Would Americans Have Supported the War in Iraq If They Had Known the True Costs?
Dr. Higgs, an economist and historian, is the author of numerous books on government power, especially during "war crises." His most famous book is Crisis and Leviathan (Oxford University Press).Would you have bought into the Iraq War if George W. Bush had made you an honest offer? This question is a revealing variant of one that people often ask and answer: "Is the war worth its price?"
Politicians and government officials are no strangers to such questions, and over the years they have given some amazing -- frankly, shocking -- answers. Thus, when General Curtis LeMay responded to questions about the U.S. fire-bombing of Tokyo's residential neighborhoods in the latter stages of World War II, he declared: "We knew we were going to kill a lot of women and kids when we burned that town. Had to be done." That is, the price was acceptable to him.
In 1996, CBS reporter Lesley Stahl, inquiring about the U.S.-led economic sanctions against Iraq, said to Secretary of State Madeleine Albright: "We have heard that a half million children have died. I mean, that's more children than died in Hiroshima. And -- and you know -- is the price worth it?" Albright replied: "I think this is a very hard choice, but the price -- we think the price is worth it."
Since the Bush administration launched its invasion of Iraq in March 2003, polling organizations have been asking the public from time to time whether they regard this war as worth the price. At first, as always, a large majority replied that it was, but with the passage of time, the mounting of U.S. casualties, and the unhappy course of events on the ground during the protracted U.S. occupation of Iraq, more Americans have come to regard the war's price as too high. In October 2003, after a CBS News/New York Times poll had found that "53 percent believe the war was not worth the cost, while just 41 percent believe it was," the president dismissed the poll findings, declaring "I don't make decisions based upon polls. I make decisions based upon what I think is important to the security of the American people."
When the president appeared as Tim Russert's guest on NBC's "Meet the Press" on February 8, 2004, Russert asked, "Is it worth the loss of 530 American lives and 3,000 injuries and woundings simply to remove Saddam Hussein, even though there were no weapons of mass destruction?" Although the president evaded the question and replied with a series of stump-speech declarations and blatantly false claims, he strove to leave the impression that, yes, the price is worth paying.
The costs have continued to mount. Billions of dollars flow steadily from the taxpayers to the Treasury to the military and civilian providers of war goods and services: the current rate of expenditure for specifically Iraq-related military and occupation purposes is approximately $5 billion per month. Two previous emergency appropriations for the Iraq War have provided $149 billion and a recent supplement added $25 billion, but this $174 billion total surely fails to include some war costs included in the regular budget of the Department of Defense. Estimates for the occupation of Iraq in 2005 alone run as high as $75 billion, and the actual expenditures may well turn out to be even greater: government cost overruns are not unheard of, especially in the military-industrial complex. If the true costs of the war to date amount to, say, $200 billion, then the cost is equivalent to approximately $1,850 per household, say, $2,000 in round numbers (and if it's not there yet, it will be soon).
Costs in terms of lost life and limb also continue to mount daily. To date, the military authorities have acknowledged a thousand deaths and some 7,000 persons seriously wounded or injured among the U.S. forces (according to some unofficial estimates, as many as 12,000 have been wounded or injured). Many soldiers have been blinded or have lost limbs or have suffered severe psychological traumas from which they will never recover.
Still, the president and his spokesmen, defenders, and supporters stoutly insist that the price is worth paying. The basic problem is that, when the question is posed in the usual way, the answers are meaningless.
Consider your situation when you visit an automobile showroom to shop for a new car. The salesman informs you that the model you fancy carries a price tag of, say, $25,000. In considering whether this is a "price worth paying," you do not conduct a public-opinion survey. You do not ask your neighbor or your brother-in-law. You would never think of calling Karl Rove to find out. Only you can answer the question meaningfully, because only you will enjoy the services of the vehicle and only you will bear the sacrifices entailed by your decision to purchase it.
Decisions that government officials make about how to spend your money, whether on the conduct of war or on any other similar governmental undertaking, have a completely different character. In these cases, the government provides a so-called "public good," which is to say, a state of affairs that, for better or worse, is the same for everybody. Economists used to argue that owing to the "free-rider problem," only government can provide such public goods, and hence political processes must be employed to decide which projects to undertake and how much of the public's money to spend on each of them.
