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The War’s Benefits in Black and White

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I believe the real dispute over the war centers around priorities: no serious person would defend Saddam’s regime (“I’m not trying to defend Saddam, but…”), most acknowledge that the citizens of Iraq will be better off without him, but those who oppose the war cite its expense for us and them in economic and human terms, and the cost to international relations our decision to invade without the backing of key “partners” France, Germany and Russia might cause.

An amazing new study stomps all of the anti-war rationales save the latter into a quivering mass of jello: “War in Iraq versus Containment: Weighing the Costs” by three University of Chicago professors – Steven Davis, Kevin Murphy and Robert Topel – ask these questions: Is war more or less costly than a policy of containment? And would containment save lives? They vote “no” to both.

They assume a “war and its near-term aftermath” to be $125 billion (conservatively dervived from actual CBO figures ranging from $60-123 billion including a four-month war and two years of reconstruction, peacekeeping, etc). They calculate the costs of “containment” (“the inspections are working, the inspections are working”) thusly:

    Putting things together, annual containment costs of $19 billion can be converted to expected present value by discounting future expenditures at an appropriate rate, which we take to be 2 percent per year, and by the 3 percent annual probability that the Iraqi regime changes character. The resulting estimate for the cost of containment is $380 billion.

This triples the high-end estimate of war expenditure. In addition:

    If a policy of containing Iraq raises the cost of homeland security by even a fraction of this amount, say $10 billion per year, then the present value cost of containment rises by $200 billion. In total, our estimated U.S. cost of containment becomes $630 billion.

So that’s good for us, what about Iraq? Saddam Hussein rule has reduced Iraqi income per person by at least 75% over the last 20 years. Per capita gross domestic product was $9,000 (in 2002 dollars) in 1979, the year Saddam Hussein took over – the most recent estimate puts per capita GDP at a little over $1,000. Certainly sanctions following the 1991 Gulf War played a role in this decline but Saddam brought the sanctions upon the country by refusing to honor promises to disarm, cease efforts to obtain weapons of mass destruction and end his support for international terrorism.

Under Saddam’s Stalinism, essentially the entire economy is controlled by the state, the banking system has collapsed, inflation is estimated at about 100 percent per year. The Iraqi dinar was worth $3 in 1983 – today, $1 is worth 2,700 dinars. In order to maintain his police state, estimates are that a third of the entire labor force is engaged in intelligence, police, security, military/ service: 1.3 million people out of a total labor force of 4.4 million. In addition, Hussein has built 50 new palaces for himself since 1991 costing an estimated $2.5 billion per year in a country whose total GDP is $60 billion, almost all from oil.

And what of human life?

    The regime’s victims include 200,000 dead Iraqis and twice as many wounded during the 1980-88 war with Iran, an even greater number of Iranian casualties, the slaughter of 200,000 Kurds (many with chemical weapons), more than 10,000 dead Iraqis in the Gulf War of 1990-91 plus many Kuwaitis and allied troops, tens of thousands of Shi’ah Iraqis killed during brutal repressions after the Gulf War, several hundred thousand Marsh Arabs whose homeland and way of life were systematically destroyed in 1992 and 1993, and at least another 100,000 Iraqi deaths from disease and
    malnutrition since the Gulf War.

    All told, the current regime has killed or caused the deaths of well over half a million Iraqis [my emphasis] since Saddam Hussein came to power in 1979. Under the policy of containment after the Gulf War, a reasonable estimate is that 200,000 or more Iraqis have died prematurely at the hands of the regime or as a direct consequence of its policies.

The Gulf War cost an estimated 35,000 Iraqi lives, mostly troops in the sustained aerial bombardment, which was much less discriminate than the current assault with precision bombing.

So the war to rid Iraq of Saddam’s regime offers cost benefits for both the US and Iraq, and real human benefits for Iraq. Yes, there are American and allied lives being lost in the war – CNN puts coalition deaths at 78 as of this morning – but given the benefits of regime change NOW, this is a price we are thus far willing to pay for a safer, more democratic world; and this does not even take into account the likelihood of Saddam-related terror against the US should he remain in power.

Regime change is the RIGHT thing to do for the people of the US and Iraq, it has now also been shown to be the most economical in terms of both treasure and lives.

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About Eric Olsen

  • Marc

    How about the cost of Homeland Security increase;
    if the war stirrs up additional arabs to join terror groups and willingly die for there cause

    How about the increased potential human costs of civilians being killed by these increased terrorists?

    I am for this war, I just thought that cost benefit analysis was a little lobsided

  • http://www.slumdance.com/blogs/brian_flemming/ Brian Flemming

    Wow, what a neat process. Decide your conclusions, then make up assumptions that lead to it.

    Do you really not think someone else could come up with another analysis that re-jiggers the speculative figures in that study and come up with an opposite conclusion?

    My favorite assumption is that the sanctions, which the same people who are anti-war now OPPPOSED because of the strength they gave Saddam and the devastation they brought on the Iraqi people, are part of the cost/benefit analysis when it comes to Iraq. Magic!

