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Give War a Chance?

What is the current reaction of the U.S. public towards the administration's drumbeats for war in Iraq?

February 27, 2003

What is the current reaction of the U.S. public towards the administration's drumbeats for war in Iraq?

Every so often my almost nine-year old son puts his mind to use in an effort to squeeze a special favor out of his loving parents.

He pleads all day and promises us the world. Bad parenting or not, we sometimes surrender, because we are exhausted — and for the sake of maintaining "peace."

These days, tired Americans of all political colors and stripes are desperate for the war against Iraq to get started so that they can move on with their lives — and for the sake of preserving peace at home.

Since the Bush Administration first raised the specter of war against Iraq, any attempts to address the future costs of such military action have been muted, if not suppressed.

President Bush's former economic advisor Larry Lindsey predicted a price tag between $100-200 billion in terms of troop deployment, weaponry and higher oil prices. This estimate probably led to Mr. Lindsey's premature departure from his post.

At that time, administration officials downplayed the potential cost of the war. But now estimates are creeping up again. The most recent figure puts the cost of the war at $95 billion — not much less than the low end of Mr. Lindsey original suggestion.

Either way, these Washington number games are misleading, as is so often the case. In particular, they neglect the fact that the American people have already paid a heavy economic price for a war that has yet to begin.

It was in his January 2002 State of the Union Address, that President Bush took a first step in preparing the nation for war with Iraq, when he famously named that country as a member of the axis of evil.

He heightened global awareness of pending military action by elaborating on his preemptive strike doctrine in the months that followed. The war-talk intensified after Labor Day 2002 — and has been on the rise ever since.

This prolonged preparation for a military conflict has had severe consequences for the U.S. economy. In early 2002, most analysts expected the recovery to gain speed as businesses would begin to invest again following the cyclical downturn of the previous year.

Growing geopolitical uncertainty created an environment of fear, however, and private-sector investments have remained depressed throughout last year and into 2003. As a matter of fact, had it not been for a spike in government spending during the last quarter, we might already be in a double-dip recession.

Consequently, the U.S. economy grew significantly below its potential in 2002, and the economy has created virtually no additional jobs over the past year — leaving the unemployment rate to creep up.

The country's stock markets too experienced a third consecutive year of falling value in 2002 as the economic outlook was clouded by political uncertainty. This has further reduced the net worth of U.S. households — and even put at risk the viability of some pension funds.

Consumer confidence has steadily declined, although consumer spending remained as the strongest leg of the U.S. economy during the Bush years. In fact, the consumer confidence index has plummeted from over 110 points in March of 2002 to a mere 64 points this month, the lowest measurement since 1993.

The record readings of nearly 145 points in 2000 — during President Clinton's last year in office — seem all but ancient history (as are structural budget surpluses, America's longest growth cycle and the lowest unemployment rates in 40 years).

Of course, all of this economic pain — hard to quantify though it may be — might be a necessary sacrifice to end terrorism.

But regardless of people's politics and preferences for peace, it seems that the American people — if they do not favor the war, then out of sheer exhaustion — are approaching the same point as stressed parents do with their over-eager or zealous kids.

They are inclined to give in to the charm offensive — to maintain "peace" and to get a reprieve from the bothering.

Of course, parents — such as myself — are always quick to convince themselves that they only gave in to empower the child's sense of responsibility.

However, the answer to the war question — in terms of its consequences — will weigh infinitely more on the world's conscience than a day of bad parenting.