More recently, however, economists have come to understand that public-good situations can be dealt with more rationally by the use of an arrangement known as a contingent contract. This is an agreement in which each member of a group -- in this case, each citizen of the United States -- is invited to make a certain contribution toward the provision of the resources required to carry out a fully-described all-or-nothing project on the condition that no one must bear his pro rata share of the costs unless a sufficient number of other members accept the same obligation (51 percent, 75 percent, 100 percent of the group's members; whatever is deemed necessary to ensure completion of the project while preserving equity among its expected beneficiaries).
In the case of the Iraq War, for example, the U.S. government, refraining from false advertising, might have presented to each adult living in the United States early in 2003 the following offer. We will bring about a certain state of affairs in Iraq as of September 2004: Saddam Hussein imprisoned and his government overthrown; widespread fighting between U.S troops and resistance forces; extensive public disorder, rampant crime, and personal insecurity; autocratic government and lack of civil liberties; widespread lack of basic public services, such as reliable water supply, sewerage, and electricity supply; and seething political discord among tribal, ethnic, and religious factions struggling to control the country after they have driven out the U.S. occupation forces and their allies. That's what you'll get for your contribution.
In exchange, you and everyone else in the country, should you all agree to the contract, will each make a pro rata financial contribution of $2,000 for each household. In addition, you will each agree to bear your pro rata share of the casualties by participating in a lottery in which each ticket holder will place members of his household at risk of death, injuries, or wounds. Your chance that a household member will be killed is approximately one in 108,000, and your chance that a household member will be seriously wounded or injured is approximately one in 15,000.
How many citizens do you suppose would have been willing to accept this contract? My guess is almost none, and I find it inconceivable that enough citizens even to approach forming a majority would have entered voluntarily into this contract. After all, it is an extraordinarily bad deal. In exchange for $2,000 from your personal bank account and a nontrivial chance of death or injury among members of your household, it offers you . . . well, scarcely anything of value. Even the good part of the deal, the overthrow of the tyrant Saddam Hussein, is unlikely to be worth so much to you; even if you are that rare American who cares deeply about the well-being of the Iraqi people, it's not as if once the old tyrant has been driven from power, everything will be sweetness and light in Iraq -- remember, you have been offered an honest deal with an accurate forecast of exactly what the U.S. government will bring about, not a political swindle promising Middle Eastern pie in the sky.
Of course, no politician is about to use contingent contracting to find out what the citizens really want and how urgently they want it. Our rulers already know everything they need to know. They have calculated their own expected political gains and losses, and they have taken into account the gains and losses that will be reaped -- often in cold cash -- by the coalition of special-interest groups that supports them in holding onto power. The rest of us can resign ourselves to bearing the full costs, to our bank accounts as well as to our lives, limbs, and liberties, while our rulers feed us noble-sounding lies and promise us an outcome so lovely and implausible that only God could bring it to pass.
Reprinted with permission. © Copyright 2004, The Independent Institute, email@example.com.
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Tom Messenger - 11/28/2004
"Darn. I missed the promise. Did the administration give out coupons or something?"
I'm not surprised you missed it. The Republican promise of cheap gas is subliminally contained in the code words 'freedom' or 'liberty' which our war party cleverly slings around all the time; such as in the 'freedom' to own SUV's; or (if it occasionally pleases our fancy) the expression of our 'liberty' by owning a Hummer. Thus, it is said we are in Iraq to protect our 'freedoms'. Or, it is said, terrorists oppose us because they hate our 'liberties' (which might happen, of course, distort their economies and corrupt their polities).
Oscar Chamberlain - 11/26/2004
Thank you for the thoughtful reply. Your points about manipulating manpower in relation to operations helped my understanding of some of the current situation.
You are right that it would be hard to raise the manpower levels to fully protect Iraqis. Unfortunately, our stated goals assumed that the Iraqis who supported us would not be in all that much danger. When that proved false, we could have chosen bulking up the forces to provide what protection we could. Or bulked up in a different manner in order to wage sustained combat, particularly in the Sunni Triangle, in the hopes of ending reducing the dangers to our supporters differently.
We did neither, attempting instead to manipulate manpower reserves for specific operations (again, as you pointed out). That is proving good enough to win battles, but I am not at all certain it's the path to winning the war.
