At The Rubicon
49 BC, Julius Caesar at the head of a great army paused at a mountain
river much like
our Esopus. To cross it meant war and that was his choice; within
5 years both he and the great Republic of Rome were dead, replaced
by a mostly debauched Empire that killed its enemies by nailing
them to crosses.
past 2000 years, crossing the Rubicon has meant a decision from
which there's no turning back, but it also implies a choice with
consequences barely imaginable at the time they're made.
President George Bush is standing at the Rubicon, and hundreds
of thousands of our brave men and women stand ready to cross into
war. We all watch the news and read what we can, we think we know
why, or at least why our administration believes it has to happen.
Has our government made a compelling case for its inevitability?
We don't think so, though we respect the views of those who do.
In a world without the repercussions we believe this war will
have, we'd favor the instant, total destruction of insane and
genocidal regimes like Saddam's. Unfortunately, that's not the
world we get to make choices in.
We're about to wage war on an ancient civilization of mostly kids,
and we're using that term advisedly: In our town half of us are
under 45; in Iraq, more than half the population's under 15 years
old. These young people have grown up with a value system where
revenge, not forgiveness, is at the core of how they process threat,
or terror from the
skies. They'll never forget what's about to happen, and millions
will soon dedicate their lives to taking revenge on millions of
us. Even when the bombing stops, for them the war will only be
won't be true just in Iraq, but for tens of millions throughout
the world, for whom trading their lives as martyrs for a seat
by the throne of God is their greatest hope for happiness, and
for whom redemption through death holds the very meaning of life.
It's easy to imagine the war's beginning. We'll see cruise missiles
launched, stealth fighters and drones, new forms of laser and
who knows maybe even particle weaponry this time. We'll see precise,
lethal targeting of things large and small, bounced from soldier's
helmets to satellites and on to us, all in living color, black
& white, and infrared. We'll see a second-rate military carefully
laid waste, along with much of its country's infrastructure, all
of it over and over on CNN. We'll also see what we don't want,
civilian casualties, even if it's not many. The one thing that's
hard to imagine will be how it ends, and that's because it isn't
going to end. Not for people in Iraq nor for millions more, including
We will of course, win the war. The real questions are can we
afford to win it, and what'll it really cost us? Nobody knows
the answers, but here's how we're calculating: Start by setting
aside the war's cost in dollars, and the cost in dollars of occupying
and rebuilding Iraq. Set aside the cost in American lives lost,
and of course the lives of many Iraqis. Set aside the environmental
catastrophe of the burning of Iraq's vast oil fields. Set them
aside but hold those thoughts, because in the big picture they're
secondary. Because the primary costs of the war that's coming
are probably going to be these:
1. Vastly increased threats to American security at home and abroad.
As new waves and forms of terrorism are spawned, Americans at
home and our interests elsewhere will be directly and increasingly
2. Global political destabilization caused by anti-US response
could throw a quarter of the world's population into social and
political upheaval. Every moderate Islamic state faces serious
internal threats; some will retain power, some will not. If,say,
Pakistan falls, will its nuclear weapons become a terrorist arsenal?
Just one of many prospects.
3. Possible worldwide economic depression
scenarios: A fundamentalist Pakistan would mean the end of investment
in the Indian subcontinent, along with any hope of economic growth
& stability for two billion people. If the Saudi regime falls,
oil could hit $100 a barrel and firewood $200 a cord, ushering
in a Depression like we've never seen.
Demand for non-essential goods & services could dry up, shrinking
the domestic economy and decimating what's left of the Stock Market.
Manufacturing would nosedive, exports shrink to computer software,
pop music and movies. Unemployment would skyrocket, and as insecurity
and desperation grow, crime and violence. ..well, the cycle only
Factoring in these things, now add back the "secondary"
costs, and subtract Saddam Hussein.
Whatever your answer is, is the answer to the question "can
we afford it?" For us, it comes up no.
We're not saying all of these things will happen, but some will
and all of them could. In our instantly interdependent world,
there's little lag between cause and effect, and no second chances.
Our administration doesn't seem to grasp this, believing with
a unparalleled and unjustified hubris that winning a war means
we can control its outcome. To us, that's indicative of the same
short-sightedness with which we failed to remove Saddam during
the first Gulf War, and which we're paying the price for now.
This time as we head down the path our leaders have chosen, the
blowback could well be the beginning of a new, dark epoch
in human history.
We are it seems, going to war. May God protect those who carry
its burden for us, and may God help our country, for in the months
and years to come, we will most assuredly need that help.