Date: Wed, Mar 5, 2008 at 7:42 AM
This is more or less the text I used before the
Economic Club of Phoenix and the Committee for the Republic in
William R. Polk
Chemin de la Sine * 06140 Vence * France
With all eyes fixed on the forthcoming election, we must consider the
issues that will face whomever becomes our next president for these are
issues that we – and perhaps even our grandchildren will have to cope.
The urgent issue before our country in this time of great danger is the
health of our society and the well-being of our country. Foremost
is the impact of the war in Iraq on our society, our constitutional
system and our economy. Like many of you in the room, I have helped to
see America through some dangerous times. For me, the searing
experience was serving on the crisis management committee of the Cuban
Missile Crisis . Then the deputy head of the National Security Council,
the Assistant Secretary of Defense of International Security Affairs
and I oversaw events during that perilous week. The scars are still
with me. But one positive thing I learned then is that the most
dangerous thing is to close one's eyes to reality, to see only what one
wants to see. Only in absolutely honesty and clarity is there hope. So
please forgive me for laying out here today the cold hard facts with
which we must live -- or die.
* * *
So, I want to talk with you today about three things;
First, what is our struggle in Iraq costing us;
Second, the nature of terrorism, guerrilla warfare and insurgency ; and
Third, what should we do now.
Here, I propose to skip over how we got into Iraq, the legal and
constitutional issues posed by our policy. Not that these are
unimportant, but they are relatively often discussed so I would rather
focus on what is less known.At the end, if you will bear with me, I
will project ahead on the implications of the thrust of current
policy.I begin with the cost of our policy in Iraq:
* * *
casualties — as of last week, to be exact, 3,958 in addition to another
482 in Afghanistan.Our wounded cannot be so precisely counted as they
fall into various categories. One hears or reads the figure 30,000 --
that was the figure given by Senator Obama last night, but he was wrong
about it. It is only a small fraction of the total.
One of the most striking wounds is a direct result of the nature of
guerrilla warfare — concussions. Concussions were not even noted until
after 2003. Now it is believed that about 1 in 10 US soldiers and
Marines — that is roughly 50,000 men and women — has been
affected.Treating these wounded is a long-time task. Most will never
fully recover. Meanwhile, they will be unable to function normally. So
side effects will ripple through their communities —loss of jobs,
inability to function as parents, divorces, anger, despair. And the
cost of treatment will range from $600,000 to $5 million dollars a
The loss of limbs should be easier to count, but the figures are in
dispute. A minimum is about 8,000. Most of these people will recover,
but many of them will spend their lives in wheel chairs.
As far as I have been able to find, no statistics have been broken out
for those paralyzed.
But 1 in 4 of the soldiers and Marines ñ the US Surgeon General put the
figure at 1 in 3 — that is between 125 and nearly 200 thousand ñ has an
illness we did not even know existed until 1980. It is PTSD or
post-traumatic stress disorder.
And the Journal of the American Medical Association reported that 1 in
3 of the men and women who served in Iraq — perhaps 200 thousand needs
mental health treatment. Some of these need help because they are
either suicidal or could endanger others.
The most complicated and frightening "wound,"however, is result of the
use of depleted uranium bombs and artillery shells. We used them
because uranium is a very heavy metal and is better at penetrating
armor. In itself, depleted uranium is not much more dangerous than
steel. But upon impact, a shell generates intense heat which causes the
depleted uranium to mutate into an aerosol of uranium oxide, U3 08. As
Dr. Hans Noll American Cancer Society Professor of Biology has written
to me, "It settles as a fine dust, which enters the body in a variety
of ways. Uranium oxide is an extremely potent neurotoxin with a high
affinity for DNA. This DNA fragmentation results in genetic defects
like cancer and malformation in developing fetuses. Inhaled as dust,
uranium oxide accumulates in the lungs, liver and kidneys and affects
the nervous system." It is inevitable that we face thousands, perhaps
tens of thousands, of cases of cancer as a result of the use of this
weapon. As General Brent Scowcroft laconically put it, "Depleted
uranium is more of a problem than we thought when it was developed."
