Tuesday, October 17, 2006


After three years in Iraq (and three years worth of news and commentary on Iraq) I just had a new thought on the situation this morning. What would happen if we left Iraq now?

I am not an advocate of cut-and-run but I think we have to ask ourselves that question if we are to make an honest assessment of the situation. The only reason to stay in Iraq is if we want to prevent what would happen if we were to leave. The general consensus seems to be that if we leave there will be anarchy and its attending chaos. I am beginning to wonder how much worse it would be than it already is.

I know the Bush Administration would argue that it would be worse, and that they don't intend to leave until Iraq is stable. I believe that violence would get worse soon after the US military leaves, but will Iraq ever be stable?

Sometimes a temporary solution to a problem may prevent a final solution (like propping up "friendly dictators" rather than allowing other countries their autonomy). Currently in Iraq there are thousands of Iraqis dying each month. What would it look like if we left?

What if, in the absence of the US military, Iraq entered an unchecked civil war where 10,000 Iraqis died each month for 6 months before they reached some sort of stability and the death tolls fell to 500 per month. The reason for my thoughts this morning was that I began to wonder if that was inevitable. If we stayed in Iraq for two more years and then pulled out would they have a short period of extreme instability as soon as we left before things settled down? Perhaps they would have 10,000 casualties per month for only two months.

Let's compare these two scenarios to see what the cost would be of "staying the course" for two more years. The war is costing us roughly $100 billion per year and (conservatively) 50 US casualties per month. That translates into a cost to the US of $200 billion dollars and 1200 more lives. What does that purchase give us according to my scenario? Assuming 2500 Iraqi casualties per month while the US is on the ground, there would be 80,000 Iraqi deaths (60,000 over 2 years at 2500 per month plus 10,000 per month for two months of instability) before they achieved stability. If we were to cut and run under my scenario there would be 70,000 Iraqi casualties (60,000 over six months of civil war plus 500 per month for the next 20 months) before they achieved stability.

I don't pretend that my numbers are accurate, if they were it would be easy to decide to save $200 billion dollars, 1200 US lives, and 10,000 Iraqi lives. I think my numbers should be just realistic enough to make people want to see real estimates of the cost of continuing this war. Let's get experts to consider all the factors so that the public knows what they are supporting, or opposing.


Sheldon said...

It's questions like these that make me glad I'm not in a position of power. Like you, I'm not convinced we'll ever see real stability in Iraq, and I'd love to see an end of hostilities. But how do you calculate that kind of thing? How can we tell if our predictive models are any good? I mean, we're essentially trying to guess the future, and even after the fact it'll be hard to say whether we made the right choice.

Whatever the choice is, I'm sure the leader who makes it will be demonized by his detractors and commended by his defenders. I think part of the problem comes from a lack of measurable objectives in the war - how do we determine when the job is done?

David said...

I agree that our predictive models will never be perfect and that we never know exactly how accurate they are until after the fact. There is always room for second guessing. The problem that really bugs me is that so far our first guessing does not seem to be backed up by any data.

We need measurable objectives to the war, and then we need to apply some expertise before we make decision about how to achieve those objectives.

So far we have vague objectives and when doubters ask "are you sure your plan will work?" the prevailing response seems to be "don't you trust us?" The response should be more along the lines of "this is why we think it will work - why do you think it will fail?"

Being a leader is one sure way to guarantee that their are detractors, but there are lots of ways to try to show you were thinking when you made your decisions. I'd much rather have a leader who thought about their imperfect decisions beforehand than one who just made the decisions and then reacted to the results later.

Anonymous said...

I was interested to see the PBS Frontline report on "The Lost Year in Iraq."

Although I didn't watch it carefully, it was nice to think that some one can tell what happened and could be honest about it. It is too bad the result of war was so poorly understood to begin with. What we hear from the administration is bravado intended to rally national support for the war. Certainly reason and education would be a more intelligent approach.

I can't help but think that "it is by the wicked that the wicked are punished;" Mormon 4:5 (Not to accuse the administration of being generally wicked.) Certainly, the ego and shortsightedness that plunge a nation into an un-thought out combative approach to international problems is wicked.

David said...

Thanks for that link. I visited it and found more information and discussion connected to that frontline production in case anyone is interested.

Someone forgot to tell this administration that "bravado intended to rally national support for the war" starts to look either naive, out of touch, or just plain stupid after 3 years of the situation consistently and obviously going "worse than we hoped."