Costs of War

Fight disinformation. Get a daily recap of the facts that matter. Sign up for the free Mother Jones newsletter.


Tyler Cowen has a post on the consequences of war in Iraq that makes, among other things, this point:

Today we see many signals that things are going badly. But most of those signals also imply that things would have gone very badly under the alternative scenario for Saddam’s fall. A civil war, for instance, may well have happened anyway, albeit later.

The point here is that yes, the United States may well end up causing a full-blown civil war in Iraq. But if so, such a civil war might have happened eventually anyway, with or without a U.S. invasion, so this bad outcome shouldn’t mean that the invasion of Iraq was therefore wrong. Well, it’s true that civil war in Iraq might have happened no matter what. The United States made some particularly galling mistakes in the early days of the invasion and occupation—not providing security, disbanding the Baathist army, utter incompetence and fraud in the reconstruction process—that made the current mess more likely. But civil war might have happened no matter what the U.S. did. And it might have happened if the United States hadn’t invaded.

But the overlooked factor here is what else the United States could have done had we not invaded Iraq. The opportunity costs seem just as important. We could have spent the energy and resources to securing loose nuclear material around the world, or promoting a peaceful democratic transition in a place like Egypt, or stopping genocide in Sudan. We’ve spent over $200 billion in Iraq; surely we could have found some humanitarian and freedom-enhancing use for that money elsewhere. In our alternate world, Iraq might still have descended into civil war anyway, after, say, Saddam Hussein died—we’ll never know of course—but a bunch of other positive things would have happened too.

HERE ARE THE FACTS:

Our fall fundraising drive is off to a rough start, and we very much need to raise $250,000 in the next couple of weeks. If you value the journalism you get from Mother Jones, please help us do it with a donation today.

As we wrote over the summer, traffic has been down at Mother Jones and a lot of sites with many people thinking news is less important now that Donald Trump is no longer president. But if you're reading this, you're not one of those people, and we're hoping we can rally support from folks like you who really get why our reporting matters right now. And that's how it's always worked: For 45 years now, a relatively small group of readers (compared to everyone we reach) who pitch in from time to time has allowed Mother Jones to do the type of journalism the moment demands and keep it free for everyone else.

Please pitch in with a donation during our fall fundraising drive if you can. We can't afford to come up short, and there's still a long way to go by November 5.

payment methods

ONE MORE QUICK THING:

Our fall fundraising drive is off to a rough start, and we very much need to raise $250,000 in the next couple of weeks. If you value the journalism you get from Mother Jones, please help us do it with a donation today.

As we wrote over the summer, traffic has been down at Mother Jones and a lot of sites with many people thinking news is less important now that Donald Trump is no longer president. But if you're reading this, you're not one of those people, and we're hoping we can rally support from folks like you who really get why our reporting matters right now. And that's how it's always worked: For 45 years now, a relatively small group of readers (compared to everyone we reach) who pitch in from time to time has allowed Mother Jones to do the type of journalism the moment demands and keep it free for everyone else.

Please pitch in with a donation during our fall fundraising drive if you can. We can't afford to come up short, and there's still a long way to go by November 5.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate