Politics & Policy

Saddam-First Mentality

Americans will sacrifice the economy to secure the homeland.

Despite charges by media elites and liberal intellectuals that the U.S. is unwilling to make sacrifices in the war against terror, at least one recent poll offers a totally different story. The TechnoMetrica Market Intelligence Poll, published by Investors Business Daily, shows that the vast majority of Americans believe Saddam Hussein must be taken out in the next six months, and that military action to achieve this goal will damage the already faltering economy. This says a lot about American sacrifice.

Sixty-seven percent of our citizens believe that Saddam is an immediate threat to the U.S., and 77% say it is important for the U.S. to take military action against Saddam in the next six months, according to IBD/TIPP. Following President Bush’s State of the Union message and Secretary of State Colin Powell’s testimony to the UN Security Council, 79% of Americans now believe that regime change in Iraq is necessary. That number is up 12 percentage points from early January.

Now here’s where it gets real interesting. The IBD/TIPP data clearly show that people want to get rid of the Iraqi despot even if military action has a negative effect on the economy.

Twenty-six percent of those polled believe a war with Iraq will throw the American economy back into recession. Another 42% expect a slowdown, but no recession. And only 25% believe war will help the economy. So while 79% want to get rid of Saddam, 68% anticipate a high economic cost. In other words, the American people are willing to sacrifice the economy — and presumably even the stock market — in the name of national security.

This undermines the liberal notion that folks are not as patriotic as they used to be. It also underscores the view that right now in American politics, war is much more important than the economy. Democrats who think otherwise — especially those running for president — are misreading the public and barking up the wrong tree.

To a large extent, economic fears revolve around oil — at least in the short run. Oil is the most direct link between the Iraqi battlefield and the American gross domestic product. At $35 a barrel today, oil stands at a two-year high — up about 75% from a year ago. Regular gasoline and diesel fuel prices also stand at two-year highs. An energy price-hike like this, if sustained, could rob more than $100 billion, or 1%, from GDP.

But the polling data show that people don’t really care. Knocking off Saddam Hussein, in what would be a major step forward in the global war against terrorism, is simply more important. They want to breathe easier in terms of homeland safety. A world without Saddam means they can do just that.

In battlefield terms, the big economic-impact question is whether the U.S. and allied forces can secure Iraqi oil fields in both the northern and southern parts of the country before Saddam’s forces sabotage them. Clearly this will be a top priority for the terrorist dictator. He did this in Kuwait twelve years ago, and it took the fabled Houston firefighter Red Adair and his associates eight months to put down the flames.

Military experts report a likely foot race between American special-operations units and Saddam’s troops. It is known that the 101st Airborne will be involved in oil-field defense, and it has been made clear to Iraqi officers that anyone who takes part in oil-field sabotage will be subject to harsh prosecution by the new government in Iraq after Saddam is ousted. But at present there are still many unanswered questions about the special-forces strategy. Will they clandestinely move to protect the oil fields before the formal beginning of war? No one knows, or they’re not talking.

What is known, however, is that Saddam’s forces are headed toward the oil fields. Satellite pictures reveal a number of Iraqi cargo trucks filled with explosives moving on the fields. For shareholders, the big question is whether the futures markets have already discounted oil-field blowups. Nobody can confidently answer that question, but surely one reason that U.S. and global stock markets have been falling of late is the fear that oil prices could rise another $10, $20, or more. Yes, oil prices might eventually fall back to $20 a barrel, but it’s the next three-to-six months that people are worried about.

So there you have it. There’s a huge oil risk to our economy. But the great fact is that over three quarters of Americans are willing to risk it. Knocking out Saddam — which will open the way to dealing with Iran, North Korea, and other terrorist countries — is well worth the economic hit to Americans.

If that isn’t sacrifice, then I don’t know what is.

Mr. Kudlow is CEO of Kudlow & Co.


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