Iraq: The Best of the Worst Options

iraq21.jpgThe U.S. presence in Iraq has been more lengthy and costly than what the U.S. administration had predicted. Way beyond the $1.7 billion estimate that Ted Koppel assured would be the U.S. contribution to Iraqi rebuilding. $250 billion had been spent by the nation by 2006, according to the Congressional Service. Against plans of troop drawdown by 2004, the U.S. military presence in Iraq reached its peak in December 2005 with 159,000 troops (still much less than the original estimate of troops needed). The fraudulent promises of optimism of the Bush administration, from the pre-planning stages of the war, to the outbreak of insurgency and thereafter, cumulatively kept the troops in Iraq away from the challenges that awaited them and fermented the insurgency and guerrilla war.

When insurgency broke out, there were not enough soldiers in Iraq prepared to effectively deal with the situation. With low morale amongst the troops who have been long stationed in Iraq, increasing toll on soldiers’ lives, the U.S. as a nation growing weary of war and the worsening internal crises in Iraq, it is questionable if the recent troop reinforcement of 21,000 would save the cause that this war has lost.

An evaluation of the “best case scenario” of the future of Iraq (an imitation of the 1899-1946 Philippines crises), long-term U.S. presence in Iraq seems the most viable alternative. The alternatives to this are failure in some form or the other- (a) either a unilateral withdrawal and abandonment of Iraq, or (b) ejection by an anti-American government. While the first alternative seems the best of the worst, the problem of keeping public opinion in favor of American presence in Iraq, is facing Bush and his government; because as long as American soldiers are in Iraq, some are likely to die violently. The aim would be to reduce U.S. losses from two or three a day to that number a week, and eventually that number a month, on the calculation that the American people would stand for such a rate of casualties.

Many risks accompany this proposition: firstly, just as the improvements in the quality of U.S. military presence in Iraq (in terms of understanding of the situation in Iraq, principles of counterinsurgency measures and even the quality of life of soldiers) seem to have been too gradual and too “little” to show tangible change. The effect of troop reinforcement may be dispersed by the extending duration and intensification of internal conflict. Secondly, the situation in Iraq may degenerate into civil war or escalate to the proportion of a regional conflict.

From the perspective of a war-weary nation, and in the wake of mushrooming campaigns of prospective Presidential candidates, the decision to reinforce troops seems against the currents of public opinion. Using the microeconomic mechanism of weighing the marginal costs against the marginal benefits, troop reinforcement seems the only way, though long and tedious, towards peace. An economist would tell you that sunk costs (costs that have been incurred and cannot be recovered) should not be used to analyze the future of an enterprise. A rational analysis of the situation would tell you that immediate American withdrawal from Iraq would not just prove disastrous for the Middle East, but also detrimental to global security.

Kainaat Kinha