“Bush resolute in face of Iraq death toll”

Reflections on the four thousandth U.S. combat death, from one of the people responsible.

Vicarious courage is a marvellous thing. (Although, as the immortal Steve Goodman sang, “It ain’t hard to get along with somebody else’s troubles.”) And four thousand dead American soldiers is a big pile of bodies to be cheerful over, which makes Mr. Bush’s performance all the more impressive.

Four thousand dead! Why, that’s nearly 1% of the number of dead Iraqis. (Or maybe as much as 2%, if you prefer the smaller estimates.) And it’s almost a tenth of a percent of the number of Iraqi exiles and displaced persons.

And the best case the proponents of a long-term occupation can make is that the rate of Iraqi deaths will go still higher when the U.S. leaves.

I supported the war, albeit skeptically and with trepidation rather than enthusiastically. I did so in the belief that the Ba’athist regime was seeking to acquire nuclear and biological weapons, and couldn’t be prevented from doing so if it stayed in power. That belief turns out to have been false. I never believed that it would lead to a “new birth of freedom” for Iraqi Arabs, though it seemed likely that Iraqi Kurds would benefit, and that might still turn out to be true. Having one’s country conquered is not generally a source of benefit.

I wasn’t as foresighted as, for example, Barack Obama or Wesley Clark, in imagining just how bad the results might be, not only for us, but for Iraq, so I’m in no position to criticize others for the same failure, except insofar as they are professionals while I was and am an amateur, or insofar as they had access to classified documents that I could not see, or ignored expert advice that they had, and I had not, the chance to cross-examine, or planned to loot the oil reserves of Iraq to pay for the occupation, or simply ignored the fact that making war, even in a good cause, means killing innocent people.

But I can and do condemn the arrogance that led some people to imagine that the risks were negligible, and those so indifferent to any suffering not their own that they could start the process that led to hundreds of thousands of deaths by pumping their hands in the air and shouting “Feels good!” And, of course, those who questioned, and still question, the patriotism of those who, unlike me, got this one right.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com