Sudha Shenoy - 11/25/2004
The following have to be distinguished:
1. 20th century American social democrats in Iraqi clothing 2. A stick (labelled Iraq) to beat US govt officials with 3. The real, historical people who live in the administrative division called 'Iraq'. -- For those who are interested in these last, there's ample information available:eg, the three recent books written/edited by Faleh Jabar; Y. Nakash on the Shi'is of Iraq; the volume on Kurdish culture edited by Kreyenbroek & Allison; D. McDowall's history of the Kurds; H. Field on the anthropology of Iraq.-- There is no deus ex machina in history. Calling it 'democracy' or anything else can't produce one.
Andrew D. Todd - 11/25/2004
The following listing is raw search results from about fall 2002 to summer 2003, that is, when the administration was making its case. I have not analyzed these exhaustively. If you wanted to do a more systematic job, try googling for "cheap oil," "Iraq," "Saudi," and the names of various administration figures, in various combinations (I used "wolfowitz"). The flow of information seems, as nearly as I can make it out, from journalists commenting on more guarded statements by administration figures, and of course these journalists were getting background interviews. In short, it worked out to the usual level of official deniabilty.There are certain recurrent themes in this traffic, eg. "how wonderful if the Saudis could no longer afford to subsidize maddrassas," that kind of thing.
John H. Lederer - 11/25/2004
"The Iraqis all know that the Administration has promised Americans cheap oil so that they can drive around in their SUV's, and that this would practically work out to confiscating Iraq's oil reserves."
Darn. I missed the promise. Did the administration give out coupons or something?
John H. Lederer - 11/25/2004
I think this week has been a very encouraging one.
A son of a former partner was a platoon commander with the Marines stationed near Syria. He just finished his second tour. He says there is a marked difference between now and 6 months ago -- the Iraqis are now volunteering information in far greater numbers than 6 months ago, and more importantly, it is much more accurate. At least in his area he feels that the Iraqis now regard the insurgents as the "baddies" and the Americans, if not as the goodies, at least as worth having and helping till the insurgents are gone.
The appeals from Zarqawi post-Fallujah also have a touch of "we are betrayed, we are losing and it is your (Iraqis) fault".
Maybe reading too much into too little, but I am encouraged.
John H. Lederer - 11/25/2004
"This is the first administration to cut taxes during wartime. Just who is sufering?"
Well, generally no one suffers when you cut taxes, unless you are running a deficit in which case the next generation of taxpayers will suffer.
In this case the tax cuts were slightly low end loaded -- i.e. the result was to make the tax system slightly more progressive.
Andrew D. Todd - 11/25/2004
A rational development strategy for Iraq would be to "enhance its exports," the way Texas did. There's an old farmer's saying that goes: "never sell anything off the farm that can't walk off on its own four feet." The same principle applies for states and countries in dealing with their natural resources. The Texas Railroad Commision taught OPEC all it knows. As applied to oil, this principle means, do not export a drop of crude oil. Make it into gasoline, and then start a petrochemicals industry with the byproducts. Gradually increase the proportion of the oil which is made into plastic. Then, instead of exporting hopperfuls of plastic pellets, start to make lengths of plastic pipe instead, or rolls of plastic sheeting. Even then, don't export the plastic if you can use it effectively for agricultural water conservation, on the Israeli model (drip irrigation and suchlike).
Saudi Arabia was not able to put very much of this advice into practice, because its educational level was so low, and practically all industrial operations had to be done by guest-workers. Iraq's comparative advantage is in running Houston out of the oil business, starting with Haliburton. They should never pay a Texan to do a job that one of their own people can do. In the short term, such an economic policy will mean rising oil prices, and ongoing political unrest in the United States. Houston would experience the long-term, demoralizing, grinding rot that Detroit and Pittsburg have experienced in the face of Japanese competitition. This means that the Administration cannot tollerate a truly democratic Iraq. The Iraqis all know that the Administration has promised Americans cheap oil so that they can drive around in their SUV's, and that this would practically work out to confiscating Iraq's oil reserves.
John H. Lederer - 11/24/2004
Manpower requirements are very tricky, and are highy dependent on what is to be done and how.
We do not have the manpower to provide static defense of infrastructure (buildings, pipelines, powerlines, police stations, etc.) in Iraq. We probably would not even if we doubled or trebled the size of the army. We might get in the range of what was needed with .5-2 million boots on the ground in Iraq.
