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.