It certainly is.
These "wounds" add up to very large numbers. We should not be
surprised since 169 thousand of the 580,400 men and women who fought in
the first Gulf War are on permanent medical disability at a cost of $2
billion a year. For this, the second Gulf War, the estimated medical
costs equal the combat costs or roughly half a trillion dollars.
* * *
Leaving aside the armed forces, what is the war's effect on America?
Consider first the standing of America in the world. This is much more
important for our safety than all the weaponry and soldiers we can
muster. And no one denies that the reservoir of good will that that
great Republican candidate for the presidency, Wendell Wilkie, found so
gratifying at the end of the Second World War is now a reservoir well
drained.Everywhere you look, there is growing distrust and increasing
anger at America. The most recent polls show an alarming decline even
since last year and even in our closest ally, England. There our
standing is down from 75 percent to just over 50 percent. In Germany it
is down from 60 percent to 30 percent. And outside of Europe the
numbers are unprecedented. Our NATO ally Turkey everyone thought to be
As an aside when I was in government we asked the Turks to commit
forces to NATO and they turned over their whole army. When we set up
our supersecret spy bases ó the National Security Agency (NSA) and CIA
bases for monitoring Soviet missile activity and flying the U=2, the
Turks allowed us to put over 21 thousand officials in Turkey and never
even asked to have a look inside the bases, so complete was their
trust. Now only 9 percent of Turks favor America.
In Egypt and Jordan, the heavily touted props of our Middle Eastern
policy, only about 1 in each 5 favors us. Polls indicate that nearly 8
in 10 Muslims worldwide believe our intent is to destroy their
religion, that President Bush's famous use of the word "crusade" to
describe our policy was not just a slip of the tongue, and that the
issue for them is defense of their whole way of life.Of course in Iraq
itself, the feeling about America is sharper. All public opinion polls
and all observations by our officials indicate that the one issue on
which Iraqis of every sect, opinion and economic strata agree is that
they want us out.
Why is this? First, of course is a truism that we all share: no people
wants to be ruled by foreigners. Often we don't even want them in our
country. But from the American revolution onward, people all over the
world have struggled to get foreigners to leave them alone. The Iraqis
are not different from Americans on this matter.
But there are more pointed reasons. I won't trouble you with all the
details, but will say merely that we have destroyed the social fabric
of Iraq. That sense of coherence is the most important attribute of any
society. It dwarfs in importance physical things. Without it no society
can exist. Consider your own city: it is possible for a small police
force to keep order here because your neighbors accept the general
order. Were this not the case, order could not be maintained by a whole
army. That is the situation in Iraq. 160 thousand heavily armed
soldiers plus what remains of the Iraqi army and police and about
20,000 mercenary security people cannot prevent mayhem because the
social fabric has been shredded.
Other things matter — hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have been killed,
many more have been wounded and still more have lost their homes and
livelihoods. Practically speaking, there are very few Iraqis who have
not lost a parent, a child, a spouse, a cousin or a neighbor. All
observers agree that the Iraqis blame America for these things.
Not only in Iraq, but all over the world, the issue of torture runs
like a dark stain on our reputation and has diminished America's
ability to speak with moral authority when we most need that authority
to cope with a very dangerous world.
These new feelings — which did not exist when I lived in Iraq – have
made possible schools of terrorism. Despite what we were told, there
was no terrorism directed against America from Iraq before our
invasion. Now it is a daily, almost hourly event. Even our heavily
guarded Green Zone is more a target than a fortress. And despite all
the talk about counterinsurgency, American troops have largely
disengaged and pulled back into more or less safe havens. True, we have
imprisoned about 20,000 Iraqis, and killed at least that many
insurgents but new recruits join daily. By military means – even the
much hyped new program of General David Petraeus – there is no end in
sight. So the Pentagon is planning for an almost unending war.