What we are trying to do is to stay on the offensive a significant amount of the time -- seek and destroy the insurgents. This requires a much different force structure.
In the approach we are following, as an example the units that appear to be most overtasked are the reconnaissance elements -- light, small, and mobile. Artillery seems the least burdened.
That doesn't mean we can neglect all static defense, but it requires a much different manpower picture. Since May of 2002 Fallujah has been the sole operation I am aware of in which more than 10,000 troops were involved, and I suspect that 5,000 will be a more likely maximum for future operations.
Part of any manpower calculation also has to consider a law of diminishing returns. For each combat infantryman there is a significant support requirement. This relationship is the "tooth-to-tail" ratio and the tail is almost always larger than the tooth. (The Marines proudly claim that they have a 3:1 tooth to tail ratio -- an incredible feat achieved by not accounting for the Navy which supports the Marines logistically, and by the convenient assumption that the Army will take over after 90 days. The reverse of the 3:1 would be more typical.)
As the tail gets larger it requires increasing amounts of tooth to protect it -- effectively increasing the number of troops in Iraq also increases the number of supply convoys and installations that need to be protected. More tail is also required to suppoort the tail -- for instance if we put 1,000,000 troops into Iraq, I suspect that a significant number would be involved in rebuilding and expanding highways and the rail line to provide the support for a million troops.
One of the stop gap measures in WWII when the allied advance outstripped its supply lines was to go through the advanced troops with a comb to determine whether various "tail" elements could be located farther back where they unburdened the supply lines.
My impression is that we are thin on the ground, but I suspect that is a calculated decision of the best force level. I note that it seems quite flexible in the sense that delaying or moving ahead rotation schedules seems to provide the means to temporarily bulk up as was done for Fallujah and appears to be planned for the elections.
Marc "Adam Moshe" Bacharach - 11/24/2004
I believe that the answer is yes, so long as the form of government being deposed does not itself enjoy popular support.
If democracy can develop in this country, where part of the population suffered under human bondage for centuries, and over half of the population could not vote, I have little doubt that it can develop in a country such as Iraq, which at least has the requisite secularism and institutions.
John H. Lederer - 11/24/2004
"Can democracy grow out of the barrel of a gun?"
Many, if not most democracies, have started from military action or the threat of it.
Most people in power do not willingly relinquish it, and almost invariably the initiation of democracy involves a surrender of power from a few to the people.
Sudha Shenoy - 11/24/2004
Can democracy grow out of the barrel of a gun?
Marc "Adam Moshe" Bacharach - 11/24/2004
Regardless of how I felt before the war, we really do have to win, and quite frankly, I am optimistic. Many of my worst fears have not come to pass nor is there any indication that they will.
Although aweful planning and incompetence have made the situation worse that it otherwise could have been, I do believe that we will ultimately succeed.
Charles Edward Heisler - 11/24/2004
"Unwinnable"? That is simply foolish conjecture--there is simply no way to support that claim based on less than two years experience. Find all the historical parallels you wish, this is new ground, much different global understandings and communications. "Unwinnable" is the ultimate anti-American curse. How well do you understand America?
Kevin Michael Fitzpatrick - 11/24/2004
Now the rationale is we have to see it through. Assuming things stay the same we will have ca.4000-5000 KIAs by 2008. After the failure of the German offensive in France in 1914 Falkenhayn when he took over from Moltke the Younger realized that the war was probably unwinnable. Our Iraq war is unwinnable, the sooner we realize it the better.
Kevin Michael Fitzpatrick - 11/24/2004
This is the first administration to cut taxes during wartime. Just who is sufering? Certainly not the insiders who are making billions off of this war while the so called patriots put US flags on their SUVs. Americans tend to confuse patriotism with football halftimes. 1200 Americans have died but let's be honest, if they had money, they wouldn't have been in the volunteer army and we do adore the rich these days.
Marc "Adam Moshe" Bacharach - 11/24/2004
With all respect, this is the same line that Republicans have been using since before the war. When the international community told us that inspections were working and needed more time, the administration balked at the thought that perhaps Iraq was not as urgent as they believed. When we were still rebuilding Afghanistan, still hunting down bin Laden, and when the vast majority of Americans didn’t give a second thought to Iraq, the administration convinced most of this country that Iraq was a major threat and that there was no alternative other than total war. The problem with this line is that, while factually weak in my opinion before the war, is simply not tenable in light of what we now know.
