A few days ago Dr. Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad wrote an incisive analysis on the economic costs of the US-led military occupation in Iraq. In it he described how the price tag of empire is hitting the American economy very hard. It is something impossible to ignore despite the administration’s best efforts to systematically spin the ongoing failures in Iraq.
I argue that the economics of occupation is also a security “metric” to be constantly scrutinized when examining the fight against Al-Qaeda. Why? Because economic exhaustion is central to Bin Laden’s overarching goal of removing American military presence from the Middle East and other Muslim countries. While fighting terrorism on the cheap may not necessarily be a sign of success, its exorbitant financial costs are certainly a metric of security failure.
Bin Laden rightly recognizes that his bloodthirsty criminal enterprise is no match for American forces in a conventional fight. Drawing from lessons learned during the battles against Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, he has drawn his militarily stronger enemy into a tactical and strategic form of warfare he could actually win. Tactically it involves guerilla-style cloak-and-dagger methods, while strategically it is an economic (and public) war of attrition.
Under this scenario, size matters and it is a huge disadvantage to the larger party. The Soviets were sucked into an unfamiliar battlefield and got stuck in a huge quagmire that drained them of men, money and materiel. The enormous costs of maintaining the occupation, in addition to keeping pace with US in the arms race led to the Soviet Union’s eventual economic implosion.
This is exactly what Bin Laden is doing in Iraq. The Bush administration fell into Al-Qaeda’s trap by picking an unnecessary fight with Iraq,—which had no weapons of mass destruction, nor any operational links to Al-Qaeda—remaining militarily bogged down and forcing America to financially hemorrage itself.
In an interesting and scary economic analysis by Bin Laden himself, he found that for every dollar he and his affiliates spend in military operations, the Bush administration spends one million dollars in reaction. Those figures led him to calculate the US war debt at one trillion. However recent analyses suggest that these numbers may skyrocket beyond the terror leader’s wildest dreams.
Had the Bush and his neo-con cabal decided to remain focused on Afghanistan, perhaps America would not be faced with a massive military spending bill that will cost at least $2.4 trillion, for the entire war on terror, by the CBO’s relatively conservative estimate, or between $4-5 trillion, for just the Iraq occupation on Joseph Stiglitz and Linda Bilmes’ account. Bush’s Iraq adventure has allowed Bin Laden to regroup his forces and carry out other attacks around the world, including other economically sensitive targets like the massive oil refinery in Abqaiq, Saudi Arabia.
Indeed, we have not been hit with another military attack from Al-Qaeda since the invasion of Iraq. However, the argument of “we’re fighting them over there so they don’t fight us here”—with which I am sure the British and Spanish would not agree—does not hold when examined from an economic perspective. American taxpayers are not bleeding red on their own soil; they are bleeding green instead, just as the enemy planned.