One of the biggest problems in disscussing the war in Iraq is the poor quality of information coming from most of the news media. These media reports range from propaganda to timid to the point of irrelevance. Below is a no-nonsense description of the history of modern Iraq and the US involvement there by William R Polk, director of the W.P. Carey Foundation.
Fact Sheet on Iraq
What is Iraq: Iraq was created by Great Britain at the end of the First World War from three provinces of the defeated Ottoman Empire. While it is common to think of it as still those three parts – the Kurdish Muslims in the North, the Sunni Muslims in the middle and the Shia Muslims in the South – it has become considerably integrated over the last century so all three communities are intermingled.
It is also common to call Iraq “artificial,” and in part that is true, but thesame could be said for virtually all countries. What is certain is that it is a small country, not quite two-thirds the size of Texas of which most is barren. Only an area about the size of Massachusetts and Connecticut combined can be farmed by rainfall. Elsewhere, agriculture depends on the rivers – the Euphrates at Baghdad is about the size of the Arkansas River at Little Rock and the Tigris is about as large as the Missouri River at Kansas City. Because of the intense solar radiation, agriculture is difficult to maintain. Thus, until recently, Iraq has always been a poor country. What changed Iraq was oil. Oil was discovered in 1927 and is potentially very abundant but as yet is largely undeveloped; such developed facilities as exist have been severely damaged. It was oil, however, that paid for Iraq in the 1980s to become one of the most advanced countries of the Middle East.
While he was a brutal, aggressive dictator, Saddam Husain used oil revenues to fund public health, education, the building of modern infrastructure and the growth of industry. The population benefited and grew to about 24 million with a high level of education. Today the population is in turmoil with millions of people leaving their homes or even leaving the country, but with about half the population below the age of fifteen, growth will continue to be rapid.
What we were told about Iraq: The litany of partial- or mis-information is well known. Iraq did not support terrorism, did not have or even intend to get nuclear weapons, had an antiquated army and air force and could not possibly have been a danger to the United States. It did, however, have an ugly, tyrannical government – like many others in the world – but the United States government worked closely with, and supported, that government for many years during the Reagan and first Bush administration.
The first American invasion: Relations between Saddam Husain’s regime and Kuwait (which every Iraqi government since the 1920s regarded as a part of Iraq illegally split off by the British) hinged on loans made to Iraq by Kuwait during the Iraq-Iran war. Kuwait pressed hard for repayment and Saddam was nearly bankrupt. He concluded that Kuwait was attempting to overthrow his government. Arab efforts at mediation failed and the United States told Saddam that it had no position on the disagreement. Rightly or wrongly, Saddam took our statements as a “green light” and attacked Kuwait. The attack was naked aggression and on behalf of the United Nations, the United States (under the first Bush administration) drove the Iraqis out of Kuwait. The U.S. did not attempt to conquer Iraq. President Bush commented: “Had we gone the invasion route, the United States could conceivably still be an occupying power in a bitterly hostile land.” But he and President Clinton imposed upon the country a severe program of sanctions that virtually crippled the economy and severely damaged the society.
Sanctions did not, however, accomplish what most people believed to have been their objective, to overthrow the regime. That was done in the second American invasion of 2003. The second American invasion and occupation. In the spring of 2003, American (together with smaller British and other) forces quickly defeated the Iraq army and occupied the country. When the regime collapsed, the U.S. created an occupational government known as the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) headed by an American official. Then, on March 8, 2004, the American-written constitution was approved by the American-appointed and controlled Iraqi Governing Council and selected an interim prime minister. Meanwhile, from April 2003, Iraqis began a major and wide-spread rebellion against the Americans and the American-appointed Iraqi administration.
In January 2005, a poll picked members of a new national assembly which was to prepare for elections in December 2005 for a native government to replace the CPA and Iraqi Governing Council. The election, while arguably a step forward, was conducted in an atmosphere that caused it to be charged as an American charade and to make of its results an ethnic poll. The ensuing Iraqi government, still of course dependent on America, was a Shia ethnic coalition with, ironically, close ties to America’s proclaimed adversary, Iran. The insurgency continues and growing in intensity.
The cost of this policy to America: During the years April 2003-June 3, 2007, 3,493 servicemen and women have been killed; up to October 2006, the Department of Veterans Affairs has determined that about one in five soldiers has been “at least partially disabled” with over 100,000 granted disability payments and another 100,000 expected to claim them; in December 2005, the U.S. Surgeon General estimated that more than one in three of the half million Marines and soldiers who had as of that date served in Iraq needed mental health treatment; at least 50,000 have suffered concussions that will cause memory loss, headaches and confused thinking for the rest of their lives to such an extent that they will not be able to function well in society and will be a burden on their families and on the public health system; another large number will develop cancer as a result of exposure to an erosol mutation (U3O8) of the depleted uranium used in artillery shells and bombs. Some scientists believe this is the cause of so-called Gulf War Syndrome.)
