Home > Economics - General, World Events > The opportunity cost of war

The opportunity cost of war

April 18th, 2005

Among the responses to this post on the costs and benefits of the Iraq war, quite a few commenters doubted that it was reasonable to express the opportunity cost of war in terms of the alternative of an allocation to foreign aid.

This NY Times editorial refers to the fact that the main EU nations have finally made a serious commitment to increase overseas development aid to 0.7 per cent of GDP, a target that’s been around for a long time, but never reached. The US currently gives about 0.2 per cent, and an increase to 0.7 per cent would cost around $50 billion per year, which is pretty close to the annual cost of the Iraq war effort. It’s the one major country that’s holding out against making any sort of commitment.

Of course, it might be said that Americans, unlike the citizens of other developed countries, are prepared to pay to kill people, but not to help them, so the opportunity cost calculation is still irrelevant. Apart from being closely akin to the slur that Arabs are incapable of handling democracy, this runs up against the problem that many Americans support the view that the US government should give large amounts of foreign aid, well in excess of 0.7 per cent of GDP. The problem is that they imagine that the government is actually doing this on a still more lavish scale. On average, Americans think that 24 per cent of US government expenditure is allocated to foreign aid – the true figure is 1 per cent.

A more plausible objection is that it’s possible to do both. The UK was part of the Iraq war (though its contribution, in relative terms was much smaller than that of the US) and it has committed itself to meet the 0.7 per cent goal. To this my response is, let the US make a substantial commitment on aid first, and then it will be time to recalculate the opportunity costs of war.

UpdateHere’s a US criticism of aid in general

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  1. James Farrell
    April 18th, 2005 at 16:59 | #1

    ‘Among the responses to this post…’

    Is there a missing link?

  2. Ian Gould
    April 18th, 2005 at 17:33 | #2

    John,

    I would argue that access to developed countries’ markets is far more valauble to developing countries than foreign aid.

    while all developed countries could do more in this area, my understanding is that the US is well ahead of the EU members and Japan in this regard.

  3. April 18th, 2005 at 18:07 | #3

    Access to OECD markets is valuable when there’s social order in a country. If not despots bleed the countryside or workers dry and keep the export income. Then trade can be damaging as oligarchs steal the best productive land etc, and distort the local economy.

    Targetted aid can be used to directly help people.

    Trade won’t help victims of a tsunami, a drought, or a war. Aid is an essential part of any rich country’s government’s spending.

  4. Katz
    April 18th, 2005 at 18:49 | #4

    Where do these American respondees to such polls live? It is axiomatic that the phrase “x% of Americans think y” will often produce eye-popping results.

    This one is no exception.

  5. Steve Edwards
    April 18th, 2005 at 22:41 | #5

    Most aid programmes are a disaster and achieve the exact opposite of what they set out to do. As the aid industry has no incentive to allow societies to become independent and productive, foreign aid will ruin the country and turn it into a mendicant state.

    The only justification for foreign aid that I can think of is, as wbb pointed out, in the interest of disaster relief. On the other hand, it could be used to subvert foreign governments, which I don’t necessarily object to either.

  6. dc
    April 19th, 2005 at 00:03 | #6

    Lets take a look at American aid to the rest of the world.
    The American aid program is far biggewr than the amount other countries of the wrold provide if the proper defintion of aid is taken into account.
    American foreign aid does not include the deployment of its military to protect free nations world from tyranny.
    South Korea and Germany are two good places to start. If military figures were taken into account American aid to the rest of the world would be astounding in size.
    If people think this isn’t important they may wnat to wonder what would happen to trade if sea lanes were not protected.

  7. April 19th, 2005 at 00:42 | #7

    Of course Arabs are incapable of handling democracy; everybody is incapable of handling democracy. It’s no slur, if properly understood. Si argumentum requiris, circumspice.

  8. John Quiggin
    April 19th, 2005 at 09:46 | #8

    dc, studies attempting to include military aid of this kind yield the conclusion that the US and EU give about equal amounts. So the question is the one in my original post – which is more cost-effective?

  9. April 19th, 2005 at 09:56 | #9

    “American foreign aid does not include the deployment of its military to protect free nations world from tyranny.”

    Even if they do not want to be freed from tyranny??