Even if this dismal projection is wrong, it is striking that the
current American policy's most significant long-term effect on Iraq is
precisely the opposite of what President Bush presumably wanted to
occur: it put into power a government that is closely associated with
the very country President Bush has targeted as part of the "Axis of
This disheartening drift of affairs may, and most sober observers
believe it almost certainly will, impact upon us by attacks on
Americans and American facilities all over the world and eventually in
But one area where the impact is already evident is in energy:Oil has
been much in the headlines for months. Access to it on acceptable terms
has always been one of the three or four critical requirements of a
successful American foreign policy – I know because years ago in the
Kennedy administration I wrote the basic US policy paper on the Middle
How much does oil cost? If you are a broker, you can answer
immediately, somewhere around $100 dollars a barrel. That should be
alarming since it has risen from about $27 since the Iraq war began.
And it is generally accepted that each $5 rise per barrel reduces our
national income by about $17 billion a year. That is a total of roughly
200 billion dollars.
But, that is not a complete figure. Actually, factored into the price
of oil are at least two other major costs: the first is what we have to
do to create the environment in which we get access (often by bribing
governments or nations) and the second is how we protect that access
by stationing military forces in the neighborhood. Estimates vary of
course but everyone who has looked into this matter agrees, I think,
that they cannot be less than 100 billion dollars a year and is
probably many times that amount. So the "national" cost of oil is
probably already something like $150 or even $200 a barrel.
* * *
These economic figures amount to political poison so politicians do
their best to disguise them.No one likes the idea of paying more taxes
so the best way to ease the pain and disguise the costs is to borrow
money.To shield the public, we have been borrowing at a staggering
rate. Our national debt has grown about 70% during the last six years.
Domestic borrowing is one thing, but our government has borrowed vast
amounts from foreign countries. As of November 2007, the Legislative
Reference section of the Library of Congress reported that in
government-to-government loans (that is US Treasury obligations), we
have borrowed $2.7 trillion dollars since the war began in 2003 and
private sector loans as of 2006 amounted to $5.8 trillion dollars.
China alone owns over $1 trillion dollars in US government obligations.
That is, China has lent us about 60% as much as its yearly income and
the equivalent of nearly 10% of ours.
The yearly interest cost on our debt is about $300 billion.
We are currently borrowing at the rate of at least -- more recent total
figures are not available -- $343 million dollars a day.
You probably heard that Alan Greenspan told The Wall Street Journal:
"The Republican Party, which ruled the House, the Senate and the
Presidency, I no longer recognize."So, we are doing exactly what George
Washington warned us in his Farewell Address not to do – we are as he
said, "ungenerously throwing upon posterity the burdens we ought
ourselves to bear."The administration is projecting a $410 billion
budget deficit this year. That perhaps is the most solid figure we
* * *
Other figures are elusive. It is virtually impossible to track down
the exact numbers since there is a great deal of slight-of-hand in
statistics on the monetary cost of the war in Iraq. It is impossible to
track down exact numbers. The Bush administration claimed we made a
small profit on the 1991 Gulf War. That is simply not true. It actually
cost $80 billion in 2002 dollars. And to convince us that we could
handle the costs of the 2nd Gulf war, the war we are in now, Secretary
of Defense Donald Rumsfeld told us it would be less than $50 billion.
Paul Wolfowitz even said it would cost us nothing because Iraqis would
pay for it themselves.So far the Iraq war and Afghanistan have cost us
– just counting the Congressionally approved expenditures -- $535
billion plus a supplemental outlay of $300 billion, inching up at
$380,000 a minute – that is growing 20% a year -- toward $1 trillion.
During the time I have been speaking to you, we have spent $14
million.And these figures are not complete; the Library of Congress
Congressional Reference Section has complained that it has been unable
to get complete figures from the Department of Defense. For example,
the cost of the equipment used in Iraq is not included in the figure I
just gave you for the cost of the war. Much of the cost is hidden in
the Department of Defense budget.Then there is the "opportunity cost."
That is what we could have done had we not been fighting the war in
Iraq. Opportunity cost estimates run to between $2 and $6 trillion that
is up to $20,000 for every man, woman and child in America.
