Friday, July 14, 2006
# Posted 4:13 PM by Taylor Owen
In Tuesday's most deadly attack, two pedestrians wearing vests made of explosives blew themselves up near a restaurant outside the walls of the Green Zone, within a few hundred yards of three busy entrances, Iraqi and American officials said. Soon after the initial blasts, a hidden bomb was detonated nearby, adding to the carnage, the American military said. Some Iraqi authorities said the third explosion was caused by a car bomb.
The above is a NYT report on one day of violence in Iraq – Tuesday of this week – as noted by Michael Crowley at the Plank. Some days have been better, some much worse. This Times of London report, as AS right states, is equally as grueling. My comment is not so much about these incidents per se, but rather the sum human cost of the war. In many respects, I can sympathise with the humanitarian rationales for the war. Particularly those expressed on this site. I am a strong supporter of humanitarian interventions, under strict conditions and with the types of coalitions, and skill sets, that I believe are essential to the post-conflict nation building process.
On balance, at the time, however, I was against the war based largely on an equation of the human costs. Or more accurately, the combination of the risk of an incredibly difficult post-invasion period, combined with a lack of planning, capability, desire, and coalition to effectively deal with this nation building project. UN support, for me, was not a matter of ‘what the world thinks’, but rather a combination of getting access to the necessary skill sets (imperfect but evolved over numerous post-cold war missions), and local/regional legitimacy, that is essential in post-conflict environments. The humanitarian equation, for me, did not add up.
Of course others had different equations. There has been much talk lately about the 1% doctrine, for example – this is not really a humanitarian argument though. One of Blair’s many calculations was that he could convince the US to accept the greater UN involvement that he knew was needed, immediately after the fall of Baghdad. This of course, for numerous reasons, proved incorrect.
If one’s goals are humanitarian, then this human cost equation is of primary relevance.
My question then is this. For the war’s supporters, is the human cost of the war academic? Do the causalities, or the many days like this past Tuesday, alter the overarching rationale for the war? Or, do the intentions of the war, and the eventual end state (if positive), trump any number of deaths, or any amount of brutality, in the interim? This question is at the center of much of the debate on humanitarian intervention more generally, and I think can, and should, be asked of Iraq.
On a similar note, O’Hanlon, an advocate of humanitarian intervention for which I have great sympathy, last week had a good op-ed on the humanitarian side of the reconstruction effort – how it has faltered and where it might go. Incomplete, yes, but some decent ideas. (18) opinions -- Add your opinion
The question can't be answered without considering the default position - if we had left Saddam in place, how many people would he be killing each year?
Suppose that 30,000 Iraqis are being killed each year now. If Saddam would have kiled 50,000 a year via state-sanctioned violence, then the Iraqis are absolutely better off. If he would have killed none at all, then they are far worse off.
Just because Saddam's violence was off camera doen't mean that it could not have been far worse and of greater scope than anything we are seeing today.
We aren't going to be able to answer the question with anything other than a "maybe yes, maybe no". So let's ask a question that we can answer - do the Iraqi people think they are better off now, or would they prefer a return to the status quo ante?
We know that about 75% to 85% think they answer is better now - they were the ones who lived under the constant threat of genocide from Saddam, if the world quit enforcing the sanctions. We know this becasue of the Iraqis' answers to opinion polls and to their continued commitment to democratic process in spite of contant threats to do otherwise.
It's not unreasonable to choose the threat of car bombings and assasination to the threat of state-sanctioned violence and genocide.
Since the Iraqi people think it's worth it, I think we should too.
Adding the the previous comment, the alternative to invasion was not an eternal, Saddam-led regime. The conflicts we see there now - former regime elements vs Islamists, Sunni vs Shia vs Kurd, and simple criminals vs police - would all have happened whether Saddam was removed by us, a coup, or old age. Without the presence of Americans, would all these conflicts have been settled peacefully? I think without American referees, post-Saddam Iraq would more closely resemble the Congo, both in terms of bloodshed and absence from media attention.
