Defining victory down

Lots of people have already commented on the announcement that the Bush Administration plans to cease funding reconstruction programs in Iraq when the existing allocation of $18.5 billion is exhausted. Some comments, here, here and here. Coming late, there’s not much for me to do but survey the field and toss in some numbers.

The numbers first. From the article in the WP it appears that at least $6 billion of the reconstruction money has gone directly to various aspects of counterinsurgency. In addition, around 25 per cent of each project goes to security. That leaves about $9 billion.

Corruption[1] and the general increase in costs associated with dangerous work mean that the cost of general services is inflated, I’d guess by at least 50 per cent, and probably more. So, the effective expenditure on civil reconstruction would be around $6 billion.

How does that compare to what would have been needed to achieve the minimal victory condition of making things no worse than they were shortly before the war (which means much worse than in, say, 1980, 1990 or 2000). Shortly after the war I estimated the cost of such a program at between $25 billion and $50 billion and other estimates I saw were similar. The subsequent years of insurgency and civil strife would probably have doubled that. In The Assassin’s Gate, George Packer estimate the damage caused by postwar looting alone at $12 billion[2].

In these circumstances, it’s not surprising that Iraqis are worse off, on the majority of economic and social measures, from mortality to power supplies, than they were before the invasion. And it’s hard to see how such an outcome can be described as “complete victory” or how even a partial military victory is going to be feasible once the reconstruction work stops, presumably throwing thousands of people out of work in the process.

I can’t see how this makes any sense at all, except in the context of plans for a rapid and complete pullout. Why spend another $100 billion or so on military efforts which are now pretty much pointless?

As I said, lots of people have posted already, but from what I can see, nearly all the comments have come from opponents of the war and of the Bush Administration. I’m not interested in a “silence of the hawks” pointscoring exercise, but I’d really be interested to know what supporters of the war have made of this. In particular:

(1) has the accuracy of the Washington post been disputed?
(2) has anyone defended the decision to stop reconstruction funding ?
(3) has anyone changed their mind about support for the war as a result of this ?

I would have thought that any remaining liberal and left supporters of the war ought to realise by now that, whatever the abstract merits of the case for overthrowing Saddam, they backed the wrong horse in supporting Bush and Blair to do it.

fn1. As an aside, the corruption in the current reconstruction appears to be on much the same scale as in the Oil-for-Food program. In both cases, corruption was inevitable given the circumstances. While individuals involved in corruption should be prosecuted, it was silly to condemn Oil-for-Food, which saved tens of thousands of lives, because Saddam managed to skim money off the top, and it’s equally silly to oppose Iraqi reconstruction because the Halliburtons and Chalabhis have their fingers in the till.

fn2. It’s worth recalling that looting wasn’t the product of mere neglect. It was condoned and sometimes actively encouraged by both Britain and the US, and cheered on by pro-war bloggers.

64 thoughts on “Defining victory down

  1. I guess it’s time for the Iraqis to be responsible for their own prosperity. America can’t keep putting money into Iraq forever. America has its own financial problems!

    I’ve deleted the rest of a long, offensively-worded and incoherent comment, on the assumption that “Pablo” is yet another sock-puppet/troll. if this is incorrect, Pablo, please stick to one or two paras, civilised discourse and some kind of point

  2. Didn’t they say “If you break it, it’s yours”? And didn’t they say “You know where you stand with GWB”?

    …excuse me for being underwhelmed.

  3. I wonder what financial problems Pablo is referring to. It couldn’t be that America is not making as much money from Iraqi oil as they hoped they would?

  4. “(1) has the accuracy of the Washington post been disputed?”

    repeatedly. On this issue, who knows?

    “(2) has anyone defended the decision to stop reconstruction funding ?”

    I’m not sure “stop” is the correct word. Obviously US funding for reconstruction in Iraq is not limitless. For some people, no amount would ever be sufficient because they disagreed with the action to begin with and see permanent reconstruction funding as some sort of required penance for the US. We never planned to make Iraq a state and even if we had so planned, funding for US states isn’t limitless, there will be limits to federal funding for Katrina reconstruction also. Iraq differs a bit from other US reconstructions such as that in Germany in that it has oil it can sell to fund its reconstruction. I’ve heard it said that the best way for any state to become prosperous is to get into a conflict with the US that leads to war. We do tend to be very generous after defeating an opponent.

    “(3) has anyone changed their mind about support for the war as a result of this ?”

    No, I’m for freedom for Iraqis. I’m delighted they will be charting their own course rather than being dictated to by Saddam.

    “I would have thought that any remaining liberal and left supporters of the war ought to realise by now that, whatever the abstract merits of the case for overthrowing Saddam, they backed the wrong horse in supporting Bush and Blair to do it.”

