When American troops arrive in Baghdad, news organizations will capture scenes of liberated Iraqis waving thousands of little American flags. What the public won’t know, according to one prominent journalist, is that the flags will be distributed by an advertising agency hired by the Pentagon.
The prediction, which Harper’s Magazine publisher John MacArthur made Friday, was one of many that emerged during a panel discussion on the situation in Iraq. Moderated by Ernesto Zedillo, the former president of Mexico and current director of the Yale Center for the Study of Globalization, the panelists discussed the effects of war on journalism, politics and the economy.
Richard Betts, a Columbia University professor and director of the Institute of War and Peace Studies, outlined three possible scenarios for war. Betts said there was about a 30 percent chance of a quick and successful war, while the odds of a more messy war were about 50 percent. Betts gave a 20 percent chance to a catastrophic war, one including the use of biological or chemical weapons.
“At the end of the war, hopefully everyone can say I was Chicken Little,” Betts said. “I’d be very happy if people were able to say that about me.”
MacArthur said the American media has betrayed its responsibility to the public, failing to check the Bush administration’s statements on the war. He mentioned Secretary of State Colin Powell’s recent speech to the United Nations, in which Powell described an Iraqi poison factory. MacArthur told the audience of the Bush administration’s reaction when confronted with evidence saying the factory did not exist.
“The administration said, ‘Poison factory,’ and I’m quoting, ‘is a term of art,'” MacArthur said.
MacArthur said the factory was part of a long “list of lies and half-truths” meant to deceive the public about the war.
“Our democracy is largely paralyzed by disinformation and the administration knows it,” MacArthur said. “Call it the Axis of Illusion.”
William Nordhaus, a Yale economics professor and the author of a study called “The Economic Consequences of a War with Iraq,” described two possible economic scenarios for the war. He said the first, a quick war with minimal American casualties and a short occupation of Iraq, would cost America about $100 billion. In the second, the war would include urban combat, high American casualties and a recession at home. This “unhappy scenario,” Nordhaus said, would cost America almost $2 trillion, or $20,000 per household over the next decade.
“We’re about to play a gigantic lottery,” Nordhaus said. “If it comes up heads, you lose a little. If it comes up tails, you lose a lot.”
During the subsequent questioning period, Zedillo said demonstrations abroad hurt American chances of international support.
“I would say it would be difficult, if not impossible, for the Mexican president or the Chilean president to support the United States,” Zedillo said.
Stephen Kosack GRD ’07 said he enjoyed the talk, but was concerned all the panelists expressed opposition to the war.
“I think the panel could have benefited from someone on the right side of the political spectrum,” Kosack said.
Kosack said he was surprised with the quality of the questions.
“Sometimes I’m afraid of what people are going to ask,” Kosack said. “But I thought the questions were pretty intelligent.”