2002, exactly as it was written. Why? Because as many of us as possible now need to say, in as many ways as possible, "we told you so." And that in this election, we are going use our own good judgment, and elect leaders who will end a war that should never have begun.

A word about the context for the piece: I was suspicious at the time about whether WMD's existed. I certainly didn't think that Iraq had nuclear weapons. But I wanted to see if I could frame (in relatively few words) obvious problems with a war scenario, even assuming the existence of WMD's. The conceit of the piece was that by appealing to the self-interest of Republicans, we might be able to stop the war. (I hear you laughing and snickering). But as I note at the end, there were reasons to believe that it wouldn't work, then or now.

"Daddy, what's a Republican?"
October 1, 2002

We are all familiar with the Nasdaq Bubble of the 1990s, from which we learned how momentum has its own, well, momentum, until it all comes to a grinding halt. Yet the White House appears not to have learned this lesson. As the administration joyfully trades in patriotic slogans, and relishes the short term political gain that carrying the flag yields, another sort of bubble has arisen, a War Bubble. And just like those poor Wall Street traders who believed their own stories about the value of their shares, politicians caught within this new bubble do not realize that they are overvaluing a stock, Bush's stock with the American people. These politicians are called Republicans, and they are on the verge of making one of the greatest miscalculations in American political history.

Generals, as the story goes, are often caught fighting the last war. In this case we have politicians who are managing not only to fight the last war, but who are confusing the seemingly uncomplicated aftermath of that war with the war to come. Mr. Bush and company believe that we can take out Iraq without much difficulty, just like the last time. They tell us that American casualties will be low, and shortly after the invasion a new day will dawn for Iraq. And when this day dawns the President will be the man of the hour. He will be the leader who finally got the job done. He will have finished off the worst tyrant since Hitler. His poll numbers will rise into the stratosphere and, unlike his dad's, remain there for the next presidential election. And his coattails will be long indeed. But this outcome is a fantasy. Here is the reality, or at least something that more nearly approximates it.

Just as Bush's team says, our military will make short work of Saddam's forces. Within a week or two we will have secured most of the important military objectives, although not before Saddam has gassed and killed many of those who have opposed him (for example, the Kurds), turned weapons of mass destruction over to terrorist groups that will use them at their leisure, and blown up a number of oil fields. Our early military successes, however, will not end the war. Even after Hussein is killed or has fled, some Iraqi patriots will resist, and they will do so in major urban areas. There will be difficult urban warfare. Our soldiers will die and we will be tempted to level areas in some of Iraq's major cities in order to get the job done. Civilians will die. Children will die. The puppet government that we install will be resented by large number of Iraqis and by Muslims throughout the world. There will be no shortage of volunteers for terrorist organizations, and for the foreseeable future they will have little need to recruit. The land that we now know as Iraq will be unstable for years to come. We will either have to remain in force or watch the region disintegrate. The whole business will clearly be expensive in both material and human terms.

President Bush and his team have sold and will continue to sell the war on Iraq by playing on the vulnerabilities that Americans have felt since that horrific day in September. The rhetoric has been carefully constructed to conflate and confuse. Fear has done its job. Fear is leading to war fever and to war. But some day soon Hussein will be gone. What then happens when the terrorists strike America and this strike turns out to be worse than the last one? Or maybe there won't be a big strike, only a series of smaller strikes reminding us with each death and injury just how vulnerable we are. (Perhaps we will even discover that the weapons being used against us were made available to terrorists after we attacked Iraq.) We are being promised a safer America after this war, but it will not feel safer. And even if Americans are currently saying that they do not believe that getting rid of Saddam will end terrorism, in their heart of hearts they are expecting that the effort will lead to a big pay off in terms of safety. This is, after all, how the war is being sold. They will be disappointed.