  10. michael.burgess
    April 19th, 2005 at 10:59 | #10

    John, intervention in Iraq clearly has major spillover benefits, such as encouraging democracy elsewhere in the Middle East and putting tyrants on notice that if they continue doing what they are doing they could face serious consequences. More abstractly, I would argue that the US justified intervention in the face of UN, French and German obstructionism has encouraged many people to take a closer look at the undemocratic and corrupt UN. This has increased the possibility of meaningful reform taking place.

  11. simon
    April 19th, 2005 at 11:05 | #11

    John,

    One could argue that US spending on the Iraq war is a form of foreign aid. A multitude of nations have benefited from the action. It can even be argued that many nations have and will derive far greater value from the action in Iraq than the US.

    I would go one step further and suggest that US military spending consumed in foreign service be considered aid. What percent of the US military budget is employed in Europe, Japan and Korea? All of this is foreign aid.

    Next to the topic of opportunity costs. Deficit reduction would be a far more compelling opportunity cost argument.

  12. simon
    April 19th, 2005 at 11:06 | #12

    John,

    One could argue that US spending on the Iraq war is a form of foreign aid. A multitude of nations have benefited from the action. It can even be argued that many nations have and will derive far greater value from the action in Iraq than the US.

    I would go one step further and suggest that US military spending consumed in foreign service be considered aid. What percent of the US military budget is employed in Europe, Japan and Korea? All of this is foreign aid.

    Next to the topic of opportunity costs. Deficit reduction would be a far more compelling opportunity cost argument.

  13. Dave Ricardo
    April 19th, 2005 at 11:11 | #13

    “intervention in Iraq clearly has major spillover benefits, such as encouraging democracy elsewhere in the Middle East”

    Although not in the US client state, Saudi Arabia, the home of Islamist extemism, which remains as undemocratic as ever.

    And I don’t see another despotic US ally, Mubarak, going anywhere, anytime soon, either.

    So I think, Michael, your statement needs a great deal of qualification. Just as the US in the cold war as soft on certain communist despots, like Ceasescu, who successfully played the US and the Soviet Union off against each other, so too the US is being selectively hard this time on Middle East dictators.

  14. michael.burgess
    April 19th, 2005 at 11:28 | #14

    I or other ‘left realists’ have never suggested that the US was perfect, simply that in this case intervention is justified. Also, unlike many so-called progressives I have never had any illusions about the UN and the rule of international law.

  15. April 19th, 2005 at 11:44 | #15

    “One could argue that US spending on the Iraq war is a form of foreign aid. A multitude of nations have benefited from the action. It can even be argued that many nations have and will derive far greater value from the action in Iraq than the US.”

    I am sure that this is a quote from Monbiot but it goes something like this “I wonder how many people have to be killed until they realise the benefits of freedom and democracy”

    Normally foreign aid is not in the form of killing. In the past doctors and engineers etc have gone to poorer nations to help build infrastructure and help teach local people to treat what in the west are simple diseases.

    I am sure that Fred Hollows, Doctors without Borders et al would be flabbergasted, horrified and sickened to think that people would equate their efforts in helping more unfortunate people could be equated with the US invasion of Iraq and all the other ‘democratic’ actions the US has sponsored in Central America.

    The point is that the Cost of the War was approx 100 000 Iraqi civilians, 1500 US soldiers and the remaining US credibility in the world. Additional costs were Abu Graib, Fallujah and the polarization of of hate.

    Next to this a few billion dollars does not seem to be a real concern.

  16. John Quiggin
    April 19th, 2005 at 11:50 | #16

    In response to various comments, I am treating US military spending as a form of foreign aid. The question then, is whether the $200 billion spent on Iraq could have yielded greater benefits if allocated elsewhere, for example, to campaigns against AIDS and malaria.

    I think the answer to this question is self-evident, even if we concede that a lot of aid is ineffective, skimmed off by corrupt middlemen etc. Of course, all of this is true in relation to US expenditure in Iraq, so the corruption point is largely neutral.

  17. April 19th, 2005 at 11:53 | #17

    Comment # 8 by John Quiggin — 19/4/2005 @ 9:46 am

    So the question is the one in my original post – which [form of aid, martial or civil] is more cost-effective?

