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Tuesday, June 24, 2008


"Success" in Iraq

The news media (and politicians) are spending a lot of time now telling us about the "success" of the "surge" in Iraq, and there's no doubt that violence and deaths of Iraqis and Americans are down substantially. But the question that isn't being asked is, what was the price, and what was the alternative?

The price in American and "allied" lives and dollars is known: 861 865 868 (4 7 more today) Americans and 55 56 (1 more today) "allies" have died since troop strength reached its peak in March, 2007. The cost is a bit less certain, but let's go with $12 billion/month that's $180 billion. The cost in Iraqi lives? Honestly, we have no idea. For sure it's been thousands, and probably tens of thousands - some killed by Americans, others killed by other Iraqis.

Now there's the other side of the equation - what would have happened if the U.S. had packed up and left in March, 2007 instead of escalating their presence? Now obviously that's impossible to know. We do know that the 861 Americans and 55 allied forces would be alive, and that the U.S. would have $180 billion more to spend on schools, health care, rebuilding New Orleans, or, closer to the issue at hand, rebuilding the Iraq we destroyed. We don't know what would have happened in Iraq itself. Would the violence have disappeared? Died down? Escalated? Would the government have been overthrown, and replaced, say, by a government led by allies of Moqtada al Sadr? We simply don't know.

So the point is this - saying that "the surge" was a "success" is like saying it's a "success" when you buy a winning lottery ticket. It might be, but not if you bought 10,000 tickets, and not if you could have made more money investing your money in the stock market (ok, not this year). The fact that violence in Iraq is down does not "prove" that the surge was a "success." And, I hasten to add, it still wouldn't justify the continued U.S. presence, much less the invasion itself, even if it were. Because, with more than a million Iraqis dead, millions more injured, and still millions more displaced from their homes, nothing, nothing, is ever going to make the invasion and occupation of Iraq a "success."

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