But not only will America not feel like a safer place after the war, it will feel like a much poorer one. Everyone knows that our economy has been on the skids. The collective wisdom appears to be that we cannot expect the Stock Market to rise significantly anytime in the near future. To this fragile economy a war in Iraq will add a nice piece of change, starting at around forty or fifty billion, to our budget deficit. And don't expect much help from overseas in paying the tab. The arms that Mr. Bush twists to obtain support for his war will not extend themselves to dole out cold cash. It also appears that Afghanistan may end up costing more than we now expect, as will the campaign against terrorism. Yet in spite of their expense, all of these wars will not stimulate the economy in the manner of World War II. They simply aren't big enough. But they certainly will be big enough to place an additional drag on the economy. For example, a war with Iraq will cause risk premiums to rise, which may push up interest rates. To take a specific industry, the increase in oil prices, along with a decline in air travel, might help to bury a number of already shaky airlines. (For a discussion of the war's impact on the economy see, "Stiglitz: War Won't Boost U.S. Economy," a September 25, 2002 filing by Reuters in the New York Times. Joe Stiglitz is a Nobel-winning economist.) Further, we cannot depend on the consumer to bail the economy out, because consumer confidence will not readily recover in the age of Al Qaeda, higher oil prices, and continuing unrest in the Mid-East and around the world. It's reasonable to presume that the economy will stagnate if not weaken for the foreseeable future. Add to this our continuing sense of vulnerability in spite of winning a war with Iraq, and there is little doubt that Bush will be looking mighty ineffective, inept, and weak before the next presidential election. There will be no coattails in 2004. There probably won't even be a coat.

No series of arguments against the impending attack on Iraq has worked with the administration. Fear and dogmatism hold sway. So here is my extravagant hope. Bald self-interest will move the Republicans, because they will realize that if they don't get off the hobbyhorse of war, they will lose and lose big in elections to come. But I'm certainly not counting on it. Bubbles are mighty powerful. Just look at your 401K.

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McCain: "I will never surrender in Iraq, my friends!"

I just a video clip of McCain that made me ill.  It was on Hardball, and they showed a clip of McCain talking at the Denver University.  There were some war protesters in the crowd, and this is how McCain responded:

"I will never surrender in Iraq, my friends, I will never surrender."

He was smiling broadly as he said this to thunderous applause.  

Okay, there's been a lot of squabbling going on between Obama and Clinton supporters in the waning moments of democratic primaries, but, when I saw that clip, it just further emphasized how much the democratic party must unify in order to make sure that Bush-McCain doesn't take office and be able to advance their reckless, dangerous, and cowboy-maverick foreign policies.  

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Health Insurance for Veterans Remains Poor

The airwaves are full of the pundits talking about the critical issues facing the ’08 election, but candidates are rarely asked about the health of veterans – a responsibility that will become costly in the face of a nationwide prescription drug bill that amounts to more than Iraq war spending and health administration costs that are Herculean compared to Canada.

That reality is: Iraq War veterans share essentially the same health coverage as civilians. And, they're almost as likely to be uninsured; one in every eight uninsured individuals, according to a Harvard study, are veterans. While many assume that the United States Armed Forces would provide their war veterans with solid treatment, this is sadly not the case for many veterans.  Veterans often turn to private insurance companies for their coverage, often at high expense.  

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Let Us Not Be Fooled Again by Republican Spin!

Unfortunately for Americans, President Bush, McCain and the Republicans prefer to speak in half-truths and/or distortions of the truth, preferring not to find pertinent answers or solutions to the issues facing us today, one example the Real Threat of Global Warming!  They think finger-pointing and speaking in a loud voice will deflect the attention away from their failing/failed policies -- that we will forget that they fooled us before (Iraq War).  

The Republicans will promise and say anything to stay in power, although their conservative polcies do noting to help the American people in their day-to-day lives.   Gas prices are higher than ever before, as is food (they won't even support the farmers although food is a necessary element for life), we have erroding schools, bridges and roads, jobs which go overseas or job closings, billions of dollars going to a war which should have never been waged and those dollars do nothing to help the Iraqi people who are still suffering and have very little electricity, adequate sewer facilities or the use of their own oil.  We have record number of home foreclosures, medical bills which are going through the roof and thousands of people who have no health insurance at all.  

