War and the Economy: A Conversation with Maurice R. Greenberg

Q:  War is a subject on everyone's mind these days--both the ongoing war on terrorism, as well as a potential war in Iraq.

Q:  War is a subject on everyone's mind these days--both the ongoing war on terrorism, as well as a potential war in Iraq.  What are your thoughts on this question? 

A:  My thinking is that the war on terrorism will continue.  The United States is gearing up for a long involvement.  The war on terrorism is not going to be something that we are going to "win" in the conventional sense.  Instead, we are combating a global threat, engaged in a war without borders.  This is something we have had to confront for the first time.  We are undertaking a major effort.  We have created an entire new department for homeland security.  We are likely to create a department that will coordinate all of the intelligence agencies.  We are going after the financing of terrorism.  We are dealing with a threat that is global in nature, not limited to any one particular area.  This war had a beginning in a conventional sense--manifested on 9/11--but it was really underway and ongoing before that; we simply were not aware of it.

 As to whether there will be a war against Iraq--I think that the likelihood was made even clearer by the President's State of the Union address.  The United States believes that it has sufficient evidence that Saddam Hussein has not confessed to all of the weapons of mass destruction in his possession.  He is in violation of the agreement he made with the United Nations, and he has not been cooperating with the inspectors.  I think that, in the end, the Europeans (minus perhaps the Germans) will be with us on this, and that other countries will join the coalition; I do not believe that it will be a unilateral U. S. action.  Although we would certainly be entitled to act unilaterally; we have every right to enforce UN Resolution 1441 and the other resolutions. 

Q:  What are some of the possible economic ramifications of military action?

 A:  The economy right now is affected by uncertainty.  Once there is a war, and hopefully, if it goes as expected, it will be over in not an unreasonable amount of time, the economy will respond very quickly.  Certainly, you cannot anticipate every possible action or outcome.  I am not privy to all of the intelligence information, but given the length of time we have been preparing, it seems that there is a high "comfort level" among the planners that this operation will be completed successfully.

 The question is the aftermath, what happens after we have won.  We are not going to make Iraq into a democracy overnight.  We will need to set up a regime capable of ensuring order and facilitating reconstruction.  I do believe, however, that Iraq should use its oil revenues to pay for the costs of the war and reconstruction; this should not be a burden for this country.  If Iraq had disarmed as it was obligated to, there would be no need for war.

 I am not convinced that oil prices will remain high, especially if Venezuela gets back on track.  I don't think that there will be any significant interruption in oil supply.  Saddam Hussein will do in Iraq what he did in Kuwait.  I was with Robert Mossbacher [Secretary of Commerce in the Bush '41 Administration] in Kuwait in 1991, when Hussein had set the oil wells afire.  Those fires were extinguished quickly.  We can cope with any potential sabotage of the Iraqi oil fields; we have the technology and we have learned valuable lessons from the Kuwaiti experience. 

Q:  Much has been made lately of the Euro's new strength.  Some argue that the possibility of war with Iraq and broader concerns about U.S. foreign policy have contributed to uncertainty about the dollar and helped the Euro.  What do you make of this? 

A:  I don't think that this is the result of any one single issue.  The looming war with Iraq has had a negative effect on the U. S. economy.  Added to that has been the impact of the corporate governance scandals.  This has led to an outflow of capital from the U. S. market to Europe, because investors sense better opportunities in European fixed income securities.  In addition, in the eyes of many international investors the dollar has been somewhat overvalued, and this has worked to keep new funds from coming in.  However, we must keep in mind that, objectively, the U. S. economy is still stronger than Europe's, and infinitely stronger than the Japanese economy.  The Euro has appreciated not because Europe's economy is doing better than that of the United States, but because of negative perceptions about the U. S. economy.  Once the war with Iraq is over, we will see an upturn in the economy, a psychological lift.  I believe that we will see a much-improved U. S. economy in the second half of 2003. 

Q:  Since 9/11, has there been a noticeable impact on business and global commerce due to terrorism? 

A:  Immediately after 9/11, there was a noticeable slowdown in both business and tourist travel, more so in the United States and Western Europe, less so in Asia.  Much of that has now returned to more normal levels; indeed, it is the weak state of the economy, not fear of terrorism, that has really hurt the travel industry.  Companies today are cutting back on expenses and so businessmen are traveling less, using alternate means such as video-conferencing.  In terms of business travel, we are seeing companies reduce expenses considerably, only authorizing travel that is absolutely necessary.  In terms of tourism, we are seeing reductions due to the weak stock market, so that people do not feel as wealthy as they once did and as a result are cutting back on personal travel.