* * *
One consequence of these gigantic figures is the fall of the dollar.The
dollar has fallen roughly 45% against the Euro. Three years ago, 80
cents bought a Euro. Today a Euro costs one dollar and forty seven
cents. I speak with particular pain about this since I am spending much
of my time now in Europe. What has happened is that business people and
bankers in Europe have closely analyzed our economy and have lost much
of their confidence in the "almighty dollar."The numbers are so huge
that one seeks concrete examples of what we are talking about: just the
Congressionally allocated figure of $500 or so billion of direct costs
of the war in Iraq would pay to build 4,000 new, well-equipped high
schools or fund Medicare for a year or eliminate starvation all over
* * *
Costs beyond the economy are particularly disturbing and are likely to
last far longer.Polarization of our society is more striking than at
any time since the Vietam war. These are alarming reports of neighbors,
even family members who have stopped speaking over this issue and we
are resurrecting the violent and vile language of the 1950s: just when
we need for our own safety to think most clearly it is the hardest.
On a personal note: I have recently been asked by both Democratic and
Republic members of Congress to help prepare legislation aimed at
getting us out of Iraq safely, quickly and at minimum cost. So I have
spent a good deal of time with our representatives. The first thing one
hears from them is their fear of being thought "not to support our
troops." That has become a sort of mantra. It partly explains, I think,
why the Congress is not playing the role in foreign affairs it is
Constitutionally obligated to play. With few exceptions in either
party, Congressmen do not even ask questions of key witnesses. For
example, no one questioned General Petraeus on his counterinsurgency
strategy for Iraq. It appears that they don't want to hear the
answers, only to be reassured that, hopefully, those in charge know
them. This explains why no one asked Petraeus serious questions – such
as where his strategy has ever worked or whether it is really new. The
importance of this failure was long ago identified for us by that great
Conservative, Edmund Burke, when he commented on the British inability
to think clearly about the American Revolution. "No passion," he said,
"so effectually robs the mind of all its powers of acting and reasoning
A different kind of polarization of our society is shown in what we
have had to do – since we are unwilling to conscript soldiers – to fill
up our army: a high percentage of our soldiers come from the poorest,
least educated part of our society. Only 71% have graduated from high
school...that is down over 30%.One in 8 must get a waiver to join the
army, over 1 in 10 has a criminal record and some 28,000 have been sent
home for misconduct. As a senior army recruiter put it last year,
"We're really scraping the bottom of the barrel trying to get people to
join." In fact, not only are we taking people whom normally we would
reject, but we are paying out bounties to get even them to join. The
bounties amount to about a billion dollars a year.
And, at the same time, we are losing the "best and the brightest" of
our officers: I am told that over half the graduates of West Point now
quit the army.And this is true not only of the armed forces. The
decline of morale in the civilian side of the government, particularly
in the State Department and the Intelligence Agencies is both striking
and disturbing. The critically important work of the National
Intelligence Council has been disrupted and seasoned officers are
resigning in alarming numbers.
* * *
If we are willing, as we have proven to be, to devote vast resources
and blood to the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Somalia, we should
make the effort to understand the nature and sequences of insurgency.
I don't think we have done a good job of this and in part for this
reason much of what we have done, regardless of the legality or
morality of our actions, is merely ineffective or to use that
Washington word, "counterproductive."
In my time in government, I was deeply disturbed by our actions and our
lack of appreciation of the nature of the war in Vietnam. I had
previously had an opportunity to observe, sometimes more closely than
prudent, the wars in Palestine and Greece. Then shortly after I joined
the Policy Planning Council I was appointed head of the government task
force on Algeria and later had a close look at the war in Yemen.
Comparing them to Vietnam, I began a quest that would lead me to study
a dozen other wars and write the book before you, Violent Politics:
Terrorism, Guerrilla Warfare and Insurgency from the American
Revolution to Iraq. From these experiences and studies I have concluded
that most are about shaking off foreign rule. Some, such as the
Naxalite insurgency in India, are more about social unrest, or, as in
Gaza today about a combination of anti-foreign feeling and fury at
economic deprivation, but I will put them aside for the moment to
concentrate on the more "normal" or at least common insurgencies.