    ……
    The economic opportunity costs of US’s post-Pearl Harbour security spending have been huge.

    Despite an enormous demobilization after 1944, the military sector in 1947, at the postwar trough, still accounted for 4.3 percent of GNP, three times the 1939 share. Following the Korean War, military purchases reached an unprecedented level for “peacetime” and, despite some fluctuations, remained at or above this elevated level permanently. During 1948-86, military purchases cumulated to $6,316 billion, averaging about $162 billion per year, or 7.6 percent of GNP. The trend has been slightly upward for real spending, slightly downward for spending as a percentage of GNP. The marginal costs of the Korean and Vietnam wars were borne entirely through reductions in the private share of GNP. During the post-World War II buildups, the government non-military share was more likely to increase than to decrease.

    …….
    But the social and political gains to the US and the RoW have been huger. The US’s drive to global military supremacy was vital to destroying fascism, defeating communism and disarmng the RoW, without triggering another world war. The US’s sound strategic doctrine (MAD) and steadily improving technical systems (arms race) averted Nuclear War.
    The US’s military prevalence, in the post-1985-pre-2001 era, led to a general global trend towards disamament (the “peace dividend”).

    The runaway advantage has been called by some excessive, yet it yields a perverse positive benefit. Annual global military spending, stated in current dollars, peaked in 1985, at $US1.3 trillion ($A2 trillion), and has been declining since, to $US840 billion in 2002. That is a drop of almost half a trillion dollars in the amount the world spent each year on arms. Other nations accept that the arms race is over.

    ……….
    The US’s superpower status did not come cheap. Stephen Schwarz of the Brookings Insitute performed an audit of US military expenditure for the WWII-Cold War Era and found that the US superpower spent about 1/3 of its total budget, or about 5% of GDP, on general international security during this period.

    The amount spent through 1996 — $5.5 trillion — is 29 percent of all military spending from 1940 through 1996 ($18.7 trillion). This figure… exceed[ed] all other categories of government spending except non-nuclear national defense ($13.2 trillion) and social security ($7.9 trillion). This amounts to almost 11 percent of all government expenditures through 1996 ($51.6 trillion).


    This pacific trend has only lately been reversed. I regret to say.
    Doubtless, with the PRC flexing its muscles over Taiwan, we are in for a period of prolonged sabre rattling.

  18. michael.burgess
    April 19th, 2005 at 11:55 | #18

    Ender, it might be worthwhile noting that the founder of Doctors without Borders supports US intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan. Good to see real French intellectuals (not pseudo ones like Michel Foucault) maintaining their ability to swim against fashionable mainstream opinion.

  19. simon
    April 19th, 2005 at 12:37 | #19

    John,

    Opportunity costs refers to the alternatives that the decision maker had available to them at the time of choice.

    To twist the concept to refer to all the decisions prior to and after is not to be discussing opportunity costs.

    The US action to go to war was framed around 9/11 and perceived threats to national security (real or imagined).

    Framing opportunity costs post hoc without the original context is illogical. We might as well include the benefit of paying off US debt, providing fiber optic to all American households, offering national health care, buying deserving Americans BMWs, space travel, etc.

    I guess what I am saying is why in the world is this a question of opportunity costs given the context of the orginal decision?

  20. John Quiggin
    April 19th, 2005 at 12:44 | #20

    Simon, I’m happy to look at the question either ex ante, that is, in the light of the info available at the time or ex post that is, in the light of current knowledge.

    MB, can you give a source for your claim?

  21. Dave Ricardo
    April 19th, 2005 at 13:12 | #21

    “the founder of Doctors without Borders supports US intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

    Here’s what Nicolas de Torrente, Executive Director, MSF-USA, has to say on the subject. (I don’t know if this guy is the founder of MSF, but he runs it now.) All of the following are extracts from his speeches and can be doctorswithoutborders.org. I apologise for the Strocchi length of this post. The gist is that nowhere does he say he supports the US intervention. He sticks to humanitarian crisis matters, and he criticises the US for integating humanitarian aid with political and military goals.

