Conspiracy Theories

Far from making matters any clearer, the Bush administration's rush to war had by Monday produced an open breach in NATO, with France and Germany determined to block NATO military support for Turkey. Meanwhile, Secretary of State Colin Powell had been embarrassed in attempting to prove a connection between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaida. No sooner had Powell made his speech than British intelligence, angry at being taken for a bunch of idiots, turned on Tony Blair and Powell, telling the press that there was no hard evidence of connections among Iraq, al-Qaida's Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, and terrorist activities in Europe. "It is all a question of interpretation," one intelligence source told the Guardian on Feb. 6. The sources said that while Zarqawi had been traveling around the Middle East he was not in Iraq.

In his presentation, Powell contended to the Security Council that the existence of the Ansar al-Islam camp near the Iranian border was evidence linking Saddam to al-Qaida. But British intelligence quickly refuted that claim. "Baghdad's writ genuinely does not run there," a senior British government source told the Independent, describing the camp as a "little node of Islamic extremism." Mullah Krekar, the head of Ansar, told the Guardian last week, "I am against Saddam. I want [Iraq] to change into an Islamic regime." (British intelligence apparently believes Krekar has ties with Chechen rebels and would like to make chemical weapons, but that's different from actually making them.)

The Brits pooh-poohed other possible ties between Iraq and bin Laden. A super-secret Defense Intelligence staff report of Jan. 12, 2003, leaked to the BBC by irate spy masters after Powell's talk, bluntly stated, "While there have been contacts between [al-Qaida] and the regime in the past, it is assessed that any fledgling relationship foundered due to mistrust and incompatible ideologies. . . . Though training of some AQ members in Iraq may have continued, we believe that bin Laden views the Ba'ath as an apostate regime. His aim of restoration of an Islamic caliphate, whose capital is Baghdad, is in ideological conflict with present-day Iraq."

This is pretty much what U.S. critics of the Bush war policy have been pointing out for months to no avail. As for Blair, he waffled before the House of Commons: "There are unquestionably links between al-Qaida and Iraq. It is a matter of speculation, obviously, how far those links go."

If the U.S. and British knew about this supposed Iraqi al-Qaida camp, why didn't they take it out? If, on the other hand, the U.S. government, with the help of Tony Blair, made it up out of old magazine articles, then it is just one more example of our lousy intelligence organizations at work. Of course, the Brits were forced to admit they had indeed plagiarized a post-graduate student's 5,000-word thesis and also lifted material from Jane's Intelligence Review. If the Bush administration were to forget the CIA and rely on Jane's, we'd know more about what's going on. As it stands, we're left to rely on a politicized bunch of spooks whom Bush trots out to provide evidence for his ideological policies. For example, we'll probably never know to what extent Attorney General Ashcroft's orange alarm Friday was to drum up support for the coming war, or how much to rationalize the need for a conservative rewrite of the U.S. Patriot Act. In its new draft form this proposed legislation calls for secret arrests, something never before tolerated in American history.

Senator Bob Graham, who headed the Senate Intelligence Committee last summer, asked the CIA to give him a candid estimate of the likelihood of Saddam Hussein's using weapons of mass destruction. The report, which the government at first sought to hide, was that the prospect was "very low" for the "foreseeable future." However, the report did note that if Saddam were attacked, he might unleash such weapons.

SHELLING OUT
A shooting war in Iraq may turn out to be short, but the costs in years to come could be enormous. So at a moment when the economy is flat, with many people out of work and a suddenly soaring deficit, it's worth considering the impact one more time. You can be sure the administration will never tell us what the real costs are (meaningful analyses have all been held in tight secrecy), and Bush can hope that his increased stature as a victorious war president will carry him through next year's campaign with flying colors—leaving, of course, the bills and deficits for somebody else to figure out.

In his "Economic Consequences of a War with Iraq," appearing in the online journal Nthposition.com, Yale economics professor William D. Nordhaus reminds us that wars always appear cheaper than they really are. Lincoln estimated the cost of the Civil War to the North at $240 million, when in fact it actually ran to around $3.2 billion. In 1966 the Pentagon said the Vietnam War would end in 1967, at a cost of $10 billion, but it dragged on until 1973 at a cost of $110 to $150 billion.

The Iraqi economy is in shambles, in part because of an expensive war against Iran in the 1980s, its reparations to Kuwait, severe U.N. sanctions, and business claims. Those costs run to around $100 billion. Destruction of the Iraqi infrastructure amounts to $230 billion alone. As a result the country is totally reliant on the sale of oil. And while its reserves are thought to be second only to Saudi Arabia's, Iraq has been producing at only half its potential of 3 million barrels a day.

As for the costs to the U.S. of the coming war: Estimates run to $99 billion from 2003 to 2012, if all goes well—a short war, followed by democratization and speeded-up oil production. But should the war drag on, ending in a lengthy occupation, and if the oil fields and infrastructure are destroyed, and if the Muslim world reacts against the U.S., the venture might end up costing $1.9 trillion.

For the U.S. the most important aspect of these different scenarios is whether and to what extent other countries will help pay for the long-term costs of war. And that is why an international coalition is so important. If the U.S. goes it alone, we'll pay for the whole thing. But if there is a true international coalition, then the costs get spread around. As Nordhaus points out, "The longer, more expensive, bloodier, more unilateral, and more destructive is the war, the larger the fraction of the very large costs the U.S. will be forced to bear."

HEART OF STEEL
Anyone thinking that Bush cleaned up the corporations to make the world safe for the millions of retirees who depend on their promised health care and pensions should take a look at what's happening at Bethlehem Steel, where the bankrupt company has just announced it can't pay 95,000 employees their promised health care and life insurance benefits because of a proposed $1.5 billion merger with International Steel Group. Bethlehem chairman Robert Miller won't say how many jobs will be lost, but Reuters reports that he's offering $100 million in buyouts to persuade senior employees to retire. Oh, and not a dime for the rank and file. Additional reporting by Phoebe St. John and Rebecca Winsor.
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