By Lou Dobbs
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Editor's note: Lou Dobbs' commentary appears every Wednesday on CNN.com.
NEW YORK (CNN) -- The bipartisan Iraq Study Group, led by former Secretary of State James Baker, a Republican, and former 9/11 Commission Co-Chair, Lee Hamilton, a Democrat, has been at work for eight months to develop an assessment of the war in Iraq and new policy recommendations.
But yesterday the president's nominee to succeed Donald Rumsfeld as secretary of defense, Robert Gates, gave a clear assessment of the war. When the soon-to-be-chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Carl Levin, asked the former CIA chief whether the United States was winning, Gates answered directly and straightforwardly, "No, sir."
Gates' answer is far more important to future U.S. strategy than whether one considers the violence in Iraq to be sectarian or an outright civil war. And Gates made clear during his confirmation hearings that, unlike his predecessor, he would be open to ideas about American policy in Iraq.
But there are fundamental realities that we all have to acknowledge about this administration's conduct of the war in Iraq. Those realities have been ignored by both this administration and most Democrats and Republicans in Congress. And just in case the Iraq Study Group ignores those realities, I'd like to offer a few for your consideration.
While many of our elected officials and the national media have focused on whether or not Iraq is now in a civil war, the real questions are: What is our national interest in the Middle East and why are we expending thousands of precious lives and hundreds of billions of dollars to pursue obviously failed strategies?
Nearly 3,000 of our troops have been killed since the beginning of the war in Iraq; all but 139 of them after President Bush stood below a banner declaring "Mission Accomplished." More than 21,000 troops have been wounded, and of those about 10,000 of were so seriously wounded they could not return to duty within three days.
The Pentagon is considering a request of at least $127 billion in new spending, most of which would be to support the war in Iraq. That request would be in addition to the $70 billion already allocated for next year, bringing the total allocation for the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and anti-terror efforts to almost a half-trillion dollars.
Not only was this administration wrong in declaring Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, but it was also wildly wrong in its original estimate on the cost of the war. Then-White House economic adviser Lawrence Lindsey put the cost at $100 billion to $200 billion. Mitch Daniels, then the director of the Office of Management and Budget, discounted Lindsey's estimate as far too high and said the cost would be between $50 billion and $60 billion.
As absurd as Daniels' statement was, then-Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz claimed that Iraq's oil revenue would cover the costs: "There's a lot of money to pay for this that doesn't have to be U.S. taxpayer money, and it starts with the assets of the Iraqi people. ... The oil revenues of that country could bring between $50 billion and $100 billion over the course of the next two to three years. ... We're dealing with a country that can really finance its own reconstruction, and relatively soon."
Nobel laureate economist and Columbia University professor Joseph Stiglitz and Harvard University professor of public policy Linda Bilmes now offer a far more reasonable and likely estimate of more than $1 trillion for this war.
Even the Bush administrations' efforts to put together a so-called "coalition of the willing" to carry out this war displayed an equal ignorance of realpolitik and economic reality. As President Bush sought to rationalize the Iraq adventure as a noble effort to democratize the Middle East, our European allies and Russia based their regional policies on economic reality.
While the United States imports only about 22 percent of its crude oil from the Middle East, the European Union imports 40 percent from the region, according to a 2000 European Commission green paper on the EU's energy supply. The paper also says that in the next 25 years the EU could be importing 90 percent of all its crude oil. The EU also imports more crude oil and natural gas from Russia than from any other country.
Those economic realities help explain European nations' reluctance to join the coalition of the willing. The European Union has more to lose than does the United States from direct involvement in the Middle East. The EU is more aptly called a union of the energy dependent. To take another perspective on the economic realities that the United States has ignored but which our European allies could not, Russia and the Middle East could strangle the European Union's economy almost at will.
And the United States has a small window of opportunity to invest in alternative energy sources that could relieve this country of the oil dependency that is driving our adventurous Middle East policies and the Europeans' timidity.
The half-trillion dollars that we have spent in precious capital to prosecute the war would have funded a massive alternative energy development program in this country or, failing that enlightened strategy, it would have at least paid for all of our oil imports for almost four years at current prices.
We can all hope that the Iraq Study Group's recommendations are positive contributions to a change of policy in Iraq and the Middle East. And we should also hope this nation embarks on extrication from our dependency on foreign energy sources and return to a rational policy of self-reliance.
Lou Dobbs says the Iraq Study Group, led by James Baker, left, and Lee Hamilton, may not have addressed some realities about U.S. interests in the Middle East.
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