Bush, Iraq and Sister Souljah
By THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN - NYT - Dec 8
I am worried. And you should be, too.
I am not against war in Iraq, if need be, but I am against going to war without preparing the ground in America, in the region and in the world at large to deal with the blowback any U.S. invasion will produce.
But I see few signs that President Bush is making those preparations. The Bush team's whole approach was best summed up by a friend of mine: "We're at war — let's party." We're at war — let's not ask the American people to do anything hard.
This can't go on. We are at war. We are at war with a cruel, militant Islam, led by Al Qaeda, we are at war with a rising tide of global anti-Americanism, and we will probably soon be at war to disarm Iraq. There is no way we are going to win such a multidimensional conflict without sacrifices and radically new thinking.
For me, the question is whether President Bush, having amassed all this political capital by effectively responding to 9/11, is going to spend any of it — is going to ask Americans to do things that are really hard to win these wars over the long haul. Does Mr. Bush have a Sister Souljah speech in him? If not, if he is just going to rely on the Pentagon to fight this war — and on Karl Rove to exploit it — then we will reap nothing but tears.
What would the president tell the American people if he were preparing them for this multidimensional war?
He would tell the American people that this war could cost over a trillion dollars, and no one should think that we're going to be able to use Iraqi oil to pay for it. It will be paid for by our Treasury — and that means not just changing the faces of the Bush economic team but also re-examining the surplus-squandering tax cuts at the center of the Bush fiscal policy.
He would tell the American people that he is embarking on a Manhattan project to increase fuel efficiency and slash the cost of alternative energy sources to reduce our dependence on foreign oil. Yes, it will take time, but gradually it will make us more secure as a nation, it will shrink the price of oil — which is the best way to trigger political change in places like Saudi Arabia — and it will provide the alternative to Kyoto that Mr. Bush promised the world but never delivered.
He would tell the American people that we can no longer afford our selfish system of farm subsidies and textile protectionism. It is a system that tells developing nations they must open their borders to what we make, but we won't give them full access to our markets for what they make: farm goods and garments. If nations like Pakistan continue to live in poverty, if their people can only afford religious schools that teach only the Koran, then we will continue to live in fear. If our national security interests lie in their development, and their development requires access to our markets, we need to open our markets and live what we preach.
He would tell the Palestinians that the U.S. intends to cut off all assistance and diplomatic contacts until they get rid of their corrupt tyrant, Yasir Arafat, because no peace is possible with him. He would tell Ariel Sharon that unless he halts all settlement building — now — the U.S. will start cutting off Israel's economic aid. And he would tell both that he intends to put the Clinton peace plan back on the table as his plan.
He would also tell all Arabs that America has one purpose in Iraq, once it is disarmed of dangerous weapons: to help Iraqis implement the U.N. Arab Human Development Report, which states that the failing Arab world can only catch up if it embraces freedom, modern education and women's empowerment.
Finally, he would tell Karl Rove to take a leave of absence until September 2004 so that nothing the president does in this war will be perceived as being done for political gain.
Friends, we are on the edge of a transforming moment for America in the world. If President Bush uses his enormous mandate to prepare for war — in a way that really deals with our political and economic vulnerabilities, increases our own staying power and convinces the world that we have a positive vision and are responsible global citizens — there is a decent chance we can win at a reasonable cost. But if Mr. Bush simply uses his mandate to drive a hard-right agenda and indulge in more feel-good politics, the world will become an increasingly dangerous place for every American — no matter what war we fight, no matter what war we win.