Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Q. Who Will Lose the War of Attrition in Iraq?

A. The side that can't afford to waste any more money and lives.

An article by Loretta Napoleoni reviews the declining cost of terrorism and compares it to the cost suffered by the United States. Excerpts follow.

Last November Osama bin Laden estimated that the weekly cost of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's insurgency was as little as $250,000. In sharp contrast, the cost of the war for American troops is rising. According to the last official figures, the America taxpayer has so far sustained a weekly cost of almost $1 billion. (The war costs the United States 4,000 times as much as it costs the insurgents.)

Al-Zarqawi's low operating costs are due mainly to two factors: the ready availability of cheap weapons, ammunitions and explosive inside Iraq and the declining cost of suicide missions. While in the past, suicide bombers had to be indoctrinated and their families financially compensated, today they are home-grown and self-funded and their families are often kept in the dark about it. The cost of suicide mission has never been so low; in Iraq is equivalent to the sum of the cost of the explosive and of the transportation to the targets.

The lesson from history is that conflicts presented as universal battles of ideas generally become wars of attrition, which are not necessarily won by the wealthiest contender but by the one who in the process does not go bankrupt. The Crusades are the most illuminating example of this principle. Although Western capitalism has vast resources at its disposal, they are not unlimited.

With rising financial and human costs, sooner or later, the budget of the conflict will bite into Western living standards. At that point public opinion may well turn against Western leaders, as was the case of the Viet-Nam war. Sadly, if this happens, Osama bin Laden, will claim a second victory against a superpower.

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