What’s the Real Cost of the Iraq War?

June 17th, 2011
in Op Ed

Guest author: Frank Li.  Bio at end of article.

Note: First published 6/6/2010 at West-East International.com

On March 20, 2003, the U.S. launched a war in Iraq. It has cost dearly, not only in human lives and money, but also in our “international standing.”  The latter is not very well understood in America. So it’s time for me to chip in my two cents …

From a story on 60 Minutes

About 18 months ago, CBS’s 60 Minutes aired an interview with a former CIA agent, who accompanied Saddam Hussein in his lonely days.

Follow up:

Saddam confided in him that he never believed that the U.S. would have launched a war like that until it really happened. Upon hearing that, I knew Saddam was telling the truth and here is why:  The U.S. system, viewed externally, was so perfect that it would just be impossible to see a questionable war like that launched. Saddam did not believe it, nor did anybody in China. That perfect image of the U.S. system was completely shattered on that day of March 20, 2003!  In other words, the beacon went off.

Did the beacon really go off?

Yes!   The U.S. would never be the same again. Now, which country benefited most from the Iraq war? Regionally, Iran, obviously! Globally, China! Not obvious?

  1. The U.S. defense industry is so well entrenched that it has to have enemies to survive. After the Cold War, the obvious pick was China, with all kinds of accusations from communism to human rights. However, most of these accusations went away with the Iraq war. China rapidly moved forward (without much distraction from the U.S.) and has doubled its GDP since then.
  2. It was a wake-up call for China: the U.S. system (capitalism + democracy) is not as good as it looked and the Chinese system (capitalism + autocracy) is not as bad as it was accused.  As a result, the push toward a U.S.-like democracy inside China before 2003 was largely gone!

What about the other emerging economies?

Russia adopted the U.S.-like democracy in a hurry after the Cold War, only to have everything ruined, especially the economy.  Over the past few years, Russia has been closely watching and modeling after the Chinese system, with its ties to China being closer than ever.

Brazil has also looked at the Chinese system as a possible model, strengthening the already-tight bilateral relationship between the two countries even more.

Talk to any educated Indians today, most have huge admiration for the modern China.

Is the U.S. winning in Iraq?

No, the U.S. is not.   There are no winners in this kind of war!  A more valid question is this: who could afford to lose more?   It turned out that this is a war the U.S. could hardly afford to start.  Besides, the Iraq war distracted the U.S. from a legitimate target: Osama Bin Laden in Afghanistan.  Now, regardless of the outcome of the war in Afghanistan, the cost will prove to be very high.  Meanwhile, China is on par to double its GDP again in the next 7 to 8 years, well on its way to surpass the U.S. as the largest economy on earth by 2030.

Can the beacon be back on again?

Yes, possibly, with the changes as I suggested.   But our time is running short.

As a young man growing up in China in the 1970s, I thought of nothing but “getting the hell out of here.”   Following the beacon, I left China in 1982 and became a U.S. citizen in 1997.  However, China has fundamentally changed so much over the past two decades that I recently concluded that overall the Chinese system is better than America's.   Today, I devote myself to the positive development of the U.S.-China relationship.  I focus on the USA side mostly, because that’s where the danger is: a soon-to-be 2nd-class economy with a 1st-class military!

In that sense alone, no Chinese-Americans want to see a declining America, let alone so quickly and in a direction abandoned by China.

In conclusion,

The U.S. as a country, is in deep trouble.    The rise of China as a competitor is inevitable, but the Iraq war has helped China catch up faster, both economically and politically. Unless the U.S. changes quickly, I believe March 20, 2003 will eventually be marked as the beginning of the end of democracy as we know it. That is the real cost of the Iraq war.

Related Articles

10-Point Democracy Manifesto by Frank Li

Tiananmen Square by Frank Li

The Answer is Democracy; The Question is Why by Frank Li

My Country is in Trouble by Frank Li

Diagnosis for America: Cancer! by Frank Li


About the Author

Frank Li Frank Li is the Founder & President of W.E.I. (West-East International), a Chicago-based import & export company. Frank received his B.E. from Zhejiang University (China) in 1982, M.E. from the University of Tokyo in 1985, and Ph.D. from Vanderbilt University in 1988, all in Electrical Engineering. He worked for several companies until 2004, when he founded his own company W.E.I. Today, W.E.I. is a leader in the weighing industry not only in products & services, but also in thought and action. Dr. Li writes extensively and uniquely on politics, for which he has been called "a modern-day Thomas Jefferson" (see page 31).


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  1. roger erickson says :

    A valid point that many have been criticized for voicing.

    Does democracy & humanity benefit by allowing cult & ethnic fratricide?

    Does any population benefit from class warfare?

    Is Judaism benefiting from allowing Zionism? From constant expansion & occupation of "captive enemies" in the mid-east.

    Is China benefiting from occupying Tibet? Any more than Russian did by occupying all the countries it once did?

    Do England & other colonialists still benefit from all the colonies they occupied?

    There are 1000s of such questions. All deeply context dependent. There are enough options to choose from in every case. Where do we all go from wherever here is?

  2. Frank Li says :

    Tibet to China is like CA (or TX or NM) to America, with 1 key difference: Tibet has little value economically while CA is the 7th or 8th largest economy on earth. Have a referendum in China today and Tibet will be voted away - It costs too much to keep it! So it's a good deal for Tibet to be part of China for the Tibetans, but sorry for Dalai Lama and Richard Gere! FYI: Tibet was a total slavery society before 1959 (like Europe 3000 years ago)!!!

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