    Briefing to the UN Security Council on the Humanitarian Situation in Iraq. April 9th, 2003

    “The US/UK coalition has made the provision of assistance to the Iraqi population a cornerstone of its war effort, promising to deliver food and medicine to win over the goodwill of public opinion, both in Iraq and abroad. In areas where US/UK control is becoming more established, aid is starting to be delivered by military forces, according to their responsibilities as an Occupying Power under the 4th Geneva Convention. While the population can benefit from this assistance if it is equitable and effective, by visibly making relief assistance a tool of the coalition’s military and political agenda, our concern is that safety and access of independent humanitarian aid workers to populations in need could be severely compromised.

    In addition to the military providing assistance, the US government has also made efforts to enlist aid organizations in support of its agenda. As an example, US-based humanitarian organizations have been prohibited from accessing Southern and Central Iraq by US sanctions, while preparations are currently being made to organize their entry into zones secured by the coalition. Our concern is that this highly visible “hearts and minds” strategy may fuel dangerous suspicions that all humanitarian activities, and international aid personnel, are identified to the US/UK coalition and working on its behalf.”

    More recently, 11/30/04 Ethics & International Affairs Launch (Carnegie Council, New York City), he said

    “In my article in Ethics & International Affairs, I argue — which is also the concern of MSF — that for a number of reasons, the integration of humanitarian assistance into a common framework with political and military actors is a very harmful trend. Most importantly, such kind of integration is unnecessary and unjustified. While it looks fine in principle to save lives while simultaneously trying to promote peace, build security, and enhance development, in fact, when you look at what happens on the ground, you actually see that integration injects a different kind of logic to humanitarian assistance, doing away with the traditional humanitarian principles of impartiality (the delivery of aid according to needs alone) and neutrality (aid organizations don’t take political sides in conflicts). Integration injects into humanitarian action the logic of development assistance — that it is permissible to give aid conditionally, and use it as a carrot or stick to reward and punish; that it is permissible to be selective and give aid to those who could be useful to the political purpose of development and deny them when they are not; that aid could sometimes be withheld in the present if it is believed that doing so would be helpful in achieving future goals. Allowing such trade-offs, however, when the immediate and severe needs of a lot of people are at stake, is extremely harmful, and I give specific examples of how in my article.

    In the article, I draw from the analysis in a book that MSF published earlier this year, entitled In the Shadow of ‘Just Wars’, that tries to categorize the response to crises around the world. There are three main categories:

    1. The first category brings us to the current cases of Iraq and Afghanistan. It is the type of response that occurs when governments intervene militarily and say, “This is a strategic concern of ours; let’s intervene militarily and let’s associate humanitarian aims with the purpose of our intervention”. In these cases, there are dangers for humanitarian assistance; aid is viewed by forces on the ground as partisan, or as an extension of the political or military agenda. This is what we have seen happening in Iraq and Afghanistan, and this is the major reason why humanitarian workers have become the intentional targets of murderous attacks.
    ….
    The integrated approach itself is not what is attacking us, nor is it the United States’ policy that is attacking aid workers in Iraq — but they are a contributing factor in provoking attack. These attacks are happening in the context of an integrated approach of U.S. policies in Afghanistan and Iraq, where the integration of aid into military policy has increased the likelihood of aid workers being attacked.

    …..
    I don’t have an easy answer as to how we get out of our current predicament in Iraq or Afghanistan. The solution that I have heard so far — “this is a new world, forget your principles, get on with the program, take armed protection, go with the U.S. forces” — is not the right thing for us to do, not just from a principled, but also from a practical point of view.”

  22. michael.burgess
    April 19th, 2005 at 13:13 | #22

    John here is one source -LIFESAVER HERO:
    BERNARD KOUCHNER by Babak from Fredericksburg
    http://myhero.com/myhero/hero.asp?hero=kouchner_fredericksburg_04

  23. Homer Paxton
    April 19th, 2005 at 13:26 | #23

    Michael, I think you are floundering.
    The only countries that have been affected by Iraq are the Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan.
    Iraq still has plenty of work to do before it gets there.Have a look at what happened under Churchill & Lawrence!

    I hardly think George was thinking of Islamists winning in Egypt etal when he conducted his illegal invasion

  24. Katz
    April 19th, 2005 at 13:39 | #24

    The Truman Doctrine was based on the proposition that the most efficacious way to stabilise a nation and to prevent it from falling into the enemy camp was for the US to fund the reconstruction of civil society. In American eyes that meant support for a capitalist society and encouragement of the growth of a middle class. “Middle class” was code for consumer.

