Friday, April 01, 2005

Cost of war in Iraq As of right now, it's a little over one hundred sixty billion dollars. I know that many people agree with me, that the war is a terrible thing and not worthwhile, even if the financial cost were zero. For those who don't agree with me about that -- are the benefits of the war greater than one hundred sixty billion dollars, after factoring in human suffering and death?


  1. Considering that there is now one less brute terrorizing his own country's population, as well as those of his neighbors' (upon whom his previous attacks resulted in millions of casualties), that millions of Iraqis will now be getting a chance at freedom, that the people of Lebanon have been emboldened to start shaking off the remaining occupiers of their country, and that very possibly we are seeing the awakening of democracy in the Arab world...yes.

    War is a terrible, horrible thing, and is to be avoided. Some would say "at all costs," but that is wrong. We are at peace with Sudan, but should we be, when that peace allows government-backed militias to raze entire villages in the west, and permits southern animists and Christians to be sold into slavery by the thugs in Khartoum? We are at peace with North Korea, but should we be, when that peace allows thousands of people to die each year of starvation while Kim Jong-il spends fortunes building nuclear weapons?

    Yes, we should engage in dialogue, but words that are not backed by actions are hollow, and at some point the line must be drawn and action taken. We talked in 1956 in Hungary, yet let the country get overrun by Soviet tanks without lifting a finger. We talked in 1991 in Iraq, but when the Marsh Arabs rose we did nothing to help. We talked in 1993 in Bosnia, but stood idly by while thousands were massacared in Srebrenecia.

    War is to be avoided, but not at all costs...not when the peace taken is a peace that enables greater suffering. The North was not fighting to end slavery, but to keep the Union intact. Yet the result of that war, with all its incumbent destruction, was the end of a great evil in this land. It was not the stated causus bellum, but it was worth it.

  2. I guess it all depends on the facts, many of which are in dispute, about how nice occupied Iraq is post-invasion. It may be true, but it does not seem to me to be obvious, that the average Iraqi is better off under the American occupation than he was under Saddam. Are they safer? Certainly not now or recently -- maybe, hopefully, eventually. Add to this the alleged human rights abuses on prisoners of war by Americans, and there's a lot of suffering that has to be accounted for.

    It's hard to tell what long-term consequences will be, obviously. So maybe in the end you'll turn out to be right, Joe. You're certainly right that "at all costs" is too high a standard for avoiding war. This is a particular question about a particular war, and the cost in question would've involved no extreme sacrifice -- a mere refraining from invading would have avoided this war.

    I think that military intervention for humanitarian purposes is sometimes justified. I don't see any evidence that our government is more likely to intervene in such cases, though. The humanitarian crisis in Sudan is far greater than anything was in Saddam's Iraq.

    And of course, there's the issue of honesty to the public and the world -- this is a war that was begun under false pretenses. The humanitarian justification was invoked after the original security one was debunked. This is not *diretly* relevant to the question I raised in this post, which was about whether on the whole, the consequences of the war were good or bad, but it is if we consider that the public deception was one of the consequences of the invasion. At this point, the Bush administration has effectively gotten away with it. This sets a dangerous precedent.

  3. That Iraqis themselves, by and large, feel they are better off now than under Saddam is something that has been revealed by several polls, and the number that believe things are better have been growing. Safer: average Iraqi, granted, probably not, but the bombings by the insurgents have dropped significantly since the election. As for the American abuses: don't say alleged; they happened, they were disgraceful, and I've yet to hear a worthwhile defence of the practice.

    When you say "the cost in question would've involved no extreme sacrifice -- a mere refraining from invading would have avoided this war," you are right to a certain extent, but that position does not take into account the sufferings that would have taken place had we done nothing. To revisit my example of the US Civil War, the North could have just let the South secede and avoided massive death and destruction on both sides, not to mention the vast amounts spent to prosecute the war. But millions of slaves would still have been left in bondage.

    I think we should intervene in humanitarian crises more often. But as to scale versus Sudan, you would have some argument from the widows and orphans in Iran, Kuwait, among the Marsh Arabs in the south and the Kurds in the north, the Shias throghout the country, plus the families of nascent democrats who disappeared into Saddam's jail system.

    I do want to address the new topic you bring up about the honesty of the cause, but I really am fading, and so shall try to do so tomorrow.

  4. No, no. I read roughly 160,000,000,000 on the page you link to. It cost about 15 billion just to get the troops in the theatre of war. An economist at Yale estimated before the war that it could run around a half trillion dollars.

    So, whatever you think of the war, the financial costs were much, much higher than that.

  5. Thanks, Chris -- you're entirely right, of course. I must have made some kind of careless brain mix-up. I'll fix that now.

  6. Aha, I see what I did -- on that site, I'd asked it what Texas's share of the pie was. That's where I got the twelve from. Oops.

  7. most (not all) of those kids only joined the military because they lacked the skills to get real productive jobs. They probably would have been a drain on society over their life times. I'd say we net even.