Friday, February 28, 2003

A couple of days ago, General Eric Shinseki stunned the Senate Armed Services Committee with an estimate that a postwar army of occupation for Iraq could be the same size as the currently deployed force --- a couple of hundred thousand soldiers, or so.

But fear not. Paul Wolfowitz says that it'll only be a mere hundred thousand. He also has this to say about reported Pentagon cost estimates for the war which are up into the hundred billion dollar range:

He said it was impossible to predict accurately a war's duration, its destruction and the extent of rebuilding afterward.

"We have no idea what we will need until we get there on the ground," Mr. Wolfowitz said at a hearing of the House Budget Committee. "Every time we get a briefing on the war plan, it immediately goes down six different branches to see what the scenarios look like. If we costed each and every one, the costs would range from $10 billion to $100 billion."

It's refreshing to see an administration stick to the principles it campaigned on --- in this case, the aversion to "fuzzy math". Estimates of this sort depend in part on circumstances and can never be precise, so the only way to tell how much the war will actually cost is to fight it, and attempting to plan for any particular cost figure is just irresponsible. For example:

[Wolfowitz] said there was no history of ethnic strife in Iraq, as there was in Bosnia or Kosovo. He said Iraqi civilians would welcome an American-led liberation force that "stayed as long as necessary but left as soon as possible," but would oppose a long-term occupation force. And he said that nations that oppose war with Iraq would likely sign up to help rebuild it.

"I would expect that even countries like France will have a strong interest in assisting Iraq in reconstruction," Mr. Wolfowitz said. He added that many Iraqi expatriates would likely return home to help.

Please ignore what you may have heard about the Kurds with their autonomous zone in the north, and the Shiite militias and marsh Arabs in the south. Minor problems. If we're lucky, they'll cost nothing at all.

So, the right thing to do is ignore budget considerations entirely, and send in the troops. As Donald Rumsfeld explains:

At the Pentagon, Mr. Rumsfeld said the factors influencing cost estimates made even ranges imperfect. Asked whether he would release such ranges to permit a useful public debate on the subject, Mr. Rumsfeld said, "I've already decided that. It's not useful."

Although the administration does seem to be deviating from its principles a bit internally:

Mr. Wolfowitz's refusal to be pinned down on the costs of war and peace in Iraq infuriated some committee Democrats, who noted that Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and Mitchell E. Daniels Jr., the budget director, had briefed President Bush on just such estimates on Tuesday.

Besides, we won't have to pay for the war until we're fighting it. Why worry now?

Blogging in haste, I initially missed the bit about Iraq's ethnic tranquility, before seeing it pointed out by Chad Orzel. Sigh... I'm kinda rushed.


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