    I can’t imagine how anyone could tell the Iraqi people that they shouldn’t have been electing their own leaders this month or voting on a constitution last year. While it would have been great had the entire world told Saddam that he had to go, the reality is that only the US and UK had the muscle to actually make it happen.

  5. avaroo is a superb example of exactly the phenomenon being talked about; notice how on every point the question is evaded and/or the goalposts shifted. Bravo!

  6. JQ deleted the rest of my post… 😦

    It wasn’t ‘offensive’, it just hit too close to home when I stated that Lefties don’t care about Iraqi people at all.

    Their interest in the war all boils down to getting pathetic “gotcha” points against certain Western politicians who have beaten Leftists in elections.

    It couldn’t be that America is not making as much money from Iraqi oil as they hoped they would?

    That is truly sad if someone actually out there still thinks like this. Walk north brave comrade! Kim has created a workers paradise….but the Americans want to steal his glorious forestry industry…. 🙂

  7. Oil-For-Food isn’t disparaged by the pro-war neocandria for its ineptitude and corruption. It is disparaged for its usefulness in supporting longstanding delusional Republican UN conspiracy theories (i.e. narratives of the kind that climax with married homosexual Dutch troops in silly blue helmets confiscating their guns). Any cost benefit analysis of its merits misses the point. As we have seen over and over and exasperatingly over again, Republicans are not adverse to a little corruption (not least of the kind that got us into this war in the first place- check campaign contributions from the energy and defense industries).

    As for the war, I was and continue to be conflicted. If I had to make a forecast, I would say that it was a colossal mistake, but that is predicated on the fledgling Iraqi state failing, which it seems increasingly likely to do as a result of sectarian enmity fed by US incompetence (with different constituencies focusing on different players each according to their agendas). But I remain conflicted because, you never know. And the extent of reconstruction of a country is really no means to evaluate whether Iraq is better off. I for one would rather live in a dilapidated free country than bow to any dear leader on a daily basis. And a free country holds out the hope of a better tomorrow in a way that a repressive autocracy never could. And saying that, even though Bush and Blair (but, let’s face it, Bush, i.e. Cheney and Rumsfeld), botched the effort beyond imagination, is it really possible to imagine this war would’ve happened under a different set of leaders? I for one can’t. Some credit then is owed to Bush, if begrudgingly, if this does turn out well.

    For the person who asserts that the Washington Post has repeatedly been shown to be unreliable, it would be nice if you included a single example. Not that the veracity of whichever news outlet you download your opinions from is unassailable, but I find these kind of passing dismissive comments to be a disturbing display of intellectual dishonesty.

  8. Is it only the extremes from left or right to make the effort to post on this subject?
    Many on the left not giving an inch that in principle regime change and democracy is in principle a good thing while those on the right get defensive about the incompetency, corruption, excessive collateral damage and oil motivations.

    Given that when lives are at risk and war should be considered a last resort one can understand the position of many of the left, while the extreme right have shown how easy it is to go into denial and extreme rationalizations rather than face the fact that their side are run by incompetent Neocon f&^kups blinded by their own ideology.

    Now that Pablo is the really sad thing.

    Almost as sad as the US administration trying to justify the use of torture. You want to defend that one?

    One would wonder whether within Neocon ranks there is a KGB sleeper who has helped engineer US policy aimed at ending US global dominance by getting the US to do exactly what it shouldn’t do to make the US hated in the world and bleed US military power, as revenge for the collapse of the USSR.

    Either that or it just shows what ignorance and incompetence can do to a countries foreign policy.

  9. You’re definitely getting more obviously partisan JQ. That link to support your assertion that the US condoned looting is to a web opinion piece written during the 2004 Presidential election campaign. Ripper source.

    Next time don’t bother with a link – just tell us a friend told you it was true.

  10. ====
    Almost as sad as the US administration trying to justify the use of torture. You want to defend that one?

  11. well go ahead.

    Tell why the Commander in Chief, because of the Exceptional Circumstances of 9/11, and the dangers of WMD in the hands of Al Quaida via Saddam who is an Exceptionally bad man, and WMD , and mushroom cloud. .. decided to take the country to war , because if we fight them over there we won’t need to fight them over here, and WMD, and terrosists ,,and and freedom!!!
    Oh and we don’t do torture – well we do but it’s only because of 9/11 and Exceptional Circumstances and , wiretaps – well that’s to protect our freedoms. Who wouldn’t?

  12. Orang, but the torture and wiretaps are only temporary measures for the duration of the war on terror – just ask the same people who say the war will last decades.

  13. RWDBs should set fire to the brags, threats, plans, promises and commitments issued by the Bush administration on the subject of the future of Iraq.