The evidence that I have seen has supported the pre-war claims that inspections were indeed successful in containing Iraq and there is every reason to believe that they would have been even more successful as there were strengthened and reintroduced. We now know that Iraq was of no threat to the United States, and certainly not am immediate one. We now know that no evidence exists tying Iraq to the attacks of 9/11, and the small amount of evidence that even linked Iraq to bin Laden at all was partly circumstantial, and largely inconclusive.
“The 1991 Persian Gulf War and subsequent U.N. inspections destroyed Iraq's illicit weapons capability and, for the most part, Saddam Hussein did not try to rebuild it, according to an extensive report by the chief U.S. weapons inspector in Iraq that contradicts nearly every prewar assertion made by top administration officials about Iraq.
Charles A. Duelfer, whom the Bush administration chose to complete the U.S. investigation of Iraq's weapons programs, said Hussein's ability to produce nuclear weapons had "progressively decayed" since 1991. Inspectors, he said, found no evidence of "concerted efforts to restart the program."
The findings were similar on biological and chemical weapons. While Hussein had long dreamed of developing an arsenal of biological agents, his stockpiles had been destroyed and research stopped years before the United States led the invasion of Iraq in March 2003. Duelfer said Hussein hoped someday to resume a chemical weapons effort after U.N. sanctions ended, but had no stocks and had not researched making the weapons for a dozen years.” (italics mine)
The status of Saddam Hussein was thus in 2002, the same it has been in 1999, 1998, and so on: A mass murderer and a totalitarian despot who was brutal, ambitious, and rational in the sense that he cared far more about holding on to power than about arbitrarily forcing the US to remove him by trying to attack us. Perhaps once Iraq is a stable and peaceful democracy and a beacon of hope to the Muslim world, Republicans (and I oin no way address this little diatribe to you, John) will have the psychological ability to finally admit that even if the war turned out to be well worth it, and even if the ends justified the means, the reality is that support for this conflict rested on lies and hyperbole.
John H. Lederer - 11/24/2004
(John1:) “In 2000 Iraq was an unstable situation. Saddam, whether he had them or not, wanted WMD and would have them soon. The inspection/sanction regime was coming apart, the protection of the Kurds relied on a no-fly patrol that relied on technical superority and luck to keep a pilot from being shot down.”
(Adam1:)I disagree. I do not believe Iraq was anymore unstable in 2000 than it had been in 1999 or 1998. Of course Saddam wanted WMD… so did North Korea, Iran, and Syria. I also have to strongly disagree that the inspections process was falling apart. In fact, it was precisely the opposite. The inspections process was reorganized, and tremendously strengthened before the invasion, protection of the Kurds was assured through the no fly zones, and all indications indicated that Iraq was being contained.
(John2:) The problem was that the political support for sanctions and inspections was waning in 2000. Sanctions had already been watered down. To obtain a resolution in 2000 to reimpose inspections (suspended in 1998) the U.S. had to repeatedly water down the inspections. Even then the resolution barely passed -- China, France and Russia abstained. Sanctions had very clearly diminsihed support, and the other stick, air strikes, now had murmurs from Russia and France that they would be opposed.
We now can conjecture that the billions being spun out of the Oil-for-Food program and being used as bribes may have had something to do with that...
Oscar Chamberlain - 11/23/2004
One of the (many) truly dissapointing things about the election campaign was the sense that neither Bush nor Kerry had talked to many soldiers.
The few I have talked to have had pride in much of what they have done and accomplished, but they did not think there was enough manpower in Iraq to do the job.
In particular, one noted that Iraqis who worked for the the US wanted to keep that secret. In scowering the news since I gather that is particularly true in the Sunni triangle, but also in many of the Shi'ite areas.
If this remains true, we are losing badly. We have to, at bare minimum, be able to protect the people willing to work for us.
Michael Barnes Thomin - 11/23/2004
How can that be a "rational basis" if it is something that cannot possibly be known?
Marc "Adam Moshe" Bacharach - 11/23/2004
I could not agree more with the post. In many ways, the principle difference between what is happening now and Vietnam is that the fall of Vietnam to communism would have no effect on American national security. The fall or collapse of Iraq, however, would have a huge effect on our national security, which is why we must be willing to pay even higher costs if necessary to prevent regional catastrophe. Directly attacking the insurgents where they are with massive military might is a great start, and hopefully elections will help (although I am pessimistic about the later).