The UN was of course invited in during 2003; came, suffered some losses, and vanished. Would that august body, many of whose peacekeepers do not extort sex from children, have been braver if post-Saddam Iraq did not include 150000 US troops?
jos bleau, I completely agree that the status quo, and even potential deteriorations of the status quo, would need to be part of the equation. The question of opinion polls is a bit misleading because it refers to an end point, rather than the cost of getting there. But I agree, it is a strong factor in support of the war.
bgates, "the alternative to invasion was not an eternal, Saddam-led regime" - I agree. One could, however, imagine a situation where the resulting destabilization, or civil war, would be addressed by an far more 'legitimate', international force with the specific task of peacebuilding and reconstruction.
The question of opinion polls is a bit misleading because it refers to an end point, rather than the cost of getting there. But I agree, it is a strong factor in support of the war.
Right. Certainly the human cost has to be considered. At the same time, it's hard to say "We shouldn't invade because I (or the West) think that the human cost in Iraqi lives was too much, even if the Iraqis are okay with it." It feels a bit, uh, imperialistic. That's why so long as Iraqis answer yes on the "Was it worth it" polls, it's hard to argue that our squeamishness should overwhelm that sentiment.
Of course, the cost in American and allied lives can factor into our decision, and the Iraqis don't have the right to demand that we invade. But they do get a pretty strong presumption in deciding what is too much of their own blood to shed.
I think there is a bit of a false dichotomy here. Yes, Iraqis are glad we got rid of Saddam. But are the Iraqis happy with how we did it and what we left them with? The worthiness of the war cannot be ascribed in the abstract. It must be "worth it" considering what actually happened after April 9, 2003, not what might have happened. To simply say that Iraqis are happy we ousted Saddam, and conclude that the whole thing is "worth it" is to justify a host of atrocious decisions made within Washington and Baghdad concerning the post-Saddam situation. Yes, you can say you are glad Saddam is gone and also say that the war and occupation and resulting carnage are not "worth it."
An interesting article from the Melbourne Age today has the reflections of Iraqi's who fled Hussein:
I trust their assessment about Iraq then and now more than I do any armchair ideologues.
So, I don't know where some of you are getting these ridiculous statistics and numbers from.
Oh, and I've decided to choose neither car bombings nor state violence, thank you. How luxurious. I think you'll find also that state violence continues to be a feature of life in Iraq under the current regime(s), as much as there can be said to be a 'state' in Iraq.
It is true also that these tensions would have been there at the end of Hussein's rule, but American, British and Australian intervention has added factors that were not previously there - the presence of 'Jihadists' attracted by American presence there, and the complete destruction of the state with the invasion, which would not otherwise have happened upon Hussein's demise. That is to say, there would still have been an army, police, industries, economy etc. to place a break on anarchy. Of course, it is luxurious indeed to debate hypotheticals when the catastrophe is real.
Taylor, I have trouble imagining your alternative, "far more 'legitimate', international force." One thing that force would require, is force; a hypothetical coalition involving America would provoke the same UN opposition as the real one, and a coalition without would fall back on the third world peacekeeper/criminals who've been shaming themselves throughout Africa for the past several years.
If your alternative force was responding to Saddam's departure rather than precipitating that happy event, it would be in a purely reactionary position. The US arguably had too few troops and an insufficient plan for the immediate aftermath of Saddam's regime, but your scenario would mean literally zero troops and no plan, for a long time after Saddam's removal. How long? Compare how long the UN has been talking about an intervention in another fractious, oil-producing Islamic state: Sudan. The UN's forte is deliberation. America's is liberation.
bgates, again, I agree with much of this.
I put legitimacy in quotations because in a way it is an artificial debate. One of the problems with the US nation building effort is that while everyone agrees that it is necessary, for a host of reasons, many in both Iraq and the region, do not trust their long term motives. Whether or not this is justified is irrelevant as peacebuilding required a massive degree of local by in. Part of this problem of legitimacy I think is due to the peacebuilding being done by the 'liberating' force. The US simply has too much baggage in Iraq. If the initial liberation had occurred as a coup or internal revolt of some sort, then an international peacebuilding force, certainly with some American involvement, would have far more legitimacy than one that both fought the war and is now rebuilding from it.
I believe there also would have been much greater international willingness to contribute resources and manpower to such a substantively and ideologicaly different mission.