    At least the flames will keep them warm.

    The Left should get over the moral critique of Bush’s Iraq fiasco. That’s just singing to the choir.

    The question are, as they always have been: insight, competence, resolve.

    Bush scores F- on all three counts.

    The American electorate will have something to say abut this between now and Nov this year.

  14. Katz Says:

    “The American electorate will have something to say abut this between now and Nov this year.”

    I hope you’re right. Although in reality what are the alternatives. The Democrats.? Scary aint it.

    The last time I wooopeed for democracy in action was when the Spaniards voted out their GWB genitalia licking moron. No wait – that was when they appeased the terrosists. Typical limp wristed Europeans-no resolve.

  15. Orang, the reason I referred to the US political season as an ongoing process is that I believe that many of the more interesting contests will be within the Republican Party during the primaries between Bushites and a range of Bush haters, including isolationists, paleoconservatives, fundos who perceive that Bush has betrayed them, and liberal Republicans.

    The big losers will be anyone who has used NeoCon talking points.

    The result is likely to be an accelerated process of Vietnamisation Lite in Iraq, regardless of whether the Democrats win control of the Congress.

  16. GWB will make the ad-nausea state of the union address shortly, and can expect an inevitable rise in his approval rating. What will be telling is how long this spike lasts for.

  17. Pablo don’t forget about rendition, the sending of prisoners to countries that have a record of using torture methods worse than the ones used by the US.

    Funny that even the new definition used by the US is outlawed by the Geneva Convention.

    Oh but they are enemy combatants not soldiers of the signatories, well that’s just convenient isn’t it!

    If you act like a war criminal I can then act like a war criminal, great moral stance to take for the leader of the free world to lower its standard to that of the criminals they oppose.

  18. I think, quite clearly, if you define Iraq in terms of some kind of model state, this goal is clearly failing. It is essentially a failed state right now, and I think it is unlikely this is going to change for a long time. I don’t think Iraq will fall apart, but this isn’t impossible either. Needless to say, it will a poor, corrupt, lawless, and illiberal society for a long time to come, where the law of the gun will mean a lot more than the law of the book. While Saddam was a brutal tyrant, there were certain elements of society that were probably better off with the status quo, particularly the technocratic middle class which was the heart and soul of the Baath Party. Remember, the Baath Party only took its sinister cast after Hussein’s coup d’etat in 1979. Previously, the Baath Party was seen as a secular, modernizing party in what Iraqi expats and the shrinking indigenous middle class remember as the golden age of the 1970s. What the post 2003 war has enabled is the political ascendance of previously marginalized and persecuted Shi’ite religious elements and the Kurds.

    As to the larger geopolitical implications, I don’t think they are necessarily as disastorous for the US. The US now has a larger regional footprint, which will allow it to exert more pressure than previously. It probably won’t be able to do this as effectively vis-a-vis Iran, which has also gained geopolitical advantage through the invasion, but I think it will vis-a-vis Syria and even supposedly “friendly” regimes like Jordan and Saudia Arabia (which if you read Stratfor’s George Friedman, was precisley the point). Unless Iraq completely falls apart, I think the US will able to gain something from the conflict.

    As to the larger humanitarian point, it certainly can’t be discounted. As I note, Hussein was unquestionably a brutal tyrant, essentially a mob boss who lucked out. Nevertheless, the way the war unfolded, the action is and is going to be generally regarded as a violation of international law, a kind of vigilanteism on the world stage by most of the planet outside a portion of the English speaking world, that has worked to undermine the US (and to a lesser extent, the UK’s) moral standing and global image. It is also certain that the US and UK deliberately exaggerated the threat Hussein presented, and the subsequent revelation of no WMDs seriously and probably fatally undercuts the possibility of a future “pre-emptive” war. While it is true that much of the world’s intelligence agencies figured Hussein still had some kind of chemical/biological program, it was and clearly today is clear that to try to represent Saddam Hussein as some kind of mortal threat to the US was laughable.

    So in other words, I think the picture that is beginning to emerge is profoundly mixed:
    1) on the one hand, many Iraqis – undoubtedly most Iraqis – are glad to see the back of Hussein.
    2) However, the elements of Iraqi society that have generally benefitted the most are quite reactionary. Also it is clear that much of the new order has substantial ties to the Iranian state and clerical establishment.
    3) The “state” that now exists is barely that, and clearly does not and will not exist as a model of democratic reform for the rest of the middle east. What Iraq ressembles more than anything else is the Palestinian Terriotiries.
    4) The US, nevertheless, has from a purely geostrategic p.o.v. improved its position in the greater middle east at the cost of spending significant moral capital in the larger global arena.