Every year Democratic Senators and Congressman have to fight to even get a decent minimum wage raise for American workers while Republicans continually give theirselves an annual wage hike, yet it is the American people who hire them to work for them and not the corporations they bail out time and time again.  They pretend to be the Party of Family Values when they are really the party of special interest groups, corporations and greed!  They care nothing for suffering families -- college tuition has never been so high, barring thousands of young people from attaining a higher education and achieving the American dream.  Their tax code, again, benefits the wealthy and leaves out the American family.  They call themselves conservatives which is a nice way of saying they are selfish and like to conserve the wealth for themselves!  They make fun of the word "liberalism" like it is a dirty word when we all know liberal means to give amply and generously, something they want not to happen preferring to keep all the wealth and goodtimes for themselves and their corporate buddies.  

They devise wars which only weaken the fabric of our society by shell-shocked veterans weakened physically and mentally and children who have to grow up without their fathers or mothers because they are either overseas fighting a war or have died in a war when diplomacy would have been the greater action to take.  These same veterans if they are lucky to come home have deplorable hospitals to come home to and a battle to get their benefits.  If they suffer from mental disease they are often found homeless, as we have shut down the majority of our mental hospitals accross the United States... and yet Republicans continue to fool us that they are the Party of Family Values.  They fooled us with WMD's and took us off on a path of delusion by fighting terrorism in Iraq when it was oil they were after!  Bin Laden is still at large.  We cannot believe anything they say... Let us not be fooled again, because frankly we cannot afford it!

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"A Dozen Reasons Why McCain Won't Win: Money-Back Guarantee"

Here are a dozen, guaranteed, money back reasons why John McCain won't be the next president. (I can only offer a limited-time, money-back guarantee, since unfortunately I can't control world events.)

1. The McBush factor. McCain's support of the Iraq War will make it impossible for him to break from Bush, the most unpopular president in living memory. The photo of McCain hugging and being kissed by Bush will become increasingly embedded in the collective consciousness of the American people as the months roll on.

2. The Republican factor. Yes, McCain is a Republican. He will not be able to deny this fact. Currently, this is not the best party to have behind you in a push to the White House. Witness the recent loss of three traditionally Republican congressional seats and the declining number of Americans willing to identify themselves as Republicans. And then there are the comments of Congressman Tom Davis. "The political atmosphere facing House Republicans this November is the worst since Watergate and is far more toxic than it was in 2006" (NY Times, May 15th, 2008).

3. The Last War Syndrome. McCain and the operatives running his campaign are like generals fighting the last war. They are still convinced that negative advertising will be as successful against Obama as it was against Kerry. However, "The Times They are A-Changin." And this leads to the next factor.

4. The Change Factor: Hillary tried experience, but this race is about change and the future. McCain appears to be operating a time machine that has only a reverse gear.

5. The Money Factor: Obama can raise a lot more, and a lot more quickly.....enough said.

6. The Age Factor: McCain's age will hurt him. (I am not claiming that this is fair, but seems to be a fact. Older voters are especially concerned about McCain's age.)

7. The Not So Straight-talk Factor: McCain has built his reputation on being a man of principle. This has two features: he believes in something and he sticks with what he believes in. McCain has recently begun to backpedal on principles and commitments. He is vulnerable to being viewed as a flip-flopper, if not dishonest, which will undermine his hitherto greatest strength.

8. The Organizational Factor: The evidence thus far suggests that Obama has a far better campaign organization. There will be a volunteer gap, that is, Obama will have a lot more of them and they will be more enthusiastic than McCain's campaign workers.

9. The Skeleton Factor: The Keating Five and lobbyists, need I say more.

10. The Anger Problem: It's real.

11. The Crass and Crude Comment Problem: A corollary to the anger problem. He has made outrageous, crude, sometimes vile remarks, and most Americans don't know about them, yet. For examples, see http://www.dailykos.com/story/2008/4/8/1 7456/91972/887/492360

12. And last, but not least, The Lack of Background in Economics Factor. McCain has acknowledged that he needs to read up on economics. Not great for building confidence in a candidate in the midst of a recession.

Okay, that's twelve. But let's make it a baker's dozen.

13. The "My Friends" Factor. I don't believe that Americans will be prepared to live with four or eight years of being addressed by John McCain as, "My Friends," especially when it is followed by that rather strange little grin.

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