Iraq War: What Cost of Life is Justifiable?

I have a friend who continues to maintain that the Iraq War was one of George W. Bush's few "genius" maneuvers.  And he's not being tongue-in-cheek.  He sees the endeavor as a success, and with Wednesday's news of "Final US Combat Troops Withdrawing" he'd proudly affirm: "mission accomplished."

My retort now is the same as it was 5 years ago when we first started arguing: how many lives make that "success" worthwhile?  Is it a fair trade?

Here are some statistics from a source ( you may find dubious, but they document their sources, which appear credible:

American Military Casualties in Iraq 
In Combat
American Deaths
Since war began (3/19/03):44153493
Since "Mission Accomplished" (5/1/03) (the list)


Since Capture of Saddam (12/13/03):39543187
Since Handover (6/29/04):35562860
Since Obama Inauguration (1/20/09):18788

Iraqi Casualties
Iraq Deaths Estimator 

 Is American military "mission accomplished" worth the cost?

I would argue without hesitation: absolutely not.


tmamone said...

Even though I'm glad Sadam is out of power, I don't think it was worth the cost. I came across an article in the American Catholic that said the Iraq war did not constitute as a just war.

Of course, if you try to tell this to the average Evangelical, you'd probably be called a terrorist-loving commie.

pastormack said...

The just war argument really depends on who you ask. Jean Elshtain's 'Just War Against Terror' is helpful in this respect.

And I don't think the utlitarian logic at work here is helpful. How do you weight human lives lost against the intended benefits? I don't know. But let's be sure about this; there was no peace in Iraq before the invasion, at least not a true peace in the sense of social order and relative stability. It was a strong man rule. Leaving now, we may see the same thing in just a few years' time - then, I think, the answer is clearly 'no'.

Brendan said...

There were benefits to invading Iraq for sure. I lived in Saudi Arabia during the first gulf war and was subjected to a daily diet of horror stories and tales of atrocities being committed under Saddam's rule. The systematic torture, the rape rooms, the gassing, executions etc. etc. etc. Removing him from power was certainly a benefit to the world. (Of course, if that was truly our reasoning for going to war than why don't we invade Burma or the Congo or a half dozen other equally brutal regimes?)
However, on the con side of our pros and cons list, I think we must list not only the lives lost, American and Iraqi, not only the monetary cost, but also the long lasting effects on society. What are the social costs of the hundreds of children who must now grow up without a parent, or with psychologically damaged parents? And the children of those children? What are the burdens placed on a society faced with re-integrating thousands of shell shocked troupes? While deaths are certainly tragic they happen and are done with, but for the living, the scars of war take generations to heal. Aren't we still dealing with the after effects of the Vietnamese war. In my family, the effects of my grandpas injuries in the second world war still effect us. In my opinion, when true costs are weighed against the benefits, a war may be necessary but never justified.

Peter J Walker said...

Travis, I feel you, COMRADE.

Mack, I'm right there with you. I should have gone on to say, you could tenth or hundredth the numbers, and I'd still say it wasn't worth it. For that very reason: you cannot weigh human lives in terms of "benefits." It doesn't work. But that just leads me to conclude more vehemently that it wasn't worth the cost.

Brendan, I had forgotten you lived there! Thanks for the perspective. I agree: if America wants to be Team America: World Police, we've got a lot more work to do where there is just as much or more suffering and crimes against humanity. Darfur, anyone?

I don't know enough to make this argument, but I would guess an argument could be made about whether things are indeed better now. Hussein was certainly a tyrant, but wasn't Iraq a fairly stable industrialized country before we went in? Were the torture, rape and executions worse than the torture, rape and executions that happened as a result of our military incursion?

I have no business weighing these as better or worse, but I'm afraid it's going to happen even worse when we finally pull out of Afghanistan.

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