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Friday, March 20, 2009

"Things to Come"

Paul Krugman a little over six years ago, on 3/18/03, the eve of the Iraq war:

Things to Come, by Paul Krugman, Commentary, NY Times: Of course we'll win on the battlefield, probably with ease. I'm not a military expert, but I can do the numbers: the most recent U.S. military budget was $400 billion, while Iraq spent only $1.4 billion.

What frightens me is the aftermath — and I'm not just talking about the problems of postwar occupation. I'm worried about what will happen beyond Iraq — in the world at large, and here at home.

The members of the Bush team don't seem bothered by the enormous ill will they have generated in the rest of the world. They seem to believe that other countries will change their minds once they see cheering Iraqis welcome our troops, or that our bombs will shock and awe the whole world (not just the Iraqis), or that what the world thinks doesn't matter. They're wrong on all counts.

Victory in Iraq won't end the world's distrust of the United States, because the Bush administration has made it clear, over and over again, that it doesn't play by the rules. Remember: this administration told Europe to take a hike on global warming, told Russia to take a hike on missile defense, told developing countries to take a hike on trade in lifesaving pharmaceuticals, told Mexico to take a hike on immigration, mortally insulted the Turks and pulled out of the International Criminal Court — all in just two years.

Nor, as we've just seen, is military power a substitute for trust. Apparently the Bush administration thought it could bully the U.N. Security Council into going along with its plans; it learned otherwise. "What can the Americans do to us?" one African official asked. "Are they going to bomb us? Invade us?" ...

What scares me most, however, is the home front. Look at how this war happened. There is a case for getting tough with Iraq; bear in mind that an exasperated Clinton administration considered a bombing campaign in 1998. But it's not a case that the Bush administration ever made. Instead we got assertions about a nuclear program that turned out to be based on flawed or faked evidence; we got assertions about a link to Al Qaeda that people inside the intelligence services regard as nonsense. Yet those serial embarrassments went almost unreported by our domestic news media. So most Americans have no idea why the rest of the world doesn't trust the Bush administration's motives. And once the shooting starts, the already loud chorus that denounces any criticism as unpatriotic will become deafening.

So now the administration knows that it can make unsubstantiated claims, without paying a price when those claims prove false, and that saber-rattling gains it votes and silences opposition. Maybe it will honorably refuse to act on this dangerous knowledge. But I can't help worrying that in domestic politics, as in foreign policy, this war will turn out to have been the shape of things to come.

[See also Six Years Ago on Eve of Iraq War: Judy Miller vs. Paul Krugman which reminded me of this column.]

    Posted by on Friday, March 20, 2009 at 12:24 AM in Economics, Iraq and Afghanistan | Permalink  TrackBack (0)  Comments (14)

          

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