Tuesday, April 20, 2004

Blood and Treasure

One of the rarely addressed questions by the war fans is how much is too much? Once upon a time the reason for the war was the inevitable "mushroom cloud" - and since that's sort of like the infinite cost, it would be worth almost any expense to stop it.

But, now that the justification has mostly been reduced to "saddam was a bad guy and we're liberating the people," I'm curious if any of the war fans have a limit? Is there any cost, financial or in lives at which point they'd decide it wasn't worth it? 1,000? 10,000? 50,000 soldiers? $400 billion, $750 billion, $1 trillion?

And, what about the tradeoff? If they knew we could sacrifice X soldiers to save $Y, or vice versa, how should we balance it?

The "moral seriousness" crowd rarely has trouble making (up) these kinds of cost benefit analyses in other situations. What about Iraq?

...and, yes, there are a couple of other related issues. First, as digamma notes, an important question is whether or not this was the best use of (so far) 700 lives and $200 billion. I think the answer to that is clearly no, and I can't comprehend that there's even an argument on the other side.

At this point, also, the 700 lives and $200 billion are a "sunk cost." So, we can't get them back. Even if we conclude that the whole operation was a mistake, that doesn't necessarily mean that therefore the correct response is to bug out. The question now is - how many more lives and how much more money before you'd decide it was a bad plan.

Of course, all of this requires some general notion about what "success" is... but, we haven't really defined that either.