    As a man recently said:

    “We all agree that Iraqis would be better off without Hussein. Just as their subjects would have been better off without Ceausescu, Suharto, Marcos, Duvalier, Mobutu,….. — quite a long list. I’ve just listed those who were supported by the present incumbents in Washington, just as they supported Saddam Hussein. Some, like Ceausescu, were easily comparable to Saddam Hussein as tyrants and torturers. All were overthrown, from within. There’s every reason to believe that SH would have gone the same way if the US hadn’t insisted on devastating the civilian society, strengthening the tyrant, and compelling people to rely on him for survival — the primary effect of the US-UK sanctions, as has been pointed out for years by the Westerners who know Iraq best, the administrators of the UN programs, Denis Halliday and Hans van Sponeck — among others.

    “If there had been any interest in allowing Iraqis to determine their own fate, these considerations point the way. But there wasn’t. Hence the call that their torturers must use violence to ‘liberate them.’ An intelligent Martian watching this would be bemused, to put it mildly.”

  • Eric Olsen

    B, you are a marvel, as if from another universe. Why do you trust your sources more than you trust my sources? Ideology.

  • Eric Olsen

    Marc, valid point, but the authors actually see the war as facilitating a decrease in the likelihood of terror against the US. I believe they are right, and I certainly hope they are right, though there is no way to know for sure.

  • http://www.slumdance.com/blogs/brian_flemming/ Brian Flemming

    Eric,

    Sorry, are you saying it’s false that all of those dictators were overthrown from within?

    Are you saying it is false that the United States purposefully abandoned a rebellion in Iraq, for reasons that had nothing to do with “human rights”?

    It’s not a matter of sources. These are, I believe, undisputed facts, and as facts they call into question the assumptions in the study you cite.

    Unless you feel it is ideological bias that leads me to believe that the U.S. purposefully abandoned a rebellion in Iraq 12 years ago.

    Maybe that happened in “another universe.”

  • Craig Diehls

    This is the typical crap being put out by the right wing that is enjoying its moment in the sun. Perserve it because some day people won’t believe such things were expected to be believed.
    Who came up with the casualty figures by the way?
    My guess is that just the civilian deaths were over fifty thousand. Wasn’t it Tommy Franks that said,” We don’t do body counts.”

  • Kaleb Murphy

    Brian,

    Why do you blame the abandonment of the Shiites 12 years ago on the US? If I recall correctly, that was a UN coalition and any post-ceasefire actions would have had to have gone through the UN. And did the valiant French, Germans, and Russians try to intervene, via the UN, while the evil US stopped them?

  • Eric Olsen

    Not finishing the job twelve years ago, then abandoning those who rebelled was a disgrace for us and the coalition – one of our darkest moments in the last 20 years. I hope this current action atones for that in some small way.

  • rose

    Brian, Ceausescu was not removed from power by forces from within. It was a USSR/Russian-sanctioned coup.

  • http://www.slumdance.com/blogs/brian_flemming/ Brian Flemming

    rose,

    Even in Romania they are split on that one, I will grant you. But it nonetheless it serves the limited purpose of illustrating that military invasion followed by occupation is not the only way to achieve a regime change. It seems that the U.S. did not support a popular rebellion in Iraq because it didn’t like what would be the predictable result of letting people in that region determine their own fate. The United States is now ensuring that the United States will determine how things work.

    Of course, many Americans can’t imagine why this would be at all controversial.

    Instead of supporting the popular rebellion, we starved these people for a decade, so that the country would be weak enough to invade, and then we could determine how things would work. And then, at the University of Chicago, we look at that and say, “Hey, look, now we’re improving the lives of the Iraqi people!”

    Nice one.

  • Ian

    Did you really believe those estimates? How was democracy going to be instituted in a region that had never experienced it after a “4 month war and 2 years of peacekeeping”?

  • bliffle

    Well, I guess all those folks who had such a rosy forecast for the Iraq Invasion have been proven wrong. Again. Reminds me of the video clip I saw where a reporter asked Rumsfeld how much the invasion would cost and he said maybe $50billion, to which his interlocutor asked what he thought of the $300billion estimate and Rummy barked “Baloney!”.

    Why would any intelligent person entertain the guesswork of such proven failures, and you can add duds like Krauthammer, Kagan, Cheney, Kristol, etc.?

    Every time I see one of those proven fools on TV I turnoff the sound. Same with the prognosticators of La Gloire here on BC.

  • ElenaInez

    I wonder if these people ever look back at what they wrote and admit to the public whom they were trying to convince that they made serious miscalculations. I’ll bet NOT. After all, out of sight out of mind….and what are they telling us so convincingly today?

  • Blake

    Brian, For 1 thing. It is hard for a country like Iraq which at the time of this Great Cue! had the 4th largest army in the world. You cant expect people to just Stand up against an armoured collom of tanks. You Should remamber that Sadams Armed Forces were Paid, And for the most part supported him. The war we are seeing now is becuase we were unprepaired. We went in with a Small Attack force (about 1/3 the size of the one in Kuait) and Beat the Iraq army in about 35 days. But we didnt Bring with us the things we needed to rebuild the country after. We arnt bad people for invadeing. Sadam Put people threw Plastic Shredders for Christ sake. And Launched Chemical Strikes against the Kurds. You need to Calm down. and Realize that Just becuase we made a mistake dosent mean you have to get all anti american on us.

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