Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Mission Accomplished

On May 1, 2003, former judicially-installed president George W. Bush stood on an aircraft carrier and declared that "major combat operations in Iraq have ended. In the Battle of Iraq, the United States and our allies have prevailed."

Behold the sweet, sweet fruits of victory:

Human costs

Human costs

  • Total deaths: Between 110,663 and 119,380
  • Coalition deaths: 4,712
  • U.S. deaths: 4,394
  • U.S. wounded: 31,768
  • U.S. deaths as a percentage of coalition deaths: 93.25 percent
  • Iraqi Security Force deaths: At least 9,451
  • Total coalition and ISF deaths: At least 14,163
  • Iraqi civilian deaths: Between 96,037 and 104,7542
  • Non-Iraqi contractor deaths: At least 463
  • Internally displaced persons: 2.6 million
  • Refugees: 1.9 million

Financial costs

  • Cost of Operation Iraqi Freedom: $748.2 billion
  • Projected total cost of veterans’ health care and disability: $422 billion to $717 billion
But the news out of Iraq seven years on isn't all good. The full report [PDF] details strategic costs to add to the above.

I have long since grown weary of this portion of the strategic analysis:
Rather than stay and finish the job in Afghanistan as promised, the Bush administration turned its focus to Iraq in 2002. Special Forces specializing in regional languages were diverted from Afghanistan to Iraq, and Predator drones were sent to support the war in Iraq instead of the hunt for Al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Rather than stay and finish the job in Afghanistan as promised, the Bush administration turned its focus to Iraq in 2002.
I think it's important to take care what we ask for when we reel off the failings of our assorted overseas military adventures. What is the basis for any confidence that there is (or was) a definable "job" to be "finished" in Afghanistan, and what is the basis for confidence that a different pattern of armed deployments would have accomplished it?

While it would have been nice to locate and destroy Bin Laden, his entire inner circle, the video equipment he uses for his periodic new releases, his kidney dialysis machine, and a few (or a few hundred) additional lesser lights of Al Qaeda and the Taliban, ample experience has shown this to be an endless and exceedingly costly game of whack-a-mole. We keep killing the third in command, and the people who live in the region, by and large, keep not adoring us for it.

They keep not welcoming our occupying forces as trusted friends, keep declining Israel's right to exist, keep re-discovering that opium is the most lucrative cash crop available (with its shadow political economy and concomitant violence, corruption, and lawlessness), keep not abandoning harsh interpretations of Islam, keep rejecting the primacy of human rights, and in most respects keep not especially wanting to be the next Wisconsin, or even the next Texas. Or even the next Oklahoma.

So, sure, we might have stayed a bit longer and killed off a few more names in Afghanistan, but on the available evidence, this would only have shifted the failures a couple of countries over. This is nothing to wish for.

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