    These principles stabilised Europe and reconstructed Japan. However, for various reasons the US lost sight of those methods during the 1950s and 1960s. (The credibility accorded by Eisenhower and Kennedy to Alan Dulles’s assertion that the CIA could achieve American ambitions cheaper and quicker has something to do with that amnesia. The fiasco of Vietnam was the Gotterdammerung of the Dulles approach.)

    It is vital to note, however, that the Truman Doctrine was formulated in the context of a virtual US monopoly of the production of those consumer goods that signified middle class life. The Marshall Plan and similar programs could be sold to American voters because they subsidised American jobs.

    This state of affairs is no longer the case. If a middle class consumerist society rose in Iraq (an unlikely event on current trends) they would buy Japanese or Chinese electronic goods and drive around in BMWs. This likely outcome constitutes a hard sell to American economic nationalists. In 2005 only the armament industry employs American beneficiaries of US foreign policy in large numbers.

    On the other hand, Halliburton perceives enormous benefits in the present structure of US financial engagement with the world.

    PS MB, If Michel Foucault had anything to say about US engagement in the Iraq war, I’d be inclined to listen to him as he has been dead since 1984 and would therefore be presumed to have some privileged information. (Unless of course he is in post-modern heaven, a place subject to an unreliable deity).

  25. michael.burgess
    April 19th, 2005 at 13:51 | #25

    Katz, I did not suggestthat Michel Foucault had commented on the Iraq war – please don’t misrepresent me. I simply suggested that BERNARD KOUCHNER was a genuine French intellectual not a phoney like Foucault who many in anglo-saxon countreis seem to prefer.

  26. John Quiggin
    April 19th, 2005 at 14:18 | #26

    From your link, MB, the position taken by Kouchner seems less pro-war than you indicate

    Most recently, Kouchner has stepped up to the platform on his opinions of the Iraq War. When most of his fellow Frenchmen were against the idea of entering, he supported it. “Saddam Hussein was perhaps the most bloodthirsty dictator after Hitler and Stalin,” Kouchner said. “We can defend the oil of Kuwait, but not the people of Iraq.” (International Herald Tribune). However, in a press conference of last year, he continued to say that now the focus should be on the actual people themselves, and that they are the only ones that can say yes or no to war. At the meeting, two Iraqi expatriates were there. One thanked him, saying that what he said was true. The other said his, “no to Saddam, no to warâ€? was no stance at all, and that he could not have it both ways.

    Homer, I think you’re conceding unnecessary ground on Ukraine and Kyryzstan. There’s no evidence Iraq had anything to do with either and in fact, by emboldening Putin, it has had some effects in the opposite direction.

  27. April 19th, 2005 at 15:06 | #27

    If you must cite 1920s British involvement in Iraq as a comparison, you should also examine 1930s dyarchy approaches. The legitimacy of US involvement from the ’50s on is undercut by the fact that they stopped that evolutionary improvement in its tracks as part of a misguided sense of how to wind back imperialism.

  28. michael.burgess
    April 19th, 2005 at 15:12 | #28

    John, I’ll concede (reading a few other of his comments) that Kouchner’s position on Iraq is somewhat more nuanced than I implied. Very interesting guy though.

  29. April 19th, 2005 at 15:53 | #29

    This is an post I wrote on my blog – it has relevance if you think the invasion has produced good results.

    The illegal invasion and occupation of Iraq has only lead to more instability in the region. Read this quote from an article from the Washington Post as confirmation. link http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A21679-2005Feb13.html

    “This is a government that will have very good relations with Iran. The Kurdish victory reinforces this conclusion. Talabani is very close to Tehran,” said Juan Cole, a University of Michigan expert on Iraq. “In terms of regional geopolitics, this is not the outcome that the United States was hoping for.”

    Added Rami Khouri, Arab analyst and editor of Beirut’s Daily Star: “The idea that the United States would get a quick, stable, prosperous, pro-American and pro-Israel Iraq has not happened. Most of the neoconservative assumptions about what would happen have proven false.”

    The results have long-term implications. For decades, both Republican and Democratic administrations played Baghdad and Tehran off each other to ensure neither became a regional giant threatening or dominant over U.S. allies, notably Saudi Arabia and the oil-rich Gulf sheikdoms.