The issue of legitimacy is reflected in Blair's desire to internationalize the reconstruction very early. A couple of things happened though. One, the US would not take some of the major steps required to demonstrate their neutrality, such as putting the oil revenues in a transparent fund, or allowing significant UN operational command, or stating clearly that there would be no permanent US military presence in the country. Coupled with this, the UN bombings of course had a devastating impact on the organization.
Regardless, the result was a crisis of legitimacy. The Iraqi government recognizes this and are thus stuck in a quagmire - they know force is needed to help stabilize the country, but also know that US force/presence, is part of the fuel of the problem. What do they do?
In any case, the timing issue you mention is interesting, and I think important. You are right that if the Saddam regime were to have fallen without US force, then there are REAL question marks as to how quickly the UN would be able to get in. NATO might have been a different story though.
The question is though, with a purely peacebuilding mandate, would this force have the legitimacy absolutely required for this type of decades long mission? A legitimacy which for better or for worse, and rightly or wrongly, the anglo-american force now lacks.
Considering Iraqi opinion is critical to finding the truth, and looking at how they "voted" is key to reading their opinion. Of course, the votes accompanied by purple fingers were fragmented along sectarian lines and are ambiguous, at best. However, the vote accompanied by dusty feet is not. I wish I had a reference to an article I saw that gave the net Iraqi refugee flow at about 1.5 meg into Iraq since the invasion. If that is true, the net opinion is positive, even in the face of terrible decisions by the U.S. and other members of the coalition. Maybe the Iraqis are more realistic in their expectations of decisions made in wartime. The mythical war in which all the decisions by one side were sagely is just that, mythical; it never happened in the real world.
Maybe another reason for the positive Iraqi flux is that they were counting bodies. Yes, they are stacking up now, but they have been stacking up for a long time. Again, no reference, but I think I remember a mass grave number of something like 350k, or about 12k per year of Sadam's rule. I know the UNICEF site claimed that the sanctions before Oil for Food had killed about 500k children in eight years, or about 60k kids per year. Did that number go away during Oil for Food or did the income get spent on palaces, bribes, and arms by Sadam? The robust spending by the coalition and other economic activity in Iraq has eliminated the excess childhood deaths now, so that 60k per year is essentially gone. If we believer the Oil for Food money didn't materially reduce the childhood death rate, then anything less than about 70k violent deaths per year is a net plus. A ghastly net plus, but, nevertheless, a plus that could make the dusty feet vote rational.
Certainly there is American baggage in the region, and suspicion of our motives and those of our allies. But if the peacemaking force was not on the ground at the moment of Saddam's death, it would have entered a fluid situation in which factions were jockeying for power. If certain factions received international support, they would be derided as puppets exactly as Allawi and Maliki have been. Meanwhile, Islamist thugs would be every bit as opposed to UN intervention as...well, as they were.
Not all international actors would be slow to react, though - I imagine Iran would have had agents in at least as quickly, if not an overt military presence. Would France have supported American/'international' action against Iran?
I don't mean to suggest that 'legitimate' equals 'French-approved' (though that formulation is supported by your suggestion that NATO would have legitimacy that the Anglo-American-Italian-Spanish force lacked), but what source of manpower besides France did not participate in the liberation? The Russians and Chinese wouldn't help in establishing a constitutional republic, much less the Arab League; would we trust Pakistan to send non-Islamists? Who in the rest of the world could have helped, and which of the head-cutters and bomb throwers loose in Baghdad would have been swayed by a broader international coalition?
I think the legitimacy, if not the operational brilliance, of the coalition has been steadily building over the past 3 years as we demonstrate we do not want to sieze the oil fields or install a pliable strongman but instead bring a legitimate government to Iraq.
For the war’s supporters, is the human cost of the war academic?
Until such time as the body count starts to exceed Saddam's own yearly blood harvest, probably they are.
Until such time, as bad as something might appear based on the nightly news, this condition is a net win. The news was NOT reporting the thousands Saddam murdered/maimed every year.
Lies and statistics. That's all it is. As soon as the 'net gain' becomes a 'net loss' (dubious stats too) the warmongers will move on to some new excuse, like they did with WMD. I'm so happy for them. Such bliss they must live in, these strange utilitarian statisticians!
Why put "Americans" in quotes? Were you referring to some faux Yanks?
Anyway, if you really needed liberating, I hope we wouldn't do it.
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