  19. Here’s one of the reasons why the Bush administration is required to go into semantical engineering over victory conditions in Iraq;

    Paul Bremer (remember him?) has asserted that the Bush administration didn’t expect the insurgency after occupation of Baghdad. This ludicrous act of self-deception, of course, was the script provided to the Bush administration by its then ascendant neocon policymakers.

    “Bremer said he raised his concerns about the numbers and quality of forces with President George W. Bush, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and senior military officials.

    “But he told NBC “there was a tendency by people in the Pentagon to exaggerate the capability of the Iraqi forces and I felt it was not likely we would have professionally trained forces to allow us to withdraw American forces in the spring of 2004.”

    “Asked if he believes he did everything he could do in Iraq, Bremer replied, “I believe I did everything I could do. … The president, in the end, is responsible for making decisions,” the network reported.”

    Bremer is thus tipping a huge bucket all over the Chimp.

    Will the Chimp ask Bremer to return his medal?

  20. In response to JQ Questions – Some Answers

    (1)has the accuracy of the Washington post been disputed?

    No, the administration is just running this to see what the wider reaction is going to be is my bet, while they may not like the ‘Post’ feeding it back via another source is an old intel trick.

    (2) has anyone defended the decision to stop reconstruction funding ?

    No, they don’t have to. Nobody’s making any money out of this because its all being eaten up in service costs and the evaporating lack of interest by foreign specialist to work there, except the desperate and the naieve. The prospectus in 2003 from Cheney-Rumsfelt-Bush Inc never said anything about hostile tribes and mad religious mullahs, only freedom democracy loving natives. Besides all their doing is reconstructing the reconstruction as every piece of infratstructure they replace is blown up again.

    (3) has anyone changed their mind about support for the war as a result of this ?

    Yep, all of them privately, you can’t civilise these varmits, the oil fields are a dud after all, and downsizing the US military came at a bad time as the upsized their deployment into indian territory. Finally, nobody wants to take up the share offer, the hostile take-over did not work, better to let the Iraqi’s sort it out themselves. More pressing problems with the PRC take-over of the US economy are at hand.

    All in all another GW success, like everything else he has had anything to do with, busted up, broke and a fraud. Pity the poor buggers left there in the wreckage trying to rebuild their homes, lives and nation.

  21. As the world leader in so many things, the US sets the standards.

    The world needs the US to hold to the highest standards.

    This has not happened.

    The fiasco in Iraq has given the go-ahead for other imperiums, high and low, to do just what they want to do: Pandoras box is open.

    They now know how to beat the US.

  22. Before the invasion of Iraq my view was that there were no WMD and that the Americans should have know this if they stopped falling for their own propaganda. I felt that it was a stupid war for America to waste blood and treasure on but probably a more decent thing to do than continuing with sanctions. I figured it made sence for Australia to join in the action if the USA was committed.

    Now I feel that the war may not have been such a bad move in simple geopolitical terms. The French will forgive and forget and if democracy does hold in Iraq then over the long haul it will be a good thing. However if you did a cost benefit analysis the money could probably have been spent far better elsewhere (for instance invading Iran).

  23. ====
    SJM: ‘If you act like a war criminal I can then act like a war criminal, great moral stance to take for the leader of the free world to lower its standard to that of the criminals they oppose’.
    Actions of nations in the international arena are not about ‘morals’, simply practical outcomes. Always have been, always will be.

    SB: “The fiasco in Iraq has given the go-ahead for other imperiums, high and low, to do just what they want to do: Pandoras box is open”.

    And when did nations ever stop trying to do what they want to do? This way of thinking is a trap for people. The ‘great game’ of competitition between nations never stopped. Its just that ordinary people forgot it was on, having such great lives now with their holidays, DVDs, tertiary education, families, restaurants, sport, etc, etc.

  24. Actually, this war is a big risk for the USA in a different way. In 1940 all the best Italian troops and generals were sidelined, and ditto in 1967 for the best Egyptian ones. If the USA gets a real threat thrust upon it by others in the near future, that will compound a real problem in the same way.

  25. ————–

    Please address the issue about standards to look up to.

    Yes, nations attempt to do what they want to do. I’ll rephrase the bit about pandora’s box: In imperial terms, the US is the biggest bully on the block and can/has/could serve the function of keeping lesser bullies in some sort of ‘place’. The US and Britain carried out this type of function against Saddam’s regime for most of the 90’s. The fall of Milosevich was also a good thing. Pity the international community wasn’t on its game before Srebrenica.

    I find it hard to reconcile the actions of America in facing up to the various imperialist totalitarian states of the 20th Century and what is happening in Iraq. Off course!