    But now, Cole said, Iraq and Iran are likely to take similar positions on many issues, from oil prices to U.S. policy on Iran. “If the United States had decided three years ago to bomb Iran, it would have produced joy in Baghdad,” he added. “Now it might produce strong protests from Baghdad.”

    I guess that they can say “It seemed like a good idea at the time”.

    The decision to invade Iraq will go down in history with Hitler’s invasion of Russia – A total and unmitigated disaster that proved the downfall of the invading country. As if Vietnam was not enough. Imagine how devastated the military leaders of the USA are after recovering the Army from the disaster in Vietnam and rebuilding an Army second to none with high moral, only to have it squandered in an operation that was doomed from the start. Imagine how the people in the State department feel after carefully maintaining the status-quo in the middle east only to have a bunch of amateur buffoons come in and invade a county to turn it over the the largest enemy power, Iran, in a ‘democratic’ election.

    Now how is the US going to deal with this? Is it as the world champion of demaocracy and peace going to leave Iraq to sort out its own problems and destiny – NO WAY. How is this for horrifying? This quote from this article.

    To head off this threat of a Shi’ite clergy-driven religious movement, the US has, according to Asia Times Online investigations,resolved to arm small militias backed by US troops and entrenched in the population to “nip the evil in the bud”.

    Asia Times Online has learned that in a highly clandestine operation, the US has procured Pakistan-manufactured weapons, including rifles, rocket-propelled grenade launchers, ammunition, rockets and other light weaponry. Consignments have been loaded in bulk onto US military cargo aircraft at Chaklala airbase in the past few weeks. The aircraft arrived from and departed for Iraq.

    The US-armed and supported militias in the south will comprise former members of the Ba’ath Party, which has already split into three factions, only one of which is pro-Saddam Hussein. They would be expected to receive assistance from pro-US interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi’s Iraqi National Accord.

    A military analyst familiar with strategic and proxy operations commented that there is a specific reason behind procuring arms from Pakistan, rather than acquiring US-made ones.

    “A similar strategy was adopted in Afghanistan during the initial few years of the anti-USSR resistance [the early 1980s] movement where guerrillas were supplied with Chinese-made AK-47 rifles [which were procured by Pakistan with US money], Egyptian and German-made G-3 rifles. Similarly, other arms, like anti-aircraft guns, short-range missiles and mortars, were also procured by the US from different countries and supplied to Pakistan, which handed them over to the guerrillas,” the analyst maintained.

    The obvious reason for this tactic is to give the impression that the resistance acquired its arms and ammunition from different channels and from different countries – and anywhere other than the United States.

    This is utter lunacy and repeats the human disasters in Central America. If this source is true then how can the US be the champions of peace . Apparently it is conspiring with the very people it claimed it was invading to overthrow!!!!!!!!

  30. michael.burgess
    April 19th, 2005 at 16:42 | #30

    Ender, to equate Iraq with vietnam or US interventions in Central America is just plain silly.

  31. Hal9000
    April 19th, 2005 at 16:43 | #31

    Iraq and other military commitments aside, it seems the National Missile Defence Program, which the Federation of American Scientists seems to believe is ill-conceived, technologically unfeasible (http://www.fas.org/spp/index.html) and morally bankrupt is one area where choices about huge expenditures are still available. We’re looking at a program that is at present soaking up $US50 billion a year. It seems difficult to believe the money wouldn’t be better spent eradicating malaria or providing drinking water to the third world. Such aid expenditure might also have the ancillary advantage of refuting the notion at present impelling those prospective recruits into the ranks of terrorists that the US is in some way an arrogant, greedy imperial power. Military expenditures seem to fail on that front every time, for some reason.

    Meanwhile, the argument that aid is always pernicious, a favorite of Helen Hughes, begs the question – if aid is pernicious, then the plunder/enslavement etc that characterised imperial powers’ interaction with said third world must have been beneficial! Strangely, this argument doesn’t appear to blend well with common sense. Although doubtless there will be those that will argue the slave trade benefitted economies of both the ‘donor’ and slave-owning nations. I’ve read enough of this blog now to be sure there’ll be those who would run even that line!