They are motivated by the desire to get the foreigners So how do
insurgents go about it?Almost all have miniscule origins. Half a dozen
up to about 3 or four dozen insurgents – or as the French call them,
militants -- is the norm. So, being unable to field significant forces
and usually having only light arms, they have to begin with
terrorism. Their first aim is establish a basis to speak for the
general public – that is, to acquire political legitimacy. Often,
indeed usually, this is done by picking a target that the general
public believes to be illegal, morally wrong, corrupt and
By attacking these targets, they accomplish several objectives – first
they demonstrate their own courage and do what many others would like
to do but did not dare; second, they prove that action can be taken and
that those who take it can survive; and third they acquire the tools to
continue their struggle. So the insurgents attack the "oppressors,"
the police, the landlords, the foreigners, with the ostensible but also
real aim of acquiring arms. For them, the police and army are the
hardware stores. This was certainly the case in Vietnam where the
South Viet Nam army was the source of most of the arms for the Viet
Minh.Then as a few arms are acquired, the original little little band
grows bolder. As it does, it attracts followers so that soon it
becomes several hundred. These groups often scatter to make themselves
Some insurgencies never get beyond this stage. The IRA is an example.
But, if they are lucky and smart, the begin to acquire safe havens to
which they can retreat to rest, train and recruit. . Then, as their
numbers and effectiveness grow, they begin to try to destroy the
existing government. In Vietnam for example, the Viet Minh murdered
the police, tax collectors and government-appointed village officials.
The IRA tried to destroy Mrs. Thatcher's whole cabinet. Often their
most dreaded enemies are fellow citizens who cooperate with the
government or the foreigners. We see that in Iraq today and it was
evident in Yugoslavia where Tito fought Mikhailovic and the EAM/ELAS
fought Napoleon Zervas.Next, successful insurgents begin to replace the
old government so they themselves start to collect taxes, open schools,
run clinics and manufacture or repair arms. Tito even ran a postal
service on his own railroad. Tito manufactured cigarettes and even
rifles – each stamped with the logo of his movement. And, Tito, the
EAM/ELAS and the Viet Minh set up mini-governments in all the villages
they could reach.
Finally, as they arm, train and grow in numbers they move from hit and
run raids to formal confrontation. This is a very dangerous transition
and often it is tried too early, as General Giap did against the
French. But even if battles are lost, if the insurgents have done the
other things right, they can regroup and rebuild, as the Viet Minh did
and as Tito did.
But fighting is not the core of the struggle: it is to wear down the
morale of the opponent, to make his task too expensive or too ugly to
be sustained. This was the aim of the Battle of Algiers. The FLN lost
the battle but won the war.When I laid out this scheme years ago to the
"best and the brightest" of our soldiers, sailors and airmen at the
National War College, it was fashionable to ascribe numbers to these
various efforts. I guessed that about 80% of the insurgents' task to
establish political legitimacy, maybe 15% to wrecking and replacing
administration and only 5% -- the short end of the lever – was force.
So most insurgencies are lost almost before the dominant power becomes
engaged. I told my audience in 1962 that we had already lost the war
in Viet Nam. Coincidently, one can say that we lost the war in Iraq
just about the time when President Bush announced it a "Mission
* * *
Let me interject here just a few words here about Afghanistan and
Somalia:In my book Violent Politics I describe what the Afghans did to
the British and the Russians. They inflicted the greatest single defeat
the British suffered in the 19th century and the worst the Russians
suffered in the 20th.We are not faring much better. As I mentioned,
while we have not suffered as many casualties as in Iraq in "Operation
Enduring Freedom" which we launched in October 2001, our actions
further united the Taliban and al-Qaida. Now the Taliban is on the
rise again and al-Qaida was never stopped. We are losing our allies
(Germany and Canada and, according to today's press, also the Dutch)
and endangering what remains of NATO.
