|***** Financial Times (London,England)
September 10, 2003
Bush's billions will only prolong Iraq's suffering
By JEFFREY SACHS
President George W. Bush's request for Dollars 75bn (Pounds 47bn) for
operations in Iraq signals the US's intention to sustain its military
occupation for the indefinite future. The president has invited other
countries to add money and troops as well. They should refuse the
invitation until there is a clear timetable for a rapid US troop
withdrawal and a transition to a sovereign Iraqi government.
The Bush administration's commitment in Iraq is enormous and growing.
It dwarfs initiatives in education, worker training, childcare,
disease control, international poverty reduction, even homeland
security. In one swoop, Mr Bush has committed nearly 1 per cent of US
gross national product for the coming year, on top of about 0.6 per
cent of GNP during the past 12 months.
At some point, this expense will prove politically explosive in the
US; but not quite yet. A broad section of the public strongly
supports the demonstration of US toughness in the face of the
"enemy", and erroneously lumps Saddam Hussein among the perpetrators
of the attacks of September 11 2001. The administration plays
relentlessly on the public's confusion and fears.
Yet from the vantage point of Iraq's recovery, the US occupation is a
dead end. Even 140,000 US soldiers on the ground are unable to stop
the wanton destruction of infrastructure, which has cut Iraq's oil
exports by more than 1m barrels a day, or roughly Dollars 10bn a year
at current world market prices. These attacks will continue.
America's occupation is a lightning rod for a wide range of violent
groups, including Ba'athist die-hards, Shia nationalists and newly
arrived al-Qaeda fighters. Oil pipelines, power pylons and water
supply stations are easy targets. So too are American soldiers on
patrol, who daily continue to die at the hands of snipers and bombers.
America has no workable plan for legitimate Iraqi government. Its
leading Shia backer has just been assassinated and other moderate
collaborators undoubtedly risk the same fate. Even if a majority of
Iraqis were to support a government friendly to the US, a violent and
sizeable minority would be able to undermine that government by
terror and mobilisation of nationalist fervour.
Such problems would exist even if Iraq were not deeply riven between
its Shia, Sunni and Kurdish populations and feuding sub-groups within
these larger groups. Given the history of US engagement in the
region, its rhetorical support for democracy in Iraq will almost
certainly prove to be no more than skin deep - especially when
Islamic parties achieve political success, as they surely will.
Mr Bush and his team believe the situation will stabilise step by
step. They express confidence that anti-terror raids will vanquish
the enemy; that improved public services will win the hearts and
minds of the population; and that the continued US military presence
will become an accepted fact on the ground.
These are the same illusions of Israel in the West Bank, Russia and
now the US in Afghanistan, and America in Vietnam a generation ago.
The occupation strategy fails because it is flawed at the core. The
military occupier has motives that are un-acceptable to a significant
part of the population.
The fatal flaw in the US occupation is that America is in Iraq not to
create democracy, hasten economic development, capture weapons of
mass destruction or fight terrorists but to create a long-term
military and political base to protect the flow of Middle East oil.
This much is widely appreciated throughout the Gulf region, where the
local population has been treated to a century of contempt, first by
the British Empire and later by the US. Decade after decade has seen
these two powers oppose democratic rule, topple popular governments
and side with autocratic and corrupt rulers, always in the interest
The US and British public may forget - or at least be encouraged to
forget - that Mr Hussein was their ally in the 1980s as he fought
Iran, only to be recast as the Hitler of the 1990s. The people in
Iraq, and the rest of the region, do not forget such things.
There is certainly no sure course to achieving Iraqi stability, much
less democracy, but that is no reason for a continued US occupation.
The longer the US stays, the longer will be the agony in Iraq, both
economically and politically. One increasingly popular argument in
the US is that even if the war was wrong in the first place, America
cannot simply "cut and run", since that would show cowardice and
fecklessness to America's foes. This argument fails to recognise that
America's continued occupation will delay real solutions, not create
them, and at a massive cost in dollars and lives.
The appropriate course is a transition under a United Nations mandate
to Iraqi sovereignty within a year, with a timetable for withdrawing
all US troops and their partial replacement by troops mainly from
Islamic countries. Iraq does not need any foreign assistance beyond
the next year, as it is a middle-income country sitting on the
world's second largest reserves of oil. It does not even need much
support for the coming year, since the Iraqi budget can recoup
another Dollars 10bn or more if the pipelines are simply allowed to
function. It will not, however, recover under any circumstances if
the pipelines continue to be destroyed.
If the US withdraws quickly, as it should, it can save at least
Dollars 40bn in occupation costs in the coming 12 months, and
allocate about Dollars 10bn of that to the Iraqi budget. At Dollars
400 per capita in Iraq, this Dollars 10bn would be more than enough
assistance for the coming year without any more funds from other
The Bush administration will probably get the Congressional go-ahead
to spend the Dollars 75bn, perhaps even without much debate. Yet the
public support is premised on false grounds and is therefore likely
to prove evanescent. Perhaps for these reasons, the administration
has not asked for an iota of sacrifice from voters through budget
cuts or tax increases and instead has simply enlarged the budget
deficit to an astounding Dollars 525bn-Dollars 535bn for fiscal year
The administration may or may not squeeze by in next year's elections
in what is likely to be a close and bitterly divided vote, but it
will face a treacherous path as its illusions continue to collide
with hard realities. The calls for withdrawal will slowly take hold
in the US. American politics will become increasingly polarised and
unstable in the process, and this could even lead the US to lash out
elsewhere. Mr Bush has doubled his bet in Iraq - and the whole world
may lose in the gamble.
The writer is director of the Earth Institute, Columbia University