Thursday, August 12, 2010

Time to go

This month the US ends its 'combat mission' in Iraq.  After 8 years of occupation the US force is finally being scaled back to 50,000 troops (!) that are assigned to training and protection of US interests rather than active combat. I wonder who out there counts the war on Iraq as a worthwhile undertaking given the view from this point.  Trillions of dollars spent, world confidence in the solitary military superpower shattered, hundreds of thousands of deaths and 8 years and Iraq is still without even a remotely effective government and battling an insurgency that seems unlikely to be defeated completely within a decade.

It is absolutely true that Saddam Hussein was a brutal dictator and committed some terrible acts so removing him from power and installing a democratic process must be considered a worthwhile task.  However, the cost to the country of Iraq seems so high that I must question how long a good democratic government would have to be in place to justify such carnage.  The best figures I found suggested civilian casualties around 100,000 thus far, certainly a larger number than would have been killed should Saddam Hussein's regime remained in power.  The economy and everyday life of Iraqis I don't much have a way of evaluating but it sure seems like constant bombings and destruction of infrastructure as well as the removal of any sort of government for a sustained period must be disastrous.

Note that this isn't to say I think there is any justification for the decision to go to war in the first place.  Just because we think there may be some good done by replacing a government we don't like in another country is no reason to march in and create such mayhem, particularly because the outcomes are so unpredictable.  The decision to start this war was disastrous and unjustified but once US troops were on the ground and the old government was toppled we then can reasonably look at whether or not things have overall improved.

We do have a practical obligation to intervene in other countries' affairs in certain cases.  The principle of neutrality being safe fell apart quite thoroughly in WW2, if nowhere else, and it has become clear that sometimes things in other places are so bad that sending troops can become a moral imperative.  Keeping aggressive countries, dictators and generals in check is key to preventing political destabilization, not to mention humanitarian disasters, and intervening to prevent civil wars is important.  Making up stories of Weapons of Mass Destruction to drum up support for invading countries, not so much a good thing.

Much as letting people live in democracies is a laudable goal I am not at all sure that the people of Iraq would appreciate the interference from outside in hindsight; certainly the ones who died or witnessed their loved ones dying in the last 8 years might think that it would have been much better to just live with things the way they are.

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