Friday, January 26, 2007

More on numbers--and on the moral imperative to sometimes lose a war

There are so many ways to look at numbers, especially when it comes to cost/benefit analyses.

There are 26 million people in Iraq--or were, before they started dying off. What if, instead of spending half a trillion dollars in Iraq, we had simply given Saddam Hussein $1 billion and told him to retire to a palatial estate in Saudi Arabia or Sudan, and then distributed the rest of the half trillion to Iraqi citizens to help them establish themselves after Saddam's departure? If we gave each Iraqi $18,000, we'd still come out ahead.

And, as an added bonus, a half-million dead Iraqis would still be alive. Iraqi fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers, sons, 4-year-old daughters, newborn babies, babies still in the womb--considerably more than Saddam Hussein murdered during his brutal reign. I don't suppose there's a need to factor those lives into the cost of the war, since they're not really on OUR balance sheet, which only contains some 3,000 American soldiers and an unspecified number of "contractors." But still.

Of course that's not the whole story. Long after the conflict is over, there's that twenty percent of soldiers who will be so mentally and physically disabled that they will need lifelong care. This considerably boosts the cost of the war--to as much as $2 trillion, say the experts.

Of course, we've had a run of bad luck in Iraq. But what if the invasion had been more successful? The balance sheet would have looked a lot better then. The invasion would have penciled out. We'd all be patting ourselves on the back for bringing democracy to Iraq, never mind the sacrifice of all those lives. And we'd be ready to move on to the next country in need of a democracy.

The nice thing about looking at things in terms of numbers on a balance sheet is that you don't have to deal with the immorality of invading a country that was no threat to the United States or any other country, and lying to justify the invasion. Or the greater immorality of needing to continue the devastation until you "win," because winning is more important than anything else.

This is not ultimately about numbers. It's about morality. For the sake of our immortal soul, we need to lose this war.


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