Is It Worth The Cost?

September 10, 2007 at 1:43 pm | Posted in American politics, Iraq | 13 Comments

That’s the real question. As BoB Shieffer says:

The right question would have been: Is it worth the cost?

America eventually concluded it was not, and we left the war.

Let me preempt that question to General Petraeus. We haven’t lost this war, but we’re not winning it. We’re hanging on. Victory would be obvious. Iraqi families would be strolling the streets of Baghdad, and Osama bin Laden would be walking out of a cave somewhere with his hands up.

Instead of that question, let’s hope the general will be asked what we so often forgot during Vietnam: Is this worth the cost in lives and money?

And here’s a follow-up: When the Iraqi parliament went on vacation during August, I gave up on trying to help them find a way to have an effective government. They have to do that. What we need to know now is whether keeping a large American military force in Iraq is the best way to make America safer.

To me, that’s the real question.


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  1. yes it is.

  2. Lee,

    Do you even know what all the costs are?

  3. I don’t think he cares what the costs are, just so long as it’s the Iraqi people who bear the brunt of it all.

  4. or his children. after all, he won’t pay a dime of this war. It’s all on credit cards for our children to pay.

  5. Daniel, am I the only one who still can’t figure out whether going into Iraq will turn out to have been the best course of action? People on both sides seem so convinced that they know one way or the other.

    I, personally would not have invaded at the time that Bush did. I think that preemptive military action should be rarely and cautiously undertaken. But that really isn’t the question now, is it. The question is whether we should stay there now, or pull out.

    I don’t think that question can be answered until we see what happened to Iraq and to Al Qaeda over the long term. If we leave Iraq, and it learns to stand on its own two feet, then leaving was the best option. If, on the other hand, Al Qaeda topples the government and creates a terrorist haven, there could be no question we should have stayed.

    This doesn’t make it any easier for those who actually have to make the decision, but what I am saying is that there may not be a clearly correct answer, as so many seem to imply.

  6. Sean

    That is an interesting point you make. However, you’re basically saying that we should stay to assess whether or not we should stay.

    I’m having a hard time understanding how that answers the question of whether the venture was worth it, and if we should pull out now or not.

    I think we’ve had enough time to assess whether or not to stay. Those who favor staying have not provided enough evidence to show that staying is in any way beneficial. Most of the evidence they point to is actually circumstantial and driven by other factors (in the case of Anbar, Sunni sheiks got tired of how badly Al-Qaeda was treating them and turned on them, not because of our surge, but because of how bad Al-Qaeda overplayed their hand).

    Violence continues unabated, and there is no political reconciliation. Why would anyone think that a few more years of plugging through with thousands more Americans dead and trillions more dollars spent will bring an outcome worthy of the cost? THAT should be the overriding question we must ask ourselves.

  7. Daniel,

    Perhaps you are right that I lean slightly toward the “stay the course” path. But my main point was really that no one should be too sure that they “know” either choice is better.

    Your bold leading question shows, essentially, that you can’t imagine how a reasonable person could believe that staying in Iraq is a good idea.

    Yes, if we stay in Iraq, it will cost hundreds of billions more, if not trillions as well as many more lives. But that raises a couple of points.

    First, we already spend $500 billion per year on our military, even aside from Iraq. Iraq does add a substantial amount to the total, but as a percentage, it isn’t as great as you make it seem.

    Second, you don’t seem to be accounting for the offsetting costs in pulling them out. Would all of the troops simply come home? If so, that is great, many lives are spared, and much money is saved. But Al Qaeda isn’t going to just go away if we leave the battlefied of Iraq. There will be spillover into neighboring countries such as Afghanistan where we still have troops. One also wonders how effectively our exit could be used by OBL as a recruiting tool for terrorism as well.

    As well, it is interesting to note that there have been a notable lack of attacks on American civilians since 9/11, after a continuing stream of such attacks through the 90’s. One can scoff at the argument that this is because Al Qaeda is preoccupied with Iraq and Afghanistan, but I have yet to hear a better explanation. Surely one must wonder what is going to happen if we suddenly pack up and leave the middle east. Short term the gain for our troops is clear, but the long term benefit is not so clear. 9/11 was almost as devasting as the last four years in Iraq in terms of lives lost, and I’d bet that the stock market lost more after 9/11 than we have spent on this war.

