December 14, 2005
Defeatists and the "Cost" of the War in IraqBy Jonathan David Carson
We are constantly being told that the "cost" of the war in Iraq has risen to over two thousand deaths and many hundreds of billions of dollars. The hidden, unexamined assumption behind this statement is that if we had not invaded Iraq, our inaction would cost nothing.
For all we know, the cost of not invading Iraq would have been tens or hundreds of thousands of deaths and trillions of dollars. We might be engaged in a much larger war right now. We will never know.
We had a choice. We could either invade Iraq or not. If we invaded, there would be partially—knowable consequences; if we did not invade, there would be other partially—knowable consequences. We now know a lot more about the consequences of invading Iraq; we know only a little more about the consequences of not invading Iraq.
What we do know is that subsequent to our invasion various events have taken place that seem unlikely to have occurred had we not invaded: the capture and trial of Saddam Hussein, the ratification of an Iraqi constitution, the removal of Syrian troops from Lebanon, the unraveling of the Pakistan—based A. Q. Khan nuclear proliferation network, the about—face of Libya on weapons of mass destruction, and so on.
The most important such event is greater cooperation from Pakistan than we would have received had we not invaded. Iran may get nuclear weapons; Pakistan already has them. If our invasion of Iraq had not signaled to the world the seriousness of our intention to defend ourselves, Pakistan would not have been nearly as cooperative on nuclear proliferation or Afghanistan. To me it seems almost miraculous that Pakistan's "Islamic bomb" has not fallen into still more dangerous hands.
Whether my analysis of the consequences of not invading Iraq be accurate or not, clearly there would have been consequences. Perhaps the hidden, unexamined assumption of critics of the war is correct, and we would not have suffered terrorism in the United States or war abroad. But perhaps the situation in Afghanistan would have deteriorated for lack of Pakistani support and as a result of a general belief that once the shock of 9/11 wore off, we would not persevere in support of the new government in Afghanistan. Perhaps President Bush would have been faced with another choice, this time between defeat in Afghanistan or escalation of the costs of our involvement. Perhaps Islamofascists would have seized the Islamic bomb for themselves and used it against us. Perhaps we would have been forced into either full—scale war or acceptance of Islamofascist possession of nuclear weapons.
So we should not say that the invasion of Iraq was "worth" two thousand deaths; we should say instead that for all we know those two thousand deaths were the least we could have suffered no matter what we did. The choice was not between war and peace or two thousand dead and none; the choice was among many possible futures, all of which included war. Name your poison, as the saying goes.
Opponents of the war have set a rhetorical trap, and we have stepped in it. Shame on us. It is not as if this were a new or unexpected trap. We saw it and stepped in it anyway.
We must stop letting opponents get away with calling themselves "peace activists" or complaining about the "price" we are paying in Iraq. We are at war, and we would be at war even if on 9/12 we had stayed in bed and pulled the covers up over our heads.
We do not face a choice between war and peace; we must choose among various strategies for conducting the war.
The strategy of the activists is retreat, which is not a strategy for peace, but a strategy for a larger war not so long from now. Instead of "peace activists," we should call them "retreat activists," "surrender activists," "defeat activists," or "larger—war—later activists." Or "defeatists."
Opponents employ the economic metaphor of war costs but do not follow the implications of the metaphor by employing any of the sophisticated tools of economic analysis now available. They do not even employ the simple tool of comparison shopping that people in the United States use billions of times every year.
Our roof leaked (terrorists rained death from the sky on 9/11). We could repair the existing roof (the Clinton strategy, to the extent that he had one). We could put up a new roof (the Bush strategy). We could do nothing while pretending to do something (the real Clinton strategy). We could simply do nothing.
We decided to put up a new roof. Unfortunately, the cost for the new roof turned out to be greater than we expected, and putting it up is taking longer than we thought it would. Now the Democrats are comparing the cost of the new roof to the cost of doing nothing and the time to complete it to the time it takes to do nothing and simply assuming that it will never rain again. "Look at how much money you are wasting," they say, and we weakly respond by saying that the new roof is worth the money we are spending on it. Instead we should compare the price of the roof to the value of our possessions that would be ruined by another thunderstorm or to what it would cost to put up a new roof in a big hurry in the middle of a storm.
Since the roof was old and leaky, repairing it would not have been a good choice. Doing nothing would have been absurd. So we had to put up a new roof. The question then was what kind of roof.
There were many kinds available. Some people say that we should not have gone so far in our de—Baathification, some people say that we should send more troops to Iraq instead of drawing them down as the Iraqi forces gain strength, some people say that we should attack Syria or Iran, either openly or clandestinely, and so on. We should debate which roof is best.
What we should not do is pretend that we can put up a roof for free or that we can afford not to put one up—especially when half the Democrats are doing a rain dance.