Costs of War

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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.

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THE TRUTH...

is the first thing despots go after. An unwavering commitment to it is probably what draws you to Mother Jones' journalism. And as we're seeing in the US and the world around, authoritarians seek to poison the discourse and the way we relate to each other because they can't stand people coming together around a shared sense of the truth—it's a huge threat to them.

Which is also a pretty great way to describe Mother Jones' mission: People coming together around the truth to hold power accountable.

And right now, we need to raise about $400,000 from our online readers over the next two months to hit our annual goal and make good on that mission. Read more about the information war we find ourselves in and how people-powered, independent reporting can and must rise to the challenge—and please support our team's truth-telling journalism with a donation if you can right now.

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