The monetary costs fall into two categories: actual allocations which now are well over $500 billion and are increasing by more than 20% a year: $77.3 billion in 2004, $87.3 billion in 2005 and $101.8 billion in 2006. That is roughly $10 million an hour. But according to Nobel Prize Laureate economist Joseph Stiglitz and former Assistant Secretary of Commerce Linda Bilmes, the real cost (by standard accountingmethods) is between one and two trillion dollars. . Frightening as these figures are, they are based on underestimated costs of imported oil and rehabilitation of returning servicemen and women by perhaps as much as $200 billion.
Beyond these costs is the damage to America’s reputation and capacity to exercise leadership in the world community.
The cost to Iraq: Almost certainly, at least 600,000 more Iraqis have died than would have died without the war; about two million have fled the country; more than half a million have stayed inside Iraq but have lost houses, jobs, schools and neighbors; property damage has not been determined but surely runs into the hundreds of billions of dollars. In sum, Iraqi society has been destroyed.
What these costs have bought: No well informed observer believes that the war in Iraq is approaching success by any definition; indeed, all signs indicate that the situation is deteriorating. That clearly is the opinion of the newly appointed “war czar,” Lt. General Douglas E. Lute and is widely shared. What the war and occupation have actually accomplished the destruction of the previous balance between social groups so that today Iraq is embroiled in civil war.
American options:1) stay the course. Some military analysts think that if America were willing to put half a million troops into Iraq (roughly three times as many as today), and could implement the sort of counterinsurgency (“COIN”) program advocated by Generals Petraeus and Amos, we could “win.”
Comment: The American public is extremely unlikely to approve adding 350,000 troops to the 150,000 now in Iraq; indeed, the polls all point in the opposite direction. The latest New York Times/CBS poll found that 72% thought our policy was “seriously off on the wrong track.” Some of America’s best and most senior generals have given up their careers to speak out on the folly of thinking that more troops will “win.” If not more troops, then using them more effectively? The COIN option that Generals Petraeus and Amos advocate is a technological solution to a political problem. Counterinsurgency has a 12-0 record of failure in modern insurgencies. As the Baker-Hamilton study argued, the war is stretching America beyond our capacity. Moreover, to shield the public from the harm to our economy, we have engaged in borrowing vast amounts from foreign (mainly Chinese) lenders who watch as the dollar falls vis-à-vis the Euro from $0.80=€1 to $1.35=€1). Lendershave lost about one-third of their outlay and, presumably, sooner or later will stop lending or even call their notes.
2) stay at least until there is “stability.
”Comment: In a recently completed analytical history of a dozen insurgencies (Violent Politics: Insurgency, Guerrilla Warfare and Terrorism, New York: HarperCollins, to e published September 15, 2007), I have shown that stability has never been achieved before the foreign forces have evacuated the insurgent country. As long as they stay, the natives continue fighting. This is true despite tactical successes that wipe out large numbers of the insurgents. The record is absolutely clear: it does not work.
3) encourage or at least allow Iraq to break into three pieces so that, presumably, the civil war would end and then we could get out.
Comment: If Iraq were allowed or encouraged to break up, we would have created a new “Balkans” in the heart of the Middle East. Almost certainly, Turkey would xtend its current (June 6, 2007) military incursions into Kurdistan and probably cause a major war; Iran would probably not invade the south but would enormously increase its influence there, and also down the oil-rich Gulf. Internally, millions more people would have to be relocated with profound effects on the economy. If America were judged to have created this tragedy, it is almost certain that America’s critics and enemies would use it to damage American interests throughout the world.
4) simply get out regardless of what happens (opponents call this “cut and run”).
Comment: Despite the opinion of the Secretary of Defense and others who advocate “a long and enduring presence” in Iraq, America will eventually have to get out. So the questions are when and under what circumstances. When the Nixon administration determined to get out of Vietnam, it sought to avoid the opprobrium of “cut and run” by leaving slowly and using the South Vietnam government as a “cut-out.” That policy cost an additional 21,000 American casualties and, at the end, the American withdrawal was a humiliation. Obviously, America should seek both to avoid more casualties, wasted money, and humiliation.
5) the Baker-Hamilton study set out what we wish would happen -- to withdraw in a statesmanlike manner on our own schedule without serious damage.
Comment: Baker-Hamilton did not offer a plan on how to accomplish the objectives it set out and was optimistic in the hope that others would help us to control Iraq. Iran and Syria were identified as possible helpers but both governments know, from our published National Security Doctrine, that the U.S. government has openly considered, placed forces at the ready, and may still be considering attacking them. They would be foolish to help us. Moreover, they probably lack the capacity: we want Syria to do on its frontier with Iraq what we are unable to do on ours with Mexico, seal it against intruders, and it is highly unlikely that Iran could get the Shia government of Iraq to do what that government thinks harms its interests or imperils its survival. These are naïve hopes, not a policy.