    The inept prosecution of the war has shown weaknesses in the US military machine. This is not good for future conflicts where international intervention, led by the US, will be needed.

    Whilst shock ‘n aweful seemed to work in Serbia, it didn’t work like it was supposed to in Iraq and there didn’t seem to be any phase 2, 3, 4 to get the job done. The ‘job’ itself has changed as circumstances changed.

    Will exposing these military weaknesses lead to a serious contemplation of the use of nuclear weapons?

    Will the elections in Iraq hand over the reigns of most power to an Iranian style theocracy? The United Islamic Republics of Iran and South Iraq? If so, this would not have been an intention of America in invading Iraq: United under the banner of a fundamentalist and expansionist version of a world religion, wealthy and in control of a major strategic resource, potentially nuclear.

  26. ====
    SB: The inept prosecution of the war has shown weaknesses in the US military machine.
    I don’t agree with that. All wars have mistakes, you just to learn about them in the modern world.

    SB: This is not good for future conflicts where international intervention, led by the US, will be needed.

    That’s a very good point. If Lefties get their wish, and the US departs Iraq prematurely before the country can stabilise, how will that affect the future actions of the US?
    Lefties should be careful what they wish for.

    Will a future US government want to go into foreign countries, try to reform them with new constitutions etc, and pour money and people into them? Commit to a long-haul, economically and politically expensive military intervention, like an Iraq, WW2 Germany or Japan?
    When 3rd World populations are much larger in the future? And in the case of the Muslim World, more radicalised?

    Only for the US government of the day to be slagged off, criticised, and hurt in US domestic politics?
    No, a future US government won’t intervene on the ground.
    A future US government will simply drop bombs from afar.
    Cheap, no casualities, and quick enough for people to mentally digest and forget before the TV ‘news’ sports and weather segment.

  27. This will probably upset some people, but this is not a war folks. This is reconstructing and rebuilding a broken and busted country ala Afghanistan. Bush correctly said ‘mission accomplished’, the US-IRAQI war ended with the entry of US troops into Baghdad. The use of the expression ‘War on Terror’ is merely an obfuscation by the Republicans to gee up the American electorate post 9/11. The americans are now stuck with a very expensive occupational role in a country engaged in a quite vicious and extremist civil-religious war. They can’t control the borders, they have marginal support in the countryside and they have marginal international support. Forget the hears and minds crap, my brothers brother is my brother. This is a typical middle eastern family affair and it isn’t american. They can’t successfully rebuild the infrastructure because they gave the contracts to their cronies at Halliburton-Kellog who are also seen as legitimate targets. If they’d started with Bin Laden family out of Saudi or any other middle eastern business they may have got somewhere. I’m afraid this death by a thousand cuts again. The oil prize is an illusion until the country stabilises, then maybe the US may be a preferred customer, maybe, IF. And until they can manage to get a front government to give titular approval to American intentions they are stuck with the mess, until it coalesces into something else. 2006 is going to be a long year for the ordinary Iraqi and the rest of us.

  28. What happened in Serbia was that air strikes froze ground actions by the Serbians, opening them up to combined operations involving ground forces. When the Russians launched those, the USA scrambled to get into that game before the Russians could get any credit, but the Serbians rolled over in the face of the combined operations before their king was taken so to speak.

    It’s misreporting and rewriting history to leave that out that makes it look as though the Serbs rolled over in the face of air strikes pure and simple. They didn’t.

  29. ——————————————


    I agree with a lot of what you say.

    However, the reconstruction seems to be a fantasy as I believe the main game is now and was always going to be the Shiites [Tribe] avenging and asserting themselves. The Shiites owe the American imperium no favours – The US invasion has now served its purpose and made Iraq a more level playing field.

    A democracy lead by the nose by a theocracy is no democracy at all.

    The Sunni’s should, once again, be asking the US for ‘protection’ against their so so so bad karma. Watch out for an American attempt to rehabilitate and re-empower Baathist’s as a Shiite theocracy in southern Iraq will not please western oil companies.

    I’m still of the view that the entry of American troops into Baghdad was obviously only a part of the ‘Battle of Baghdad’ and not a signifier of victory in Iraq: Occupation Part I. Bleeding obvious.

    The American political leadership [Cheney and Rumsfeld] did so many things so badly in the preparation and prosection of the invasion, and subsequently, that I am nearly just as pissed about their incompetence as their immorality. [See my previous post about the positive role that the US had in the past and could continue to take on the international stage].

    Did I say “immorality” out loud? errr … I meant that they were really “inefficient”.

