The “sitzkrieg” phase of Gulf War II — the waiting — is nearly over. That’s a good thing, because the Bush Administration seems to be losing ground diplomatically with each passing day, and military forces in the Gulf can’t maintain their fighting edge forever. It’s time to act before Saddam escapes justice yet again.
It isn’t just the military that loses its edge by waiting. Reporters do too, because week after week they have to file war stories even though not much seems to be happening. By this point in the winter of 1939-1940, the prolonged anticipation of hostilities had so addled Parisian journalists that many were predicting spring negotiations to end the war. U.S. reporters haven’t missed the mark that badly, but some are beginning to seem a little desperate for copy.
One result is misleading stories about the supposedly exorbitant cost of the impending conflict. Gulf War II is going to be cheap, both in money and in lives. Unless Saddam does something really heinous on his way out the door, fewer Iraqis will die in the conflict than would have from a continuation of his tyrannical rule. He is, after all, the only leader in the modern world who can accurately claim responsibility for killing over a million Muslims.
As Bradley Graham reported in the Washington Post last week, the Air Force and other services are taking extraordinary steps to minimize civilian suffering in a military campaign. So many targets will be avoided that some critics are questioning whether the operation can accomplish its military goals. It will — Saddam will be gone — and after a brief conflict Iraqi society will recover quickly.
So what about the impact of the war on America’s economy — the supposed financial burden? Well, guess again. The impact will be trivial, maybe even positive.
The Pentagon estimates its cost for deposing Saddam and doing initial peacekeeping at $80 billion, which in current dollars is almost exactly what Desert Storm cost. Allies aren’t going to pick up most of that like they did the last time, but $80 billion isn’t much in an $11 trillion economy — less than three days of economic activity. It’s also less than two weeks of federal spending at the prevailing rate of $6 billion per day.
More importantly, removal of Saddam will bring Iraq back into global energy markets as a normal supplier (it has some of the largest oil reserves in the world). The end of war fears and increase in oil supplies will drive a big decrease in energy prices. Some of President Bush’s friends in the oil-patch may lose their shirts, but the rest of the economy will be powerfully stimulated by lower costs. Bottom line: Gulf War II looks like a fairly inexpensive way of demonstrating moral leadership and extending democracy to a place where it is long overdue.
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