More on Iraq and Humanitarian War.

Tim Lambert says that the UNICEF data that I rely on have been revised, and that child mortality was not higher during the sanctions regime than it is today. See his post for links to more recent reports. The case for the humanitarian effect of the war, then, would rest on the improvement in political freedoms and economic growth, which are more uncertain and harder to weigh against lives lost.

A number of people have raised the issue of refugees. The refugee problem is severe but it was also bad during the Saddam era (including massive internal displacement). A case can be made that it is worse now but likely to be better in the future if present trends in favor of security and political integration continue.

The other major criticism of my post was that the sanctions regime could have been eliminated, Saddam contained, and the Iraqi population adequately protected from him. I'm skeptical but have nothing new to offer this debate.

A number of people think that my post was meant as a defense of the Iraq war. I have long criticized the idea of humanitarian intervention and have never defended the Iraq war, which was certainly a mistake on the basis of national-interest considerations. But many people, including likely members of the Obama administration (such as Susan Rice, who has advocated a military intervention in Sudan), believe that humanitarian wars are justified. The humanitarian effect of a particular war is an empirical question. The answer in the Iraq case will help determine the Obama administration's ability and willingness to launch humanitarian interventions in places like Sudan.

Mahan Atma (mail):
You have yet to address two substantial deficiencies with your analysis, which is that the Iraq Body Count:

(1) is necessarily an underestimate of the number of violent deaths, as the researchers themselves state;

(2) does not deal with non-violent deaths, while in all likelihood, non-violent child mortality must have risen quite substantially as a result of the invasion.
11.25.2008 6:16pm
von Neumann (mail):
While it is certainly reasonable to take the position that humanitarian wars are unjustifiable, I do not believe it is reasonable for a person in a position to declare such a war to ennunciate that policy. The announcement of such a policy by a US president, for instance, constitutes incitement of mayhem. I the absense of the belief in God, one needs to believe in America.
11.25.2008 6:27pm
Justin (mail):

"The case for the humanitarian effect of the war, then, would rest on the improvement in political freedoms and economic growth, which are more uncertain and harder to weigh against lives lost."

"The humanitarian effect of a particular war is an empirical question."

Although empirical analysis is relevant to determining the humanitarian effect of a particular war, the humanitarian effect of a particular war is not in itself an empirical analysis, because you have to make subjective value judgments over what is more important. Only if every conceivable humanitarian factor changes in the same direction can the analysis itself be seen as "empirical."
11.25.2008 6:37pm
MCM (mail):
"The refugee problem is severe but it was also bad during the Saddam era (including massive internal displacement). A case can be made that it is worse now[...]"

A case could be made that extreme equivocation has taken place in the above.
11.25.2008 6:47pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
The Presbyterian Church (USA), although officially a just-war doctrine church, has been very close to unilateral pacifism--America is the lamb and everybody who wants to be the lion is welcome to it--until things went south in the Balkans in the Nineties.
The PCUSA then generated the idea of humanitarian intervention.
Part of the doctrine of humanitarian intervention is to get upstream, so to speak, of the problem. IOW, intervene before it's imminent or urgent or whatever. That means, of course, before the problem is catastrophic. Which is to say, before things are bad. Which is to say, before it's justified. Which is to say we need a prudential judgment that this or that country is going downhill and if we don't intervene, things will be really bad in about two years.
The PCUSA also, after some nagging, will use the "F" word, (FIGHT), which they prefer to call imposing conditions for peaceful humanitarian aid.
Now, the problem here is that the PCUSA wants to be all mushy and humanitarian, but they don't want to fight, but they understand that sometimes the not-so-peachy conditions are deliberately arranged by very bad guys who really like doing that stuff. Who could be killed, or, as with the Haitian junta under Cedras, run out of town when they get a frantic call, "The Eighty-Second's taking off out of Pope right now!!!"
Whether it's the PCUSA or the USA, humanitarian intervention will be the same; Either so far upstream as to be illegal under any international law, or bloody and vicious, and possibly still illegal under the doctrine that if a republican president does it, it's illegal.
Thus, the idea of humanitarian intervention is going to be worse than today.
11.25.2008 7:03pm
"I ... have never defended the Iraq war, which was certainly a mistake on the basis of national-interest considerations."