    When you are doing your cost benefit analysis, are you accounting for the potential costs of an abrupt withdrawal from Iraq? That, to me, is perhaps the biggest hole in the argument for immediate withdrawal (the one sided cost benefit judgment).

  8. Dan and Sean,

    Perhaps this information will help you in your opinion on whether or not we should leave Iraq. Sean, you cite the fear of Al Queda possibly taking over Iraq after we leave. I think we need to see clearly then what Al Queda in Iraq is.

    Apparently, Al Queda in Iraq is a bunch of Sunni Sheiks who have little if any contact with Al Queda proper, who, when bribed by the US army sufficiently, agree to stop attacking US troops, accepting financial aid and weapons from the US as a reward, but still will murder and kick out the Shia from their community. This tactic we have has upset the Shia government considerably and has caused many Shias to flee to the slums of south Bagdad.

    How do I come by this information? There is an amazing cameraman/reporter combination who have gone into Iraq embedded and unembedded (a pretty dangerous thing to do), and have done some amazing reporting on this exact situation. You can find their story here:

    It takes about 20 minutes to watch the whole thing.

    I don’t think that Bin Laden’s organization has much presence in Iraq at all. If we leave, there will be civil war most likely (probably not much different from what we’ve been witnessing already), but anyone calling themselves Al Queda will likely disappear with no more American’s to fight against. They’ll change back into Sunni’s.

    On the other hand, since we’ve gone to Iraq, 1.2 million Iraqi’s have been killed. And we’ve done a large part of that killing. I say we leave now and withdraw our part of the killing and let the Iraqis fight it out amongst themselves. Then, after the dust has settled, we will pay them reparations for our atrocities and war crimes.

  9. Sean,

    I’m not looking for an abrupt withdrawal, nor a disengagement of the Middle East. Al-Qaeda’s presence in Iraq stems from our presence there. They were not in Iraq before we invaded the country, so it is safe to say they will go where we go. That said, where I recommend we go is where Al-Qaeda is: Afghanistan and Pakistan. We never should have gone into Iraq.

    You say that leaving Iraq would be a boon for Al-Qaeda’s recruitment. That may be so, but have you considered that us going INTO Iraq has been just as big of a boon, if not bigger, for their recruitment? We’re in a damned if you do, damned if you don’t situation vis a vis Al-Qaeda’s recruitment success. So that “cost” is nullified in my view. In either case, Al-Qaeda recruits, whether we are in Iraq or not.

    Iraq is in a good enough situation where they can handle things on their own. From this point on, if we really believe they are their own sovereign country, we really should not be bothering them anymore. They can handle Al-Qaeda’s presence in Iraq 10000 times better than we can, and at a far better, more cost-effective strategy than us “surging” more troops into the country. We don’t know who the members of Al-Qaeda are in Iraq, but Iraqis do. Let them take care of Al-Qaeda. Meanwhile, we’ve got the mastermind behind 9/11 still free and taunting us. What the hell is up with that!?!?!

    As far as being hit, or not being hit again, well, you don’t know better than I do if we will be hit again or not. What I do know is that our presence in Iraq is thoroughly undermining our strength and credibility around the world, a cost that cannot be properly quantified, but far worse than any financial loss at the stock market.

  10. I’ll concede the point on recruitment. I agree that there is probably no way to know how events have or will influence it. It sounds like we can agree that Al Qaeda is going to continue the fight, whether it is in Afghanistan, Pakistan, or here at home. Yet, doesn’t that mean that lives and treasure will always be lost in this war, it is only a matter of where? If that is true, relying solely on a money and lives argument for withdrawal is not going to get you very far. In short, the real question is whether our national interests are better served by continuing the Iraq fight, or by moving the troops either back home or to Afghanistan/Pakistan. That is a tough question to answer. I honestly don’t know the answer.

  11. “Then, after the dust has settled, we will pay them reparations for our atrocities and war crimes.”

    No, we won’t, because our government will never, ever own up to having committed war crimes.

  12. “From this point on, if we really believe they are their own sovereign country…”

    Apparently, we never did.

    It’s pretty much like you said: what is THEIR sand doing covering up OUR oil?

  13. “No, we won’t, because our government will never, ever own up to having committed war crimes.”

    That is, if I were President.

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