Most people who ardently opposed the war (including former Gov. Howard Dean, as well as myself) now fully acknowledge the necessity of finishing the job.
Ben H. Severance - 11/23/2004
Ben H. Severance - 11/23/2004
The question now is not whether the American people would have supported invading Iraq, but do they support continued pacification and Reconstruction?
Given what has happened, most Americans probably would NOT have approved invading Iraq, but having now made large sacrifices in terms of lives and dollars, most Americans seem committed to seeing the occupation through to a successful conclusion.
In 1861, most Northerners, had they known the cost of preserving the Union--four years of total war; 620,000 dead; uneasy race relations following emancipation; and a problematic period of Reconstruction--they likely would not have supported Lincoln's call to arms. But in 1864, the Union soldiers, having made great sacrifices and endured much hardship voted overwhelmingly for Lincoln and unconditional victory over the Confederacy.
Tom Friedman of the NT Times penned a good article a couple of days ago suggesting that the American public would do well to monitor the attitudes of its soldiers in the field. As long as the servicemen and women are willing to carry on the fight, and do so professionally, then there is hope. And the marines and army soldiers are all pretty upbeat despite the intense combat. When these members of the rank-and-file lose faith, as many did in Vietnam, then the game is definitely up.
Marc "Adam Moshe" Bacharach - 11/23/2004
1) “In 2000 Iraq was an unstable situation. Saddam, whether he had them or not, wanted WMD and would have them soon. The inspection/sanction regime was coming apart, the protection of the Kurds relied on a no-fly patrol that relied on technical superority and luck to keep a pilot from being shot down.”
I disagree. I do not believe Iraq was anymore unstable in 2000 than it had been in 1999 or 1998. Of course Saddam wanted WMD… so did North Korea, Iran, and Syria. I also have to strongly disagree that the inspections process was falling apart. In fact, it was precisely the opposite. The inspections process was reorganized, and tremendously strengthened before the invasion, protection of the Kurds was assured through the no fly zones, and all indications indicated that Iraq was being contained.
2) “Any policy maker would have to have been concerned about a link up between Saddam and terrorists-- the linkup and the concern had existed for years. The new data was (1) how vulnerable our technology had made us”
Very vulnerable, but to who? State actors who presented no discernable threat to us, or your next piece of data:
(2)the existence of a loosely coordinated terrorist group with the aim of attacking America…
This group was attacked in Afghanistan and was desperate for aid until the Iraq war. Today, there is every reason to believe that they are stronger than ever: they have a new base of operations, and many of the people who were non radical enough before Iraq has developed such a hatred for America, recruitment is far easier.
…and (3) the appeal of that and similar groups religous component in the failed societies in the Mideast, not just to the ignorant, but to the educated technical classes.”
But Iraq was not a similar group. Saddam was a secular regime and had no love with Bin Laden, certainly not more so than many other states in the region.
3) “I see Iraq as an audacious gamble of huge dimensions. We are not contesting just Iraq. We are contesting the Middle East. If Iraq can be made a successful society -- politically a democracy, economically capitalist, and theologically liberal (at least for the Mideast)-- it can have a revolutionary trigger effect in the Mideast. The end result, after much turmoil, could be a region of states that offers no more threat to us than Europe or Latin America.”
I share your dream, but I fail to see how taking out one of more stable and secular states does anything to change Iran, Pakistan, or Syria. Furthermore, what of poor Afghanistan, who seems to have been totally forgotten in this equation… could not they have served the same purpose?
4) “It is a gamble. I am sure that it appears a more reasonable one to someone like Bush who believes that democracy/capitalism/religous liberalism has a huge appeal to people once they understand it than to say a Professor of Middle East studies to whom the appeal is limited.”
I would disagree with your assumption only based on my personal experiences with Middle East professors, many of those whom I have encountered come from that region and are all too familiar with the despair that comes with living in an authoritarian regime.
5) “So, to me, the question of "Is it worth it?" has perhaps a different dimension than just Iraq. We are playing for much higher stakes.”
I would agree 100%. Indeed one of my primary concerns with Iraq was how it would effect our ability to respond to other threats. Based on what I have been seeing and hearing about Iran and N. Korea, it seems to be an increasingly valid concern.
