Are there any other theories worth considering?
Jacob Weisberg has written a book [The Bush Tragedy] where he suggests there is a link to Bush’s oedipal relations with his father. But that goes beyond economic analysis. And then there is the neocon interpretation that we went to war to force democracy. That, on its own, is a peculiar notion. If you were going to force democracy, why begin there? There are lots of other dictatorships around the world.
By some measures, Bush’s so-called surge appears to be working. Combat deaths are down. The once-hot insurgency appears to have cooled. Senator John McCain, the republican presidential nominee, says this is the road to victory. Cynics, such as myself, see the surge as a way to ensure that the next president will be forced to continue the fight. What’s your view?
I am a bit inclined to your view. The question, I guess, is what lessons can we infer? First, you say the level of violence is down. One has to put this into context. The level of violence is still extraordinary high. And it’s just down from the peaks that it attained at the beginning of 2007. It’s still at the level of 2006. It is not exactly peace and stability.
Secondly, the objective of the surge was to create room to create a viable, stable, political solution to the civil conflict. It hasn’t worked. The political solution has not emerged. So, going forward, you have to ask this: “Are we supposed to maintain our forces there forever? For the 80 to 100 years McCain has talked about?”
Thirdly, part of the surge strategy is to give weapons to various militias and to give them the go-ahead to fight, if they fight on our side. The British did that in the south. Now that the British are leaving, no one is looking at Basra. But if they did, they would see a tremendous amount of Shiite-on-Shiite violence. The surge could well be creating the preconditions for even more serious Shiite-Sunni conflict in the future.
Several days ago, a White House spokesman dismissed your findings with the following words: “people like Joseph Stiglitz lack the courage to consider the cost of doing nothing and the cost of failure. One can’t even begin to put a price tag on the cost to this nation of the attacks of 9/11. It is an investment in the future safety and security of americans and our vital national interests. $3 trillion? What price does Joe Stiglitz put on attacks on the American homeland that have already been prevented? Or doesn’t his slide rule work that way?” How do you respond?
There are so many problems packed into those five-or-so sentences. It is interesting that he was commenting on my book before he had a chance to read it. He was just responding to the bottom line without knowing or understanding the analysis that prompted the conclusions. I would suggest that the administration lacks the courage of its convictions. Democracy is more than periodic elections. It’s about having an informed citizenry participate in the decisions that affect their lives. The critical word here is “informed.” The administration refuses to talk about what the costs of the war are. It’s an important dimension. Americans should be able to make the decisions about what the benefits and costs are. They may differ about the benefit side, but at least they should know what the costs are.