Sunday, July 16, 2006

The cost of the Iran and Syria wars

Leading American commentators like David Brooks and William Kristol are calling for direct confrontation with Syria and Iran. It's hard to see how this would not edge into direct war. But if those states were brought down, what would replace them, and how much would the whole party cost?

Reading Kristol's contribution and other material on the FT site (which syndicated it from the Weekly Standard), I noticed in the margins a reference to an article by Martin Wolf back in January regarding the study by Joe Stiglitz on the economic costs of the Iraq war (on a conservative scenario $839bn direct costs and $1,026bn if indirect costs are included, on a moderate scenario $1,104 direct and $1,854bn indirect). Good to be reminded of the orignal study, which did not of course account for the fact that more than 900 Iraqi civilians has been killed for everyone who died in the bombings in London last July.

How about some estimates for war on Syria and Iran, taking a few scenarios from airstrike through full blown occupation but not necessarily accounting for blowback over the next one to fifty years?

Mark Mazower suggests that the Europeans, as Israel's largest trading partner, exert some pressure to persuade Israel to adhere to the 4th Geneva convention in the territories and Lebanon:

One reason for the virtual unanimity behind the 1949 Geneva prohibition on collective punishment in wartime was the sense that it was both morally unpalatable and militarily ineffective. Recent history suggested collective punishment usually played into the hands of well-organised and popular insurgencies. The latter may deliberately provoke it – as resistance groups frequently did in wartime Europe – because it often brings new recruits, weakens alternative sources of authority and discredits the perpetrators.

I guess this advice will be dismissed in Washington and Tel Aviv as impossibly quaint, at best.

More sober thoughts here (Billmon, via Juan Cole) and here:

As for taking on Iran, well that decision still rests with a higher authority, and while Bill Kristol and David Horowitz can burn up the Internets with their cries to let loose the dogs of war (again), I'm getting the impression that the Cheney administration has had its fill of world wars of choice, at least for the moment. It may be that the IDF is going to have to content itself with shelling and bombing defenseless population centers, at least until after our November elections. But I could be wrong; it has been known to happen. And if I am, and the Third World War, or Fourth, or whatever, now looms, well, it's certainly been nice knowing you all.

The irony of all this is that Israel has the world's leading authority on fourth generation war -- the man who literally wrote the book -- at its immediate disposal, and yet at the moment it looks almost as unprepared to fight one as Uncle Sam. I'm a little surprised by that, but then again the tribes of Israel have something of a track record of ignoring their prophets.

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