    At the time, I thought Bu$$$$$$$$$$$hco’s [Halliburton and all the other proto-fascist actions of the Bush regime in supporting the rapacious parts of corporate America etc.] claim of ‘mission accomplished’/’victory’ was a stage managed and cringe inducing [Yes, I am an ozzie – Pronounced with a “z” not an “s”] event straight out of ‘PR for Gullible and Ill-informed Public 101’. Bush’s pseudo-military uniform at this event was a breath-taking piece of theatre/hypocrisy [Or, as I often explain to my pre-adolescent son, who knows about hypocrisy: Ironic humour].

    The American public and the good men and women of the American military have been poorly used.

  30. I attended a session given by Joe Stiglitz at the AEA meetings this morning where he costed the US war effort in Iraq at between $1 trillion to something less than $2 trillion dollars. It was amazing stuff.

    The costs are up to 10 times the official actual estimates. The unofficial claims that the reconstruction and war effort would largely pay for themselves (as they did in the last Gulf conflict) are revealled to be nonsense.

    Nordhaus and others confirmed the reasonableness of the Stiglitz work which increases the earlier astronomical estimates by Nordhaus.

    Perhaps the US administration are trying to recoup some lost pennies by abandoniong the current reconstruction effort. But it will only be pennies relative to the total cost of the war which will presum,ably exceed the cost of the Vietnam War in current dollars.

    Moreover Iraqi reps at the meeting suggested that upping the current effort and, in particular, ensuring the supply of basic services such as electricity, was the only way the US would achieve much at all in Iraq. Unemploymernt among disaffected Iraqi male youth a major reason for ongoing violence and suggested wave of planned privatisations a disaster in this respect.

    I have only a hard copy of the Stiglitz paper but one may be online somewhere. I will try to provide if I can find. It is definitely worth reading.

    Basic issues: Why are the costs of war in general so consistently underestimated and why do economists pay such little attention to such vast expenditures?

    The US social security crisis would be resolved by spending about half what the war costs the US. One could also think about the global war on AIDs or other issues.

  31. >That’s a very good point. If Lefties get their wish, and the US departs Iraq prematurely before the country can stabilise, how will that affect the future actions of the US?

    This “leftie” has consistently argued that the US and it’s allies should increase troop strength in Iraq and prepare to stay there for a decade or longer.

    One of the pragmatic reasons for opposing the war which I mentioned earleir was the conviction that US domestic politics would lead to a premature withdrawal.

    Another was that the misreporting and distortion of the evidence that Saddam had WMDs (much of which was obvious before the war) would undercut the credibility of future intelligence reporting on other rogue states – such as Iran.

    If it does become necessary to take military action to prevent Iran developing nuclear weapons, the Iraq invasion will make it far more difficult to do so.

  32. Harry, if Stiglitz is right, the sum would be enough to replace the cash ‘borrowed’ from the SSTF, if my information is correct.

  33. I think that war is horrible in its effect but sanctions are also.

    For those that opposed the US invasion (as I did) can you give us your perspective on what should have happened with sanctions? Also if the war had been averted do you think that the relevant political will existed to allow sanctions to be lifted?

  34. Terje,

    I can’t take the time to address this in detail at themoment but I was deeply skeptical BEFORE the war about the claimed human cost of the sanctions.

    The funny thing is that the right-wingers who were equally skeptical about those claims before the invasion (because they wanted to justify continuing the sanctions) embraced them enthusiastically after the invasion (becasue they wanted to argue for the invasion).

    The Lancet study suggests that there have been 100,000+ ADDITIONAL deaths in Iraq in the post-invasion period compared with the previous period.

    The French actually put forward a proposal in the lead-up to the invasion to revamp the sanctiosn regime which included the following elements:

    1. Station UN observers on the Iraqi borders to prevent the massive smuggling of oil via Turkey and Jordan.

    2. Remove the Iraqi government entirely from the process of awarding and administering contracts under the Oil for Food program puttign the UN in charge of awarding the permits to trade Iraqi oil and paying the proceeds directly to NGOs and UN agencies such as UNICEF.

    To which I would have added further restrictions on Iraq’s armed forces such as requiring artillery, anti-aircraft systems and armored vehicles to be mothballed under a UN inspection regime.

  35. Ian,

    I understand your point but I think all groups mix and match their statistics to suit their current agenda.

    I accept that lots of people have an axe to grind and we need to be critical in our assessment of all information. However I am interested in the perspective of people here.


  36. Ian,

    Fred Kaplan of Slate has a critique of the Lancet study here:

    Apart from the usual complaints about high degrees of (statistical) error, he makes the more concerning claim that:

    “Daponte (who has studied Iraqi population figures for many years) questions the finding that prewar mortality was 5 deaths per 1,000. According to quite comprehensive data collected by the United Nations, Iraq’s mortality rate from 1980-85 was 8.1 per 1,000. From 1985-90, the years leading up to the 1991 Gulf War, the rate declined to 6.8 per 1,000. After ’91, the numbers are murkier, but clearly they went up. Whatever they were in 2002, they were almost certainly higher than 5 per 1,000. In other words, the wartime mortality rate—if it is 7.9 per 1,000—probably does not exceed the peacetime rate by as much as the Johns Hopkins team assumes.”

