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What comes after this war?



Detroit should, while there is still time, immediately secede from the state, the union and the continent for that matter, and pledge undying loyalty to the man to whom we once gave a key to the city, Saddam Hussein.

Yes, that would get a few of us killed, but probably not very many. The Coleman A. Young Municipal Building would likely get taken out by a cruise missile, but it is an example of pretty bad 1950s office architecture anyway. Tanks might eventually churn up the Campus Martius, but nobody would notice any difference. There would be a little light bombing, much of which would hit rubble, and if we were lucky we’d finally get the hulking wreck of the old train station knocked down.

But it would all quickly be over, and our government would then be obliged to spend billions of dollars to rebuild Detroit, just as they say they are going to do for Iraq, and we’d all be vastly better off. Sadly, our leadership seems to lack the needed imagination.

Oh, well. Meanwhile, let’s look at where we are with the only war we’ve got.

This column, as always, risks being overtaken by events, but as of last weekend, even peaceniks would have a hard time denying that the whole thing seemed to be shaping up as a brilliant U.S. military victory. Give the Pentagon planners credit; they seem to have done their tasks superbly well. There seemed to be little Iraqi organized resistance; the vaunted Republican Guard seemed to be an utter paper tiger; and the combination of psy-war and “shock and awe” tactics seems to have cowed vast sections of the Iraqi army and population. When the final numbers are in, we may have lost fewer American lives conquering all of Iraq than the 148 who died liberating Kuwait in 1991.

Naturally, we wasted thousands and thousands of Iraqis, killing, according to our own spokesmen, more of ’em on Saturday alone than all the people who died on Sept. 11. To the folks back home, however, dead Iraqis are just nameless, faceless ragheads.

There are no signs of the “weapons of mass destruction” that necessitated our starting this war, and with the armies more or less intermingled in the capital, it seemed very unlikely that they would be used at this point. Based on the way things have gone, it is easy to imagine that by the end of the month, the fighting may be over.

And then things get really scary.

Because we don’t have any known road map for what’s next. OK, we’ve conquered this California-sized nation. Who is going to rule it? For a while, at least, it is going to be us. We don’t have an off-the-shelf alternative government we can plug in. We don’t even have a somewhat charismatic and capable puppet, like our man Hamid Karzai in Afghanistan.

What we do have are Shiites who will want to settle scores with Sunnis. We have Kurds in the north who want independence, and a country on their border — Turkey — which may well be willing to invade the corpse of Iraq to stop them. We have starving infants, disease, many thousands of refugees and all the usual delights of the aftermath of war. President Bush, who during his campaign sneered that he wasn’t interested in doing any “nation-building,” has now signed on for a lifetime job of it.

What’s even scarier is that we’ll have an administration full of cocksure and confident victors who, buoyed by their victory, will be that much more willing to empty the barracks to solve their next international problem. Why waste time jawing at the United Nations with a bunch of pansies like the French when you’ve got Tommy Franks?

Why, indeed? Anyone who wants to understand how the Bush White House works needs to read Bob Woodward’s amazingly revealing Bush At War.

Woodward probably gives Bush too much credit for depth. He has him thinking profound geopolitical thoughts the moment he was told of the Sept. 11 attacks, when anyone who has seen the videotape knows he was as geopolitical as Flopsy caught in the headlights of a PT Cruiser. But what the book makes clear is that this war was in the planning stages right from the start. And Bush mostly comes across as a sort of middle-level, not-too-bright clerk who has read The One-Minute Manager and constantly spouts banalities from it. Condoleezza Rice appears to run him, and the blustery Donald Rumsfeld, a man who can strut while sitting down, runs the world.

Incidentally, world esteem and civil liberties aside, we will pay for all of this — in cash. Jeff Madrick, who has been covering economics for many years and who has been anything but an alarmist, outlines with frightening clarity how the net effects of Bush’s economic policies will be utterly disastrous for all of us.

In the April 6 New York Times Magazine, he shows how the tax cuts and the war are certain to produce record federal budget deficits that will be “a terrible burden” that if not corrected soon, are bound to return us to the sluggish economy of the early 1980s — or worse; with all the boomers approaching retirement, “at some point the nation will either raise taxes significantly or make painful cuts in cherished federal programs.”


Behind the scenes: Here’s one of the few things we can count on: the Super Bowl coming to Detroit on Feb. 5, 2006. Or ... can we? Well, maybe. Maybe even probably. But some officials are worried. Reason: The new hotel rooms city boosters promised the NFL three years ago haven’t materialized. New York City, insiders say, is blatantly lobbying for a site switch. Wouldn’t that be the mother of all black eyes?

Jack Lessenberry opines weekly for Metro Times. E-mail

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