6) together with former Senator George McGovern, I have laid out a carefully constructed, fully costed, and mutually reinforcing plan to accomplish essentially what Baker-Hamilton advocated.
Comment: The plan laid out below would cost $12-14 billion to implement and would save at least $350 billion of what staying in Iraq an additional two years would cost. More important, given the rate at which casualties are increasing, it would probably save the lives of 2,000-3,000 thousand young Americans and the bodies and minds of scores of thousands of others. It would reverse the downward spiral of America’s prestige and would begin a new opportunity for improving American security, particularly in Islamic Asia and Africa.
Recommendation: This is the only completely articulated plan now in existence. Undoubtedly, it is not perfect; no plan is; but it is feasible, cost-saving and will end the war in a way acceptable to the American public, our allies and the Iraqis. The way the plan would work is spelled out in Chapter 5 of George McGovern and William R. Polk, Out of Iraq: A Practical Plan for Withdrawal Now (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2006).
The following is a summary of the costs involved in implementing the McGovern-Polk Plan:
1) Two-year expense for a multinational stabilization force to replace American troops: $6 billion or roughly 2% of the cost of the American occupation.
2) Partial support for creation, training and equipping of an effective national police force: $1 billion.
3) Conversion of the program now being implemented to create a new Iraqi army into the creation of much more useful and less dangerous organization patterned on the U.S. Corps of Engineers. $2.2 billion is already allocated for the army; probably the conversion could be effected by about a quarter of this cost. Some of the current outlay may be recoverable; if none can be recovered, the new costs would be on the order of $500 million.
4) Ceasing work on and closing the fourteen “enduring bases,” some of which are the size of small cities. No additional costs anticipated.
5) Finding, digging up and destroying land mines and unexploded ordnance. The first step is a comprehensive survey for which we believe the United States should contribute $250 million. Only then can an estimate of costs for the overall clean-up be made.
6) American assistance in rebuilding damaged or destroyed property: we advocate the grant of $1 billion to survey the damage and plan ways that reconstruction can be carried out and financed. This is primarily an Iraqi task and undertaking it will help to overcome the socially destructive high rates (upwards of 50%) of unemployment.
7) Dismantling blast walls, wire barriers, etc. Most will be done by Iraqi but we advocate a grant of $500 million to jump-start the effort.
8) Restoring what can be saved of World Heritage sites destroyed by American action. We advocate a contribution to this effort of $250 million.
9) “Condolence payments”/compensation for unjustified deaths/wounds, at $10,000/person, for an estimated 70,000 people: $700 million.
10) Creation of a training program for social workers, judges, journalists at western institutions: $500 million.
11) Assistance to Iraqi émigrés to return to assist in rebuilding Iraqi society: 10,000 people at $50,000 for heads of families: $500 million.
12) Rebuilding Iraqi public health service: training, equipment, etc. $1.7 billion.
Conclusion: Our plan is not a panacea. There is no simple and quick way to restore the damage that has been done to America, to Iraq or to America’s reputation, but the above mentioned steps would constitute a major step on the road to recovery both of Iraq and America. They are feasible and would actually save both lives and money.
William R. Polk
William R. Polk is senior director of the W.P. Carey Foundation. A graduate of Harvard and Oxford, he taught Middle Eastern politics and history and the Arabic language at Harvard University until President Kennedy appointed him a Member of the Policy Planning Council of the U.S. Department of State. He was in charge of planning American policy for most of the Islamic world until 1965 when he became professor of history at the University of Chicago and founded its Middle Eastern Studies Center. Later he also became president of the Adlai Stevenson Institute of International Affairs. Among his many books are The United States and the Arab World; The Elusive Peace: The Middle East in the Twentieth Century; Neighbors and Strangers: The Fundamentals of Foreign Affairs; Polk’s Folly, An American Family History; and William R. Polk is senior director of the W.P. Carey Foundation. A graduate of Harvard and Oxford, he taught Middle Eastern politics and history and the Arabic language at Harvard University until President Kennedy appointed him a Member of the Policy Planning Council of the U.S. Department of State. He was in charge of planning American policy for most of the Islamic world until 1965 when he became professor of history at the University of Chicago and founded its Middle Eastern Studies Center. Later he also became president of the Adlai Stevenson Institute of International Affairs. Among his many books are The United States and the Arab World; The Elusive Peace: The Middle East in the Twentieth Century; Neighbors and Strangers: The Fundamentals of Foreign Affairs; and Polk’s Folly, An American Family History; and Understanding Iraq: The Whole Sweep of Iraqi History, from Genghis Khan's Mongols to the Ottoman Turks to the British Mandate to the American Occupation (HarperPerennial, 2004).