Sunday, November 26, 2006

Two years ago it was time to get out...

Surfing over my own site I came across this from before the 2004 election, two years ago. The steady drumbeat of 9/11, 9/11, 9/11 was about to make me crazy as the president continued to wave that bloody shirt. I will forever remember it as one of the most crass and irresponsible campaign efforts I have ever seen. I am just an old guy blogging and it was clear to me that it was already time to wind up the mission in Iraq.

The connection between September 11 what is happening today in Iraq is virtually non-existent. We are in Iraq because a lot of good people made a lot of mistakes in good faith (another great phrase, don't you think?) but were not able to admit it for political reasons. The end of the Saddam era in Iraq may become one of the most important and beneficial events of the Twenty-first Century, and I'm glad that it happened. Although the tyrant is no longer there, the aftermath of his poison remains and America has an obligation to finish what it began, like the doctor who removes a limb has an obligation to his patient help him recover from the trauma then provide him with a prosthesis.

But American young people are not sacrificing their lives in Iraq because of September 11. They are there because criminals released by Saddam from Iraqi prisons are running unchecked among a diminishing population of decent Iraqis. They are there because outside forces, probably Sunni and certainly of the extreme fundamentalist stripe, are penetrating the porous borders of that country and are raising hell. They are there in order to make good a commitment to hold elections in January, one way or another. But they are not there because airplanes crashed the World Trade Center three years ago.

The connection, of course, IS world terrorism. But that is the beginning and the end of the connection. I am firmly persuaded, no matter whatever else may be true, that our presence in Iraq is feeding the forces of terrorism with eager recruits. We are not ameliorating terrorism by waging war in Iraq. We are, in fact, doing just the opposite. And thanks to modern telecommunications, we may be recruiting more terrorists outside of Iraq than there.

Little by little the WTC rationale for a US military presence in Iraq has morphed from GWOT to flypaper to planting the seeds of democracy to mission accomplished to staying the course to God knows what. It now looks as though the end may be near, but only after the forces that oppose what has clearly become an "occupation" have come together, stronger and better organized than they were two years ago.

The population of Iraqi people who might be US sympathizers has diminished. For some, family or friends have been killed or injured in "collateral damage," resulting in a change of mind and attitude. Others have left the country altogether. Those who remain, whether Sunni or Shiite, risk more than it is worth to let anyone know how they might feel.

Gone is the outside chance that the US might somehow intervene as peacemakers in the civil war that is already in progress. How can constructive intervention be possible for any force that is a component of the conflict?

We are now what Professor Bainbridge calls "dead enders...Those are the people who pursue lost causes beyond the point of rationality." Read what he writes about dead-enders.

The Iraq dead-enders are making a classic economic mistake. The relevant economic concept is sunk costs, which teaches that what is done cannot be undone. Sunk costs are those costs that already have been incurred and cannot be reversed, such as the costs incurred in developing a new product.

The rational decision-maker does not factor sunk costs into his analysis. When I lived in Illinois, I had University of Illinois football season tickets. Inevitably, the last game of the year would be played in lousy weather — snow or sleet or something likewise awful. I would propose staying home instead of going to the game.

My good wife would insist that we should go because we had paid for the tickets. So I would explain sunk costs: We had already paid for the tickets. We could not get our money back. The sole question was whether the utility of going to the game outweighed the utility of not freezing to death. The cost of the tickets was irrelevant to that calculus. (The good wife grasped this concept quite easily, being a smart cookie, and not infrequently uses it for her own nefarious purposes.)

The time, effort, money and — yes — the lives we have spent in Iraq are sunk. Nothing we do going forward will bring the dead back to life, nor recover the billions of dollars poured into Iraq. We do not dishonor the memory of those who have died in the service of our country when we say that decisions about what to do now in Iraq.

Cold-blooded? You bet.
The calculus of decision-making in war is exactly that: cold-blooded. Why do you think I'm so damned opposed to it? In the meantime, let's make yet another cold-blooded commitment as described so well above and make that one final, necessary step and get the kids home before too many more get killed or wounded.

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