  32. April 19th, 2005 at 16:52 | #32

    Hal9000, you appear to have bought into the US stereotype of what imperialism was. As much as anything, that was what imperialism displaced – although that kind of damage was also done by Europeans. For an example, see how these days the Belgians get the blame for what King Leopold did in the Congo Free State. It usually isn’t appreciated that the intervention of Belgium proper put an end to those things, or that simply backing off wasn’t an option as it would have given the Arab raiders a free hand.

    There’s a lot more to be said on the subject, but perhaps here and now aren’t the place and time for it.

    P.S., the very beginning of African slavery saved the lives of male captives who would otherwise have been discarded as a bycatch from the domestic slave trade.

  33. April 19th, 2005 at 17:19 | #33

    michael.burgess
    “Ender, to equate Iraq with vietnam or US interventions in Central America is just plain silly.”

    You may say it is silly however a lot of people are doing it.

    First of all how stupid would you have to be if you thought that the invasion of Iraq had anything to do with WMDs – none were found.

    Second how bad does a dictator have to be before the US invades. Or does the dictator also have to have lots of oil.

  34. michael.burgess
    April 19th, 2005 at 18:15 | #34

    Ender, Firstly anyone who claims to support social justice should at least consider the value of removing SH by force whatever the reasons given. Basically people like you hate the likes of John Howard more than you do dictators. Second, WMDs might not have been found but SH had them before (ask the Kurds) was given many years to disarm, and had every intention of acquiring them in the future. The claim that the whole think was a lie because no wmds existed is a bigger lie than anything fib Bush etc have told.

  35. April 19th, 2005 at 19:46 | #35

    Oh yes, the 0.7% of GDP target. Posted on that back in January, did a bit of number crunching there. I remember that if Australia was to be involved in the same plan it would be equal to just under $4 billion per year.

    I personally think that such a contribution should be seperate to the cost of any military action. They are two seperate things and while they may have similar effects, one should not just be substituted for the other.

  36. April 19th, 2005 at 19:49 | #36

    John, you should consider opportunity cost under the USA’s objectives. Government funded international aid is not just aimless charity, but an integral part of foreign policy. Therefore, comparing military intervention in Iraq with malaria reduction in Africa may not make much sense.

  37. April 19th, 2005 at 21:00 | #37

    Luis, what do you suggest was the strict foreign policy reason the USA has occupied Iraq? Most here have so far concluded that it was indeed a charitable action. If you continueto make such wild claims you could at least provide references.

  38. April 19th, 2005 at 21:58 | #38

    Mr Burgess
    First of all I do not hate anybody. That is a perogative of your side of the fence.

    I do not like a person that lies. JH has consistantly lied and exploited peoples fears for his political gain. A very successful strategy however but no-one really like skunks – they may respect them because of their smell but in the end they just smell bad.

    Perhaps if JH had gone into the war with the stated intention of removing SH then it would have at least been honest. Instead he went to Iraq categorically stating that regime change was not his agenda. Only when WMDs were not found was removing SH made the primary objective. He also deceived us with bogus intelligence that he forced the Australian intelligence community to produce.

    The WMDs that SH used were supplied with US know-how and directed with US satellite intelligence that he was privy to while he was mates with the US. There is a classic picture of SH and Donnie Rumsfeld shaking hands from about this time. Perhaps he was telling him not to gas Kurds then. The punishment of the crimes that SH commited were not and never were the prime objective of the neo-cons. In the end we became SH in our savagery and commited the atrocities of Abu-Graib and Fallujah. Pathetic claims of government talking heads that Australians never interrogated prisoners only interviewed them was disgusting.

    SH was given many years to disarm and he did as evidenced by results after the invasion. This was confirmed by 2 UN teams who conducted extensive surveys of Iraq before the invasion however these results were ignored. There was no need to invade – the sanctions and inspections worked.

    SH was a brutal dictator who daresay deserved exactly what he got however when you look at the pictures of Abu Graib do you really think the price was worth it. What do you say to 1500 soldiers families. There is no use getting rid of brutal dictators if we just become brutal invaders.