    I haven’t gone back to the sources he cites, but the basic claim seems credible – certainly the pre-war mortality figures used by the Lancet are inconsistent with the critiques of the sanctions regime made before the war.

    Like you I view this question as extremely important, and my initial (cautious) support for an invasion (though probably not the actual invasion we were forseeably going to get ) rested on the belief that the status quo was killing a great many Iraqis. I’d be interested in knowing the truth.

  37. Harry, if you search the site for “trillion” you’ll find a similar estimate.

    Paul, the critique by Kaplan (who among other things fails to understand the meaning of a confidence interval) has been thoroughly demolished. A good place to start is Tim Lambert’s site.

  38. >From 1985-90, the years leading up to the 1991 Gulf War, the rate declined to 6.8 per 1,000. After ‘91, the numbers are murkier, but clearly they went up.

    Yes, but it’s incorrect to attribute all that increase to sanctions – for tartes when the oil price crashed in the 1990’s mortality rates wnt up all over the arab world. The war itself would also have had a continuing impact on mortality rates regardless of sanctions.

    As John says, Tim Lambert is the best soruce for information on the Lancet study.

    I agree that the study is imperfect but I think it is highly unlikely that it is so inaccurate that mortality actually fell after the invasion.

  39. speaking of incompetence:

    Lieutenant General Paul Bremer, who led the US civilian occupation authority in Iraq after the 2003 invasion, says he urged that more troops be sent to the country.

    The former diplomat has told NBC that he sent a memo to Mr Rumsfeld suggesting that half a million soldiers would be needed – three times the number deployed by the Bush administration.

    “I never had any reaction from him,” Mr Bremer told NBC’s Brian Williams on Dateline.

  40. A cynical pragmatic anti-American leftie would have made herself busy cheering on US entanglement in Iraq.

    In fact here in Australia, arch-Maoist/Leninist Albert Langer, whose name will be familiar to everyone over a certain age, re-emerged from obscurity to urge US invasion of Iraq.

    This form of Leninist thinking has been pivotal at least once in Australian history. In 1961 the Menzies-led conservative coalition won by a handful of votes in a single Qld electorate. I believe it was Jim Killen who was returned to Canberra on the basis of preferences from the Communist Party.

    The Commos gave their preferences to the Tories because they argued that the Tories would by stupid maladministration bring on the crisis in capitalism. The Commos miscalculated.

    My arguments have been consonant with Ian Gould’s. The US has an important and beneficial role to play in the world. Any US administration, as powerful as it may be, is not powerful enough to achieve anything it sets its mind to,

    The US needs to remember its magnificent foundational principles. The Bush administration has used them for toilet paper.

    The US needs to remember it needs friends.

    The US needs to remember that historically it has been much better at invasion than occupation, One of the reasons for this is that American soldiers are not interested in garrison duties in hostile regions.

    The US must strive to follow sustainable policies.

    The US must not allow failure in Iraq to justify a sulking isolationism.

    And here’s another tip: if a conservative Australian PM suggests to a US President that military adventurism would be a worthwhile policy, the US President should run a mile. Australian conservative PMs are notoriously cynical and self-serving.

  41. Buidling on Katz’s point, I’d say that every generation or so, the US is brillant at Schumpeter’s creative destruction, as a country they have the most elegant and powerful mission statement ever (“Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Zang!) and they have created the most lethal military machine ever.

    However in Bruce Sterling’s words, ” We Americans suck at surrounding the oil wells with land-mines and demanding a check on everybody’s papers. That strategy doesn’t play to our strengths.”

    However the current oligarchy at the controls of the US ship of state are an appalling mixture of 70s Nixion throughbacks and corrupt and/or fundamentalist MBA morons. And they think a weaponised police state is the way to go. Fortunately they’re too stupid to last much longer. I have great faith in America, enough not to worry too much about their leaders. Fuck, they survived some truly appalling administrations even before globalistaion came along to channel and transform all the toxins in the body politic.

    Shorter me: The world is now too big, crazy and interconnected for even corrupt and incompetent US pollies to make a real difference for better or worse.