What we have left is not much: the government of President Hamid Karzai
is weak and has tried to survive by bringing the drug lords into
government – it is they, not Karzai who rule outside of downtown Kabul.
In 2007, they produced some 8,200 tons of opium or over 90% of the
world's heroin. It is hard to find much solace there.If possible,
Somalia is a worse mess.If you remember the movie, Black Hawk Down, the
really bad guys were the warlords. The Somalis agreed. So when we got
out, they threw out the warlords. The only replacements they could find
were the religious leaders. The Muslim Fundamentalist are not our
favorite people, but they were the only force that could stop the
warlords' extortion, rape and murder, and the Somalis supported them.
Now we have encourage and paid the Ethiopians to invade Somalia and
drive them out. We also committed our special forces and our Navy in
this attack. It worked – temporarily and at the cost of great human
suffering – and has made the Somalis hate us. Worse, it has brought no
political solution that anyone thinks can last. The war has not been
won, merely worsened.
* * *
So what can we do? Consider carefully our position in Iraq. President
Bush has said we must "stay the course." But also remember that we did
that in Vietnam for nearly 16 years. Even after the Tet Offensive had
shown that we were deluding ourselves with the hope of "victory," and
at least some of us realized that we could not "win," we stayed and
suffered an additional 21,000 casualties.Is there a lesson in this?
General David Petraeus tells us there is. He says that what we have
been doing in Iraq did not work, but that he has a new formula --
Counter Insurgency -- that will work. I agree with him that there is a
lesson to be learned, but unfortunately it is not the one he
Why is this? It is simply that the "new" formula he prescribes is the
same old one we tried in Vietnam and the same old one the Russians
tried in Afghanistan.Listen to the editors of the Pentagon Papers.
They had access to everything we learned about the war in Vietnam so
their account is the most complete ever compiled on an insurgency.
They commented (and I quote) our "program there was, in short, an
attempt to translate the newly articulated theory [that was 40 years
ago] of counterinsurgency into operational reality. The objective was
political though the means to its realization were a mixture of
military, social, psychological, economic and political measures. The
long history of these efforts was marked by consistency in results as
well as in techniques: all failed miserably."
General Petraeus admits (and again I quote) that "Political power is
the central issue in insurgencies and counterinsurgencies; each side
aims to get the people to accept its governance or authority as
Can we do that?No, we cannot. In our age of politically conscious
people, natives refused to be ruled by foreigners. That is why in our
Revolution we threw out the British. The Iraqis today are following the
trail we blazed. Napoleon bitterly remembered that his efforts at
counterinsurgency cost him his army – Spain was a worse defeat for
him, as he remembered in exile, that Russia. De Gaulle almost lost
France because of the counterinsurgency of his army and the Secret Army
Organization. Greece's counterinsurgency gave rise to the bitter
dictatorship of the Colonels. And so on.
* * *
So, should we just as President Bush says, "cut and run."No, as he
would describe such a policy, it would not be either to our interests
nor to those of the Iraqis.I have laid out in the book that Senator
George McGovern and I wrote, Out of Iraq: A Practical Plan for
Withdrawal Now, a detailed, carefully costed out and phased program
that Senator McGovern and I believe will work. Whatever faults the
plan may have, it would start a process that leads out of Iraq with the
least possible damage to us and to the Iraqis. I won't go into it
here as it is long, but I urge you to reach the plan in the book.
Here I will just mention two features: first, it provides for a
replacement for our troops by a "multinational stability force" that
the Iraqis could and would accept and, second, if the plan is followed
it would save the lives of perhaps a thousand Americans, about $350
billion in direct costs and perhaps $1 trillion in indirect costs. More
important, perhaps, it would staunch the hemorrhaging of good will for
America throughout the world and, even more important to us, it would
reduce the danger of terrorist attacks on us here at home.