6) “I do know that the United States cannot within our boundaries be defended from terrorism. That is a non-starter.”
On this, you and I are in total agreement.
John H. Lederer - 11/23/2004
In 2000 Iraq was an unstable situation. Saddam, whether he had them or not, wanted WMD and would have them soon. The inspection/sanction regime was coming apart, the protection of the Kurds relied on a no-fly patrol that relied on technical superority and luck to keep a pilot from being shot down.
Saddam was succeeding in turning the situation in his favor in the media -- rember the news videos of children's coffins?, More effectively it now appears that he had successfully corupted the UN -- both the bureaucracy and member states-- in what must rank as the largest bribery scheme in history.
9/11 threw new components.Any policy maker would have to have been concerned about a link up between Saddam and terrorists-- the linkup and the concern had existed for years. The new data was (1) how vulnerable our technology had made us (2)the existence of a loosely coordinated terrorist group with the aim of attacking America and (3) the appeal of that and similar groups religous component in the failed societies in the Mideast, not just to the ignorant, but to the educated technical classes.
I see Iraq as an audacious gamble of huge dimensions. We are not contesting just Iraq. We are contesting the Middle East. If Iraq can be made a successful society -- politically a democracy, economically capitalist, and theologically liberal (at least for the Mideast)-- it can have a revolutionary trigger effect in the Mideast. The end result, after much turmoil, could be a region of states that offers no more threat to us than Europe or Latin America.
It is a gamble. I am sure that it appears a more reasonable one to someone like Bush who believes that democracy/capitalism/religous liberalism has a huge appeal to people once they understand it than to say a Professor of Middle East studies to whom the appeal is limited.
In that regard I find it interesting that our most solid support has come from East Europe where that transition has just been made.
Regardless of the merits of the core proposition, there are many things that can go around in detail. Some already have. More will.
So, to me, the question of "Is it worth it?" has perhaps a different dimension than just Iraq. We are playing for much higher stakes.
I do know that the United States cannot within our boundaries be defended from terrorism. That is a non-starter.
Marc "Adam Moshe" Bacharach - 11/23/2004
1) “Still, now that the invasion is fact, any speculation about what we might have done is foolish, as is any speculation, this early in the game, about the outcome.”
With due respect, I do not believe that asking whether our government did the right thing in a democracy is a foolish thing. Clearly, the majority of Americans believe that Bush is the right man for the job of president, but that doesn’t stop me and others from arguing that we made a mistake. With a conflict with Iran conceivable, I find it more than appropriate for us to go over the mistakes we made with Iraq. As for speculation about the outcome, I cannot fathom any competent government simply shrugging its shoulders and saying “we’ll see what happens.” No one is suggesting what the outcome will be, they are suggesting what the outcome COULD be, which to be is a worthwhile speculation.
2) “If a stable and democracy friendly government is created in the midst of the Middle East and international terrorism defeated, then the costs tripled will be a minor price to pay.”
3) “The time to judge is after we win or lose--that is the true cost of war--until the outcome is known, the costs cannot be assessed with accuracy.”
Unfortunately, by that standard, I do not see how any war could ever be opposed for any reason at any time until after it is done. The time to judge, in my opinion, is always and with ever changing and increasing facts.
4) “Vietnam is a point how does the price of losing look today? Ask the Cambodians and the Vietnamese, who suffered and continue to suffer because we failed to achieve the goals of the War.”
I would think that too… if I were Vietnamese or Cambodian. However, I am not. I am an American so I measure benefits and costs as they relate to us. Using that measurement, the war was far too costly and had very few actual benefits, indeed perhaps none.
Charles Edward Heisler - 11/23/2004
Uh,we were talking about whether the American people would have accepted the known costs before the war started. Clearly, given the America First attitudes in 1941, it is unlikely that the American people would have willingly gone to war against Germany had the costs been known. We could have made the war against the Japanese a short affair once the shock of Pearl Harbor had been rectified.
Still, now that the invasion is fact, any speculation about what we might have done is foolish, as is any speculation, this early in the game, about the outcome.
If a stable and democracy friendly government is created in the midst of the Middle East and international terrorism defeated, then the costs tripled will be a minor price to pay.
The time to judge is after we win or lose--that is the true cost of war--until the outcome is known, the costs cannot be assessed with accuracy.