  42. Wrong,wrong,wrong ,Katz….about Jim Killen and Menzies and the Communist vote in the 1961 federal Elections ,in the brisbane seat of Moreton.In fact the Communist vote was inflated by the fact that they had the “donkey vote”. Their candidate was 1st on the Ballot paper,and Killen followed The donkey vote preferences flowed,as they always do,down the ticket to Killen who held his seat by a tiny margin. Experts said that the”real” communist vote in Moreton followed their actual how-to-vote card and went to Labor. Anyhow,Moreton was never seen as a marginal seat until the election night count showed that it…like all the Q’Land seats ,had shown a huge swing to Labor caused by resentment at the savage”Credit squeze” that Menzies has instigated earlier in 1961. By the way,in the 1974 federal election ,in the vital melbourne marginal seat of Diamond Valley,the sitting Labor member, McKenzie,who had the year before introduced the first private members bill for abortion on demand,held his seat with DLP preferences,inexactly the same way…and the DLP had made a great effort to unseat…but the donkey vote ran down the ticket to Labor…Sorry Katz,but wrong again!!!!

  43. By the way the best way to get a picture of what Iraq is really like is just to read the Iraqi webloggers. “Riverbend” the best of them all ,and recently the winner of an E.U prize for her work,gives a terribly bleak picture. No security,little water,power or basic services,and a life of hardship and privation..and she 2003,welcomed the US nothing but condemnation.. I think that says it all !!!And how come the US still cannot us the road from the airport into Baghdad. Did you see poor old Downer ferried in the other day by helicopter,because the airport road if unusable..!!enough said !

  44. “The US needs to remember its magnificent foundational principles”? It didn’t have any, just a load of warmed over stuff it got via the French philosophes like Helvetius to cloak what it was actually doing, things like keeping slaves, terrorising and ethnically cleansing loyalists, and so on. There wasn’t one of those principles that got applied at face value, impartially regardless of whether the beneficiaries were official good guys or not.

    Oh, and it isn’t a rebuttal to say that the other side were worse (though in fact they weren’t). Two wrongs don’t make a right.

  45. As the world leader in so many things, the US sets the standards.

    The world needs the US to hold to the highest standards.

    This has not happened.

    The fiasco in Iraq has given the go-ahead for other imperiums, high and low, to do just what they want to do: Pandoras box is open.

    They now know how to beat the US.

  46. I can’t imagine what “standards” anyone thinks the US sets for the ROTW. Or who exactly would be “holding the US to any standards”. What would give anyone outside the US the right to hold the US to anything?

    Imperiums already do what they want to do, and they always have.

    “Beat the US” at what?

  47. >What would give anyone outside the US the right to hold the US to anything?

    You mean besides the variosu treaties you’ve signed?

    >Imperiums already do what they want to do, and they always have.

    The US was founded as a republic not an empire. The Founding Fathers and their successors up until around the 1890’s were acutely aware of the threat that empire posed to internal democracy.

    If America has departed from that founding principle and now regards itself as an empire I suggest you do soem reading about late Republican Rome. In particular I’d suggest you take a look at the Latin Wars.

  48. Brian: There is cause for considerable doubt about the authenticity of “Riverbend”. She wouldn’t be first cute little girl on the net who turns out to be a 45yo american male with a paunch, typing from Buttsville Ohio.

    “Riverbend” can type what she wishes, but there is nothing except her own text to indicate she is in Iraq, or indeed, is even an Iraqi.

  49. “You mean besides the variosu treaties you’ve signed?”

    yes, besides that. or even including that.

    “The US was founded as a republic not an empire. The Founding Fathers and their successors up until around the 1890’s were acutely aware of the threat that empire posed to internal democracy.”

    no shit.

    “If America has departed from that founding principle and now regards itself as an empire ”

    It doesn’t. We’ve never been interested in empire, we’re quite happy right here at home.

  50. Avaroo, you wrote: “Imperiums already do what they want to do, and they always have.” apparently in reference to the US.

    Now you disclaim any wish to see an American empire.

    Explain to me how the US can be an “imperium” acting outside of international law but not an “empire”.

  51. “Avaroo, you wrote: “Imperiums already do what they want to do, and they always have.â€? apparently in reference to the US.”

    The US would have to be an empire in order for this statement to refer to it. Is that not obvious?

  52. So you felt the need to make a statement about empires “doing what they want” in a thread about US policy, why?

    What “imperium” exactly were you referring to?

  53. “So you felt the need to make a statement about empires “doing what they wantâ€? in a thread about US policy, why?”

    perhaps you might want to read the comments preceeding mine.

    “What “imperiumâ€? exactly were you referring to?”

    None specifically. As a general rule, imperial nations do what they want to do.

  54. Avaroo I read the preceding comments, I don’t find any reference to “imperial nations” in them.

  55. Then you haven’t read them. Read the comment immediately preceeding the one where I first say this:

    “Imperiums already do what they want to do, and they always have. “

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