Will we do it? That really depends on you and me. We cannot expect that
the Congress will act unless we push them nor will this or any future
president take any risks. Governments as most of us who have served
know is like a freight train: it is very hard to start, but even
harder to stop. We have already allocated money, devoted troops and
committed resources to build the "infrastructure" of
counterinsurgency. For the last seven years, the public has been told
that the war is just, will be successful and is necessary. The
terrible costs, which I have laid out to you are mostly obscured and
made inaccessible to the public. Time after time, some "new" strategy
is trotted out, as General Petraeus recently did and as General
Westmoreland did long ago on Vietnam, so decision is put off. To see
their futility requires understanding and to act on that understanding
requires courage. So, sadly, I have concluded that only after we lose
a lot more soldiers and much more money is anyone apt to act.
Indeed, at the present time we are really moving in the opposite
direction. We have developed a momentum that has nearly carried us into
a new "Iraq" War – this time in Iran – and we have offered to begin
operations in Pakistan. Both of which could literally dwarf the Iraq
war.We were saved from a new catastrophe in Iran when, in November
2007, the 14 US intelligence agencies produced a National Intelligence
Estimate that showed that Iran was not trying to build a nuclear bomb.
President Bush allegedly knew the report's conclusion from last summer
when it was finished, but he kept on charging Iran with building a bomb
– and so preparing the way for a war -- right up to the time the
report was published. We very nearly invaded Iran.On Pakistan, as you
know, General Musharraf was pressed to accept an American force to
fight on the Northwest frontier. He turned us down. But we are still
pressuring him to let us commit this folly.These are not random events.
Nor are they just shooting from the hip. There is a strategy behind
* * *
The strategy behind these operations is what the Neoconservative
advisers to President Bush have called "the Long War." A leading member
of the Neoconservatives, James Woolsey, a former director of the CIA,
said he hopes it will not last more than 40 years. The cost of such a
generational conflict has been estimated at more than $17 trillion
More important, in the long period of stress, the American way of life
would be severely challenged, perhaps irreparably damaged. The real
cost could be the destruction of the world in which we live and the
replacement of our civic, cultural and material "good life" by
something like nightmare George Orwell predicted in his novel 1984.
At minimum it would greatly increase the risk to us of terrorism.
But we should be aware that what Woosley and others have discussed is
not just rhetoric or speculation – it is given substance by operational
plans, dedicated military personnel, operating from 737 – I repeat
seven hundred and thirty seven -- existing bases worldwide, with
already constructed and positioned weapons, and sustained by an already
In the spring of 2006, before he left office, Secretary of Defense
Donald Rumsfeld approved three plans to fight the "long war" beyond
Iraq and Afghanistan. Among other actions that have now been
implemented, the Special Operations Command – now made up of 53,000 men
and working with an already allocated budget of $8 billion for fiscal
year 2007 – has dispatched Special "Ops" forces to at least 20
countries in Latin America, Africa and Asia. These teams are loose
cannons, not under the control of regular American embassies and
allowed to engage in covert warfare not only against groups regarded as
terrorists but even against states. Although they could involve us in
war with any number of countries, they are treated as though not
subject to Congressional oversight or decision.They are, as I said,
But they are not working on their own. Their use has been justified by
the March 2005 "National Defense Strategy of the United States of
America" which calls for the US (and I quote) "to operate in and from
the global commons-space, international waters and airspace, and
cyberspace...to surge forces rapidly from strategic distances [to where
adversaries may seek to deny us access and] to deny adversaries
sanctuary...[These campaigns]may entail lengthy periods of both major
combat and stability operations [or] require regime change..."
Not surprisingly, the conservative journal, The Economist,
editorialized, "the Neoconservatives are not conservatives. They are
radicals. Their agenda adds up to a world-wide crusade. With all its
historic, anti-Muslim connotations, it is precisely the word most
calculated to perpetuate movement down the path desired by the
Neoconservatives, permanent, unending war.
Is permanent war – one Iraq after another – to be our future?
That really depends on how much you and I care. If we don't care
enough to force our representatives to care, no one else will. As
President Truman put it, in another context, "the buck stops here."
William R. Polk
Chemin de la Sine
F-06140 Vence France