Today's Opinions, Tomorrow's Reality 

Drinking Your Own Kool-Aid
The Terrible Costs of an Inevitable War

By David G. Young

Washington, DC, March 4, 2003 --  

One of the more colorful business expressions to come out of the ?90s boom was the maxim, "Don't drink your own Kool-Aid." A powerful reminder of the perils of believing your own propaganda, the saying refers to a 1978 mass suicide in Guyana where cult followers killed themselves en masse by drinking poison-laced Kool-Aid.

America, it tragically seems, is about to do precisely that. For over a year now, a popular president has been disingenuously preaching about the dangers of Iraq's "weapons of mass destruction," knowing full well that the outlaw regime's chemical and biological capabilities are of little threat to America, and that its nuclear program is virtually dead.

Why is the Bush administration hell-bent on invading Iraq? Because Saddam Hussein's regime has been a thorn in America's side for over a decade. It has defied the U.N., thumbed its nose at the U.S., and even tried to assassinate the American president's dad. After the al-Qaeda attacks on New York and Washington, already trigger-happy American officials began dreaming of a liberated and American-influenced Iraq that could be used as an alternative model for the rest of the despotic and bitterly anti-American Arab world.

The administration's plan for Iraq is not without merit, but it is costly, terribly risky, and has absolutely nothing to do with "weapons of mass destruction." A year of contrary rhetoric, however, has succeeded in convincing the American people of the cult-like dogma.

A ridiculously disingenuous debate has gone on for two months as chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix has searched in vain for prohibited Iraqi weapons. No evidence of disarmament could ever be enough to avert war for an American government determined to invade Iraq for completely different reasons.

European governments opposed to war are equally disingenuous. French President Jacques Chirac and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder oppose an invasion both because they fear unchecked American influence and because the voters who elected them are virulently anti-war. They voted for the U.N. resolution ordering Iraq to disarm only because of American bullying. Now, in an effort to backtrack from a resolution they never really supported, they utter laughable falsehoods about how the inspection process works, and how the inspectors need more time to do their jobs.

They say these things because, like Bush, they don't really care about disarmament. It's become a proxy for whether or not to go to war. If you're anti-war, you deny the most obvious evidence of Iraqi defiance. If you're pro-war, you dismiss any Iraqi move toward disarmament. It's that simple.

The most dangerous aspect of this widespread disingenuousness is that people are starting to believe what they are saying. The Bush administration has bullied so many people and burned so many bridges that there is no turning back from war. With no way to save face, the United States government has little choice other than to proceed with an invasion, no matter what its costs. And the costs are enormous.

Widely publicized estimates of the price tag of war last week reached almost $100 billion.1 Unlike the first Gulf War, where America's rich allies bankrolled the entire operation, American taxpayers will have to pick up the bill this time. If the $100 billion estimate is accurate, it corresponds to a proportionate cost of over $1000 for a family of four. Final costs in an occupation would rise much further, especially given the political sensitivities of using Iraqi oil to finance an occupying army.

Non-monetary costs are higher still. Already, the Bush administration has done what may be irreparable damage to its relationship with once-allied states. Despite the rhetoric, it is NATO, not the U.N., that is on the brink of irrelevance. Most of the members, save Britain, have rebuffed U.S. calls for actual assistance. Turkey has humiliated the American government by leaving U.S. troops stranded on ships in the Mediterranean. Torn apart by infighting, the Western alliance may never again regain the unity that existed for 40 years of Cold War, and over a decade after.

As if this damage weren't enough, the administration is continuing to make devilish deals with despicable characters in order to gain practical support for the war and votes in the U.N. Security Council. If the Bush administration succeeds in a last minute reversal to get U.S. troops into Turkey, it will be at the terrible cost of selling the Kurdish people into repression for generations.

But the greatest cost of the war to America could be in world public opinion. Long before an invasion became imminent, anti-Americanism was overwhelming in the Arab world, and rising in Europe. On February 15, millions of people around the world demonstrated against the war plans of the American government. Even in Britain -- the Bush administrations only major ally -- the population is strongly anti-war. America's pro-war public stands completely isolated in the world. If the war proceeds in this environment, it will be at the terrible cost of international goodwill at a time when America greatly needs cooperation to fight the specter of terrorism.

Given the immense costs that have materialized, any objective and thoughtful administration would determine that the potential benefits of an invasion are not worth the costs -- especially since the desired results are not guaranteed. But the administration is no longer objective and thoughtful. After over a year of disingenuous but bombastic proselytizing on the issue of "weapons of mass destruction," it has no choice but to drink its own Kool-Aid. It is time for the world to brace itself, and pray that the effects will be mild, not deadly.

Related Web Columns:

A Dangerous Distraction, December 24, 2002

Put Up or Shut Up, December 10, 2002

Heating a Tepid Dissent
The Case Against War on Iraq
, August 20, 2002

Brewpubs and Atom Bombs
Pick the Real Threat to American Security
, February 24, 1998


1. Washington Post, Tax Cuts Plus War Equals a Record Deficit, March 2, 2003