Vietnam is a point how does the price of losing look today? Ask the Cambodians and the Vietnamese, who suffered and continue to suffer because we failed to achieve the goals of the War.
Marc "Adam Moshe" Bacharach - 11/22/2004
I think your question really gets to the heart of the matter. Of course it is useless to ask what the costs are without mentioning the benefits, which the author mistakenly posits to be “scarcely anything of value.”
In response to Mr. Heisler’s post, I believe that Americans accepted the death of over 100,000 soldiers in WWI and would have accepted much more. They accepted the death of over 400,000 soldiers in WWII and would have likely accepted much more. However, even a “mere” 58,000 was too many in Vietnam, and frankly, far less would have been too much. Why? Because, not to sound too much like a politician, but the American people are smart. They knew that the benefit of stopping Hitler was greater than the cost of doing do and they also knew (although it took them a long while) that preventing S. Vietnam from falling to the Communists was really not that big a benefit given the costs involved. That brings us back to cost/benefit.
There were benefits to going into Iraq, and they include the following, among others:
- Ensuring that Saddam Hussein had no WMD beyond any doubt
- Liberating the Iraqi people from a totalitarian regime
- Avenging the murder of countless thousands at the hands of this regime
- The possibility of creating a democratic, US-friendly state in the hart of a hostile Islamic region
Are these not tremendous benefits to the United States? Sure they are. Why, then, were so many including myself, so opposed to this war? Because those benefits did not (IMHO) outweigh the costs, which are also quite high and include, among others:
- Attention and resources away from rebuilding Afghanistan
- Attention and resources away from hunting down bin Laden
- The international credibility we amassed after 9/11
- Our ability to respond to other, more dangerous threats (as the current debate on Iran makes clear)
- The possibility of creating a terrorist haven where there was none before
- The possibility of creating an environment of anarchy and chaos (a la Lebanon) in a country that was previously under a brutal dictator, but quite stable
- The possibility of dragging the entire region into war, had Iraq attacked Israel and Israel responded, as seemed likely before the invasion.
Of course, to me, what makes the argument against war so compelling is the fact that there were alternatives that would have cost us virtually nothing but gained us much (not all) of our objectives. Bush had already radically strengthened the inspections process that turned out to be so successful after all before the war ever started. A tightening of sanctions, the removal of loopholes, and tough new rhetoric would have been more than enough to contain Iraq perhaps indefinitely but at the very least until we were ready for it.
Thus, the costs of war with Iraq were far more than the benefits, given the nature of the threat, and the easy availability. The problem with public opinion is not that they did not know the true costs, but that they did not know the true benefits of removing him. They believed that he had massive stockpiles of WMD aimed at the US, and that any delay could potentially result in a nuclear attack on US soil (hence the famous line about how waiting for evidence could mean that evidence would come in the form of a mushroom cloud). They were convinced that Iraq was directly involved in the attacks of 9/11.
If all of those things were true, then the benefits of removing Saddam from power would have more than outweighed the costs. Alas, it was all a myth. Some blame the administration, some blame the media, and some blame the gullibility of the American people. For the sake of this post, I am content not to speculate. However, the reality seems clear, at least to me, that thus far, the benefits of invading Iraq have far exceeded the costs.
John H. Lederer - 11/22/2004
....which seems like a necessary part of approaching the issue from a "rational" basis.
Charles Edward Heisler - 11/22/2004
This is thoughtful and I believe the answer is clear--no, the American people would not have supported the invasion of Iraq. That is no surprise. I doubt that the American people would have supported the war in Europe in the 40's had they known the price and, most certainly would never had followed Lincoln into the Civil War had they forseen the eventual toll that war would cost their generation.
There is the rub--how do we really know when a war is going to produce a result worth the sacrifice??
Oscar Chamberlain - 11/22/2004
As an exercise for evaluating the success of American efforts in Iraq, Higgs use of "contingent contracting" has some merit. It certainly underscores just how far from reality that the promises and projections of Bush and the neo-Con were. It is reasonable to raise the question of their honesty. Unfortunately, he pushes this too far, by suggesting it could be used with great facility before the war.
It is hard to anticipate how well a war will go. The unexpected always rears up, and the Great Lawgiver Murphy reigns supreme. Bush and Rumsfeld planned badly, and have reacted to the results poorly. That is true. However good causes well-planned can fail, too.
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