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Fortune Magazine: After Sadam

by Investor Monday, Feb. 03, 2003 at 10:19 PM

"A prolonged, expensive, American-led occupation is also plausible, one that could turn U.S. troops into sitting ducks for Islamic terrorists, a la Lebanon in the 1980s."


Iraq: We Win. Then What?

The real battle will begin only after Saddam is gone and the shooting has stopped. If all

goes well, oil will flow freely and the world economy will get a boost. But if it doesn't,

watch out.


Sunday, November 10, 2002

By Bill Powell

The victors gathered on the northwestern coast of the Italian Riviera in a town called San

Remo, then as now a place of respite for Europe's wealthy. It was April 1920, a moment

that in the argot of the 21st century we would call an inflection point. They were there to

divide up the world. The Great War was over, and its merciful end brought a halt not only

to killing on a historic scale but to a world order. The Ottoman Empire was finished. The

conquering imperial powers of the war, France and Britain, convened at San Remo to

conclude a peace treaty with Turkey and to parcel out the spoils of what was supposed to

be the War to End All Wars. And those spoils, they knew very well, included oil--lots and

lots of oil.

For that reason San Remo was to be a private affair, a matter between those countries,

Britain and France, with rich histories in colonial intrigue. Shut out was the nation for

which the first world war represented the end of isolationist innocence. A relative novice

at the imperial game, the U.S. would have lost the war's most valuable prize were it not

for a man named A.C. Bedford. He was neither diplomat nor politician, but the chairman

of what was then known as Standard Oil of New Jersey. And when the British and French

concluded the deal at San Remo that divided between them the entire future output of

Middle Eastern oil, Bedford intervened. He got a copy of the agreement from a friend in

the French delegation and passed it on to the State Department in Washington. Alarmed

at what had happened, the U.S. quickly became a player in the Middle East.

Among the biggest prizes divvied up was Mesopotamia, the chunk of geologically rich

territory where the Tigris and Euphrates rivers flow. Bedford knew hydrocarbons were in

the ground there. And the State Department wanted the U.S. to get its fair share. "It is

economically essential," a State Department economic officer wrote at the time, "to

obtain foreign supplies of petroleum in order ... to assure supplies of bunker fuel [for the

Navy] and in order to perpetuate the United States' position as the world's leading oil and

oil products supplier."

But Bedford and the other businessmen also knew that beyond oil, something else very

likely awaited them in Mesopotamia. And that was trouble. They wanted to explore for

oil only in areas that were politically stable, and unless one of the conquering powers was

willing to step in and rule the area with a very firm hand, Mesopotamia would be

anything but stable. It was, Bedford wrote the State Department, "a collection of warring

tribes." So daunting was the part of the world that would eventually be known as Iraq that

Colonel Ernest Mercier, the head of the newly formed French national oil company, had

trouble raising the money he needed to look for the oil everyone knew was there.

"Mesopotamia," he wrote ruefully to a friend, "was so full of international difficulties."

On Friday, Nov. 8, President George W. Bush got what he wanted from the United

Nations, just as he had, more than a month earlier, gotten what he wanted from the U.S.

Congress. After weeks of dickering, the UN agreed to insist that Saddam Hussein, the

brutal dictator of modern-day Mesopotamia, disarm or face the consequences. And the

consequences, as far as the U.S. was concerned, were clear: the end of Saddam's regime,

courtesy of the U.S. and British military and whoever else might be willing to help do the


It is no exaggeration to say that the next two to three months could be among the most

fateful of any period since the end of World War II. They are months that quite literally

could change the world. More than 80 years after San Remo, history again beckons, as the

world decides the fate of Iraq. The consequences of the choices that both George W. Bush

and his sworn enemy, Saddam Hussein, must now make are breathtaking to behold. At

stake are nothing less than U.S. security in the age of terror, the future of millions of

people in Iraq and its neighboring countries, and the fate of the global economy and the

financial markets that gauge its health.

What Morgan Stanley economist Stephen Roach calls a "clean war" and then a smooth

aftermath could send oil prices tumbling, kick-start a long-awaited global economic

recovery, and finally put the bear market in equities into hibernation. As warm and fuzzy

as all that sounds, an awful lot has to go right for it to happen. And an awful lot could go

wrong. Indeed, so fraught with possible dangers is round two with Saddam that there are

those within the U.S. national-security establishment who still can't quite bring

themselves to believe that Bush will actually make the decision to go to war.

Yet for months war, and its maddeningly unpredictable consequences, have seemed

inevitable. The U.S. has been steadily moving military equipment and personnel to the

Gulf. The Air Force has expanded the number of targets in the so-called no-fly zones in

northern and southern Iraq, taking out radar and command and control centers. The U.S.

military has also begun training 5,000 Iraqi exiles to fight along with allied troops should

an invasion finally occur. And according to Zaab Sethna, a senior member of the Iraqi

National Congress, the political leadership of the Iraqi opposition abroad, a second

tranche of 10,000 will begin training in a matter of weeks.

Despite all this, administration officials were at pains, in the wake of the UN resolution,

to say that war was not yet a foregone conclusion. If Saddam allows inspectors over the

next few months to go anywhere they want, without obstruction or argument, war could

perhaps be avoided, they insisted. One former senior Defense Department official

believes administration spokesmen are being truthful when they say that the President has

not yet, either in his gut or in his mind, made the decision to go to war. Nonetheless, there

is no question that if Saddam fails to disarm, post haste, the game will be over. And

former UN weapons inspectors are gloomily unanimous in believing that little in

Saddam's past behavior suggests that he will ever be serious about abiding by UN

demands that he rid himself of weapons of mass destruction. "I would assume he thinks if

he can get inspectors in again, then the games can begin anew," says one inspector. "I bet

he thinks the U.S. won't go to war over whether he refuses to unlock some door in one of

his palaces. But if this is what he's thinking, he has probably miscalculated, and that

means the end."

If war is somehow averted, Saddam's now frantic neighbors, oil traders, and plenty of

investors the world over will finally exhale. The fog of uncertainty that plagues business

decision-making in executive suites everywhere will dissipate at least a little. But if the

current Washington consensus is correct--that the U.S. will be marching on Baghdad by

February, if not sooner--it will be, as oil economist Philip K. Verleger says, a "historic

roll of the dice."

The issue is not whether the U.S. and its coalition will prevail militarily. As Donald

Rumsfeld, the Secretary of Defense, told FORTUNE in a recent interview, of that there is

no question. The real battle for Iraq will be won or lost only after Saddam is gone and

most of the shooting has stopped. It is not unthinkable that a military victory could turn

into a strategic defeat for the U.S. Anything other than a quick, decisive campaign could

mean trouble. Civilian casualties in Baghdad and elsewhere could easily trigger regional

turmoil, spurred by an anti-Americanism that is, alas, all too real in the Islamic world.

Saddam on the way out may well opt for what Amatzia Baram, a historian of Iraq at the

University of Haifa, calls the "Sampson option"--that he will use the weapons of mass

destruction he now possesses as well as sabotage Iraq's oil fields. A prolonged, expensive,

American-led occupation is also plausible, one that could turn U.S. troops into sitting

ducks for Islamic terrorists, a la Lebanon in the 1980s. All of that could have immediate

and decidedly negative consequences for the global economy; an aftermath that does not

proceed relatively smoothly would almost certainly short-circuit what everyone

hopes--and assumes--will be stronger economic growth worldwide in 2003.


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