Juan Cole: Iraq is Still a Bad Bargain

[Mr. Cole is Professor of Modern Middle Eastern and South Asian History at the University of Michigan. His website is http://www.juancole.com.]

Andrew Bacevich eviscerates the Iraq War party with this passionate and clear-sighted essay on 'the Surge to Nowhere' in WaPo. He points out that the real motivation behind last year's troop escalation was to avoid popular outrage building in the US electorate to the point where the troops were pulled out. He observes that the argument for the 'success' of the 'surge' is purely a tactical one. When viewed from the vantage point of grand strategy, the Iraq War is as much a failure as it has always been.

If someone came to you six years ago and said that for only $2 trillion, you could have for your colony a burned out country, a failed state, and a semi-permanent incubator of terrorism and hatred against the US, would you have ponied up the money? That's what you've got , and that it what it cost you. Detroit could have used some of that money. New Orleans could have used some of that money. Appalachia has lots of schools that need to be painted.

The argument could be made that Israel is safer with Saddam Hussein out of power. But that argument does not hold water. Current Iraqi leaders such as Muqtada al-Sadr and Adnan Dulaimi are not less anti-Israel than Saddam, and it turns out he did not have WMD with which to attack Israel anyway. The Shiites of Iraq will certainly side with Hizbullah against Israel, which may actually mean that Israel is less secure now than before. Moreover, to have substantial turmoil on their doorstep just cannot be good for the Israelis.

You could argue that US petroleum corporations are now well placed to bid on Iraqi oil development. But what with doomsday cults planning a takeover of the petroleum facilities, it will be some time before it is safe for US corporations to operate in I raq. China and Holland (Shell) are being looked upon favorably by the Iraqi government as investors.

And anyway, if the US government had thrown the $2 trillion and more that Iraq will end up costing at green energy development, both we and the earth would have been far better off. At a time when the US military is paying 60,000 Sunni Arab Iraqis $300 a month each not to fight us, it is pretty hard to justify letting the US working class sink, without any government help, into penury and homelessness in the face of the mortgage crisis and the recession. The Iraq War may or may not be good for Houston. It is certainly bad for Iraq and for everyone else.

The current round of optimism about Iraq in the Washington press corps will eventually falter against the country's hard realities, just as have previous such rounds. Or maybe worrying about Iraq and continued US troop deaths there is so yesterday for the punditocracy in DC.

The optimism is a planted story, a sleight of hand produced by looking at tactics rather than at strategy, or by making comparative statements (Iraq has less violence today than it did in the volcanic period a year ago) which obscure absolute reality (Iraq is very unstable and dangerous).

What the snake oil merchants like Fred Kagan and Bill Kristol (both of them hard right Zionists) are really saying is that if you just give them $2 trillion more, boy do they have a deal on a neo-colony for you.

Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice-- can't get fooled again.

comments powered by Disqus

More Comments:

omar ibrahim baker - 1/25/2008

I do NOT claim that your "WE HAVE NOTHING TO SHOW FOR THAT MONEY." is an appraisal of the US aggression against Iraq as an investments but it can be so perceived!
The bottom line here is that the USA invasion and sustemic destruction of Iraq is an act of aggression by the international bully of the day, or decade (no more), that honestly unveils the ugly and anti human imperialism of the USA!
Aside from the fact that it was, primarily, undertaken to ensure the regional predominance of Israel it was the US at the service of oil companies; both American and American allied.
Money wise :one can not fail to note that the USA fought and financed Israel 's warr and for Israeli interests and not American interests
that the money spilled thereon could have done a great deal of good for the American people .
AS such the US war on Iraq was not only a bad investment but a colossal "anti investment" (deinvestment?) of American money and human lives in that it did NOT only fail to protect American interests but managed to put them at greater peril .

Stephen M Garcia - 1/23/2008

To Jules R. Benjamin:

I agree with you completely.

It is my understanding that after 12 years of sanctions, Iraq was effectively one of the poorest countries on Earth, down there with Afghanistan, Eritrea, Albania, etc. Yet all that money and all that technology and all that military might couldn't manage an occupation.

Could it have been managed better? It would have been difficult to have managed it worse, it seems. But is it the nature of occupations that they just suck up a nation's assets? The Afghans did it to the Soviets, as everybody knows. That claim is usually not made without also stating that it was U.S. Stinger missiles and other armaments that allowed the Afghans to pester and pick off the Russkies until they cried "Uncle" and pulled out (assisted by a steady stream of young men in boxes).

I make no assertion. The Afghans bested the Brits when the English were the most powerful nation on the planet. Then they did in the Soviets. An argument might be made that they are in the process of doing it to the U.S., too, though Iraq draws so much attention that Afghanistan news gets lost in the shuffle.

Are occupations just a bad investment?

When all is said and done, we will look back and ask what the hell good any of that $2 trillion did.

And the answer will as like as not be, "Not very damned much."

Stephen M Garcia - 1/23/2008

So, how much did overspending on unnecessary military excursions did it cost the Russians to bring down the Soviet Union?

No one in 1987 was predicting that the USSR was within a year or three of total collapse. How much before we spend ourselves into oblivion will it be foreseen here?


In at least one of the Presidential debates in 2004, John Kerry said Iraq would cost us $200 billion. Bush laughed at him and so did the pundits. Well, evidently they were right. He was off by 90%.

Juan is absolutely right about how much good that money could have done HERE.

How can any nation's leaders think they can WASTE more than the GDP of almost any other nation in history for any year, any time, and think the nation can survive?




Jules R. Benjamin - 1/22/2008

Juan Cole comes close to an important insight I think. If the U.S. were not the wealthiest and by far the most powerful nation in the world it could not have dug a pit in Iraq so large as to swallow a huge chunk of that power. Any nation of moderate assets and ambition would have learned quickly that it could not afford the cost of such a war. Its people would have long ago ended their support; its politicians would have forced a change of course, its military leadership would have learned that such a conflict could not be won. Perhaps, as the U.S. economy declines, the nation will be forced to do what it has not the wisdom to do. Perhaps it will even begin to consider the possibility that the world does not need its interventions.

History News Network