  39. Hal9000
    April 20th, 2005 at 09:21 | #39

    P.M. Lawrence, I don’t think I’m buying into any stereotype of imperialism and slavery to suggest they were basically plunder operations. To point to some mitigating features is not to excuse. As the cliche goes, there’s a silver lining to every black cloud: the slaughter of the Great War was no doubt a career boost for the survivors; the savagery of the Spanish conquest of the Americas was probably beneficial for those who might otherwise have been sacrificed for Quetzalcoatl and the native Americans got their revenge by getting Europe hooked on tobacco. In the history of imperialism, plunder always preceded and trumped white man’s burden. In the case of the Congo, it was the publicity given to the macabre brutality of Leopold’s regime that forced Belgian intervention. 40 years of subsequent Belgian rule did not however leave the Congo over-burdened with capital infrastructure or an educated population.

  40. April 20th, 2005 at 11:05 | #40

    Yes, Hal9000, you are butying into a mistaken concept of imperialism. They were not basically plunder operations – they superseded those. Granted, they were also exploitative – but in a different way. Go and check the facts, for instance how the Dutch changed their ways after the British interregnum in the East Indies.

    None of this is justification, except in a lesser evil sense. It is, however, a suggestion that you sort out what you are talking about and not confuse the sheepdog with the wolf. I’m not suggesting that the dog doesn’t live off the flock, or that it isn’t rather similar in kind and orientation.

  41. iangould
    April 20th, 2005 at 15:46 | #41

    “to equate Iraq with vietnam …is just plain silly.”

    Cheap shot: Yes, George Buch went to Iraq.

  42. iangould
    April 20th, 2005 at 15:51 | #42

    P.M Lawrence’s defence of imperialism reminds me of Abrham Lincoln’s comment regarding slavery: “There is not a man alive but knows slavery is wrong FOR HIMSELF”. (That’s an approximate paraphrase.)

    Isn’t it strange how every nation that was ever subject to imperial control chose to reject it?

  43. April 20th, 2005 at 17:59 | #43

    Ian Gould et al – where do you get the idea that that was a defence, other than by projection and stereotyping? I’m just trying to point out that there are different sorts of things going on, that imperialism is not about plundering any more than a parasite in the business for the long haul is in the business of killing its host. I’m objecting to the stereotyping, I haven’t even described any particular feautures of empires in general or the British Empire in particular yet. But until we can clear the ground, agree on the subject matter, there’s no point.

    But I will restate the point at issue using a less emotional analogy: you can’t blame sustainable agriculture for the wastefulness of slash and burn agriculture, and until you’re willing to make the distinction you can’t sort out what you are talking about.

  44. Hal9000
    April 21st, 2005 at 14:02 | #44

    P.M. Lawrence “Ian Gould et al – where do you get the idea that that was a defence, other than by projection and stereotyping?” Er, “the very beginning of African slavery saved the lives of male captives who would otherwise have been discarded as a bycatch from the domestic slave trade” – that’s where. If I were to make statements like “Stalin’s purges actually were a good thing in that they saved millions from being duped by Communism” or “the razing of Tokyo actually benefitted Tokyo’s citizens by enabling them to build a shiny new city, creating jobs for millions” pardon me, but I’d sound like an apologist too.

  45. April 21st, 2005 at 15:38 | #45

    Where did you get the idea that that was about imperialism? That was the 16th and maybe 17th century scenario. Imperialism was what came along in the 18th century. I thought I’d avoided that confusion by saying “the very beginning”, i.e. before the overseas slave trade started driving slave raids. It may be worth mentioning that imperialism also involved stopping the slaving at its source. For self-centred reasons among others, no doubt, but it was part of changing short term exploitation for long term exploitation.

    You are starting from your conclusions and interpreting any facts or discarding them according to how well they fit your preconceptions. But that’s just how the USA gets the idea that what it’s doing now isn’t imperialist; it just says “imperialism is when you do such and such, and this isn’t that, so it’s OK” – completely ignoring that they don’t actually know what empires were, how they tried to remain at arms length and exploit at a distance without territorial gain except as pushed into it by forward policies, the logic of empire that says you cannot stay still but must go forward or go back.

  46. April 21st, 2005 at 15:39 | #46

    P.S., “P.S.” means something else. You jumped to the conclusion that I was addressing the same point from your earlier remarks, not a separate one – even if you thought they were all part and parcel of empire.

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