Friday, February 10, 2006

War and Taxes

Paul R. Pillar's article in Foreign Affairs, Intelligence, Policy, and the Iraq War, is interesting reading.

Summary: During the run-up to the invasion of Iraq, writes the intelligence community's former senior analyst for the Middle East, the Bush administration disregarded the community's expertise, politicized the intelligence process, and selected unrepresentative raw intelligence to make its public case.


Before the war, on its own initiative, the intelligence community considered the principal challenges that any postinvasion authority in Iraq would be likely to face. It presented a picture of a political culture that would not provide fertile ground for democracy and foretold a long, difficult, and turbulent transition. It projected that a Marshall Plan-type effort would be required to restore the Iraqi economy, despite Iraq's abundant oil resources. It forecast that in a deeply divided Iraqi society, with Sunnis resentful over the loss of their dominant position and Shiites seeking power commensurate with their majority status, there was a significant chance that the groups would engage in violent conflict unless an occupying power prevented it. And it anticipated that a foreign occupying force would itself be the target of resentment and attacks -- including by guerrilla warfare -- unless it established security and put Iraq on the road to prosperity in the first few weeks or months after the fall of Saddam.

In addition, the intelligence community offered its assessment of the likely regional repercussions of ousting Saddam. It argued that any value Iraq might have as a democratic exemplar would be minimal and would depend on the stability of a new Iraqi government and the extent to which democracy in Iraq was seen as developing from within rather than being imposed by an outside power. More likely, war and occupation would boost political Islam and increase sympathy for terrorists' objectives -- and Iraq would become a magnet for extremists from elsewhere in the Middle East.

PAUL R. PILLAR is on the faculty of the Security Studies Program at Georgetown University. Concluding a long career in the Central Intelligence Agency, he served as National Intelligence Officer for the Near East and South Asia from 2000 to 2005.

One wonders what public opinion would have been if these assessments were public knowledge even though there were those who did predict the inevitable result of invading Iraq. There's no accounting for taste as they say.

There were those who also predicted a $1 trillion cost to the war. The recent Bilmes and Stiglitz estimates of a $1 to $2 trillion cost to the war validate those predictions.

It would seem the first place to look as far as getting the nation's fiscal problems in order is electing a government who will not hide the ugly facts of their policies from the public. Those who worry about trimming the budget need look no further than the trillions of dollars spent on foreign adventures predicted to go badly. The ever escalating defense budget indicates not many in the current regime have the desire or the will to do it.

You can't have popular and necessary social programs when you fight multi-trillion dollar wars that one day need to be paid for. Imperialism has its price just like everything else.

You can only try to hide the truth about your intemperate adventures and their cost. But you can't hide from history forever. Large nation states have needed tax revenue to pay for their wars since their rise. The public good is twice impaled, one by the war and a second time by the sacrifice of the the public welfare.

Those states who fail to raise sufficient revenue for their wars either default on their debt or inflate it away. Such are the ways economies are wrecked in a spectacular way.


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