Well, three cheers for you. Your about 1/10 of the way to a sane analysis.
11.25.2008 7:34pm
"Iraq war, which was certainly a mistake on the basis of national-interest considerations."
That is certainly the conventional wisdom, and I tend to agree on a different basis, but national-interest considerations can be measured by many different estimates and time periods. I'd be more cautious and suggest that we just don't know yet. Our troop levels in the Gulf from 1993-2002 were already high and operations costly. Respect for UN sanctions was low and sinking. No one knows what would have brewed in the Middle East if we'd been hands off for a couple of decades. No one knows how to calculate the cost of extra generations deprived of political freedom. No, I don't discount US casualties or the much greater number of Iraqis, but I do think of Iraq's potential to be another North Korea-style prison state for multiple generations. I'm not sure that ignoring problems like that is in our national interest if only because it might mean some chance that a future America would face much greater direct costs.
11.25.2008 8:10pm
David Warner:

See ewannama's post for what a sane analysis looks like. I have a feeling you've seen few.
11.25.2008 9:49pm
John Moore (www):
Ditto on ewannama's post.
11.26.2008 2:10am
a knight (mail) (www):
Prior to the invasion of Iraq, there was never an official "Humanitarian" justification presented as a precipitate cause for the War Upon Iraq. It is immoral for the first aggressor in a war to revise the causes which compelled it, after hostilities have been initiated.
The truth is that for reasons that have a lot to do with the U.S. government bureaucracy we settled on the one issue that everyone could agree on which was weapons of mass destruction as the core reason, but. . .there have always been three fundamental concerns. One is weapons of mass destruction, the second is support for terrorism, the third is the criminal treatment of the Iraqi people. Actually I guess you could say there's a fourth overriding one which is the connection between the first two.
. . .
To wrap it up.

The third one by itself, as I think I said earlier, is a reason to help the Iraqis but it's not a reason to put American kids' lives at risk, certainly not on the scale we did it. That second issue about links to terrorism is the one about which there's the most disagreement within the bureaucracy, even though I think everyone agrees that we killed 100 or so of an al Qaeda group in northern Iraq in this recent go-around, that we've arrested that al Qaeda guy in Baghdad who was connected to this guy Zarqawi whom Powell spoke about in his UN presentation.

Paul Wolfowitz, Deputy Secretary of Defense, "Interview with Sam Tannenhaus, Vanity Fair", Department of Defense, May 9, 2003
11.26.2008 7:07am
Crust (mail):
Eric, thanks for returning to this. The other major issue Lambert highlights that you may want to address is your use of Iraq Body Count numbers. As Lambert writes
Posner cites the Iraq Body Count number of civilian deaths reported in the media. But not all deaths are reported in the media so it is wrong to treat this as an upper bound. To find the net cost or benefit in lives we need to look at mortality survey data. I find it perplexing that Posner would use survey data to measure child mortality but ignore the surveys that measure the number he is interested [in]. The IFHS found that up to June 2006 there were about 400,000 excess deaths and the 2nd Lancet survey found about 650,000 excess deaths in the same time frame. Both surveys missed the most violent period in Iraq -- if we project forward to the current day I estimate that the net cost of the war so far has been between 750,000 lives (using IFHS) and 1,250,000 lives (using Lancet2) deaths.
11.26.2008 9:50am
einhverfr (mail) (www):
I think it is too soon to be declaring the Iraq war a humanitarian success or failure. We have to wait a while to see whether there is a lasting success. I think it is clear that up until the surge, the war was a humanitarian disaster. Now we have to see whether or not it is possible to keep the nation from sliding once again into a bloody civil war.

However, this doesn't really answer my main objections to having gone to war in the first place-- that it was a net loss for us in terms of foreign policy objections and that it provides perverse incentives to Iran, Syria, and many other countries in the area (note the Wazzani crisis, where the US had to intervene on behalf of Lebanon in the face of threats of war from then-PM Ariel Sharon). The "We did it" mentality doesn't take into account very the fact that this was an attempt to further American foreign policy and was a miserable failure in that regard.

BTW, I am not a fan of just withdrawing now. However unwisely we went to war, we took on responsibilities in the process. Failing to meet those responsibilities now would make us directly responsible for any problems afterwards, and possibly cause problems that didn't exist at the time we went to war (for example, Iraq becoming the major success story of the Qutbist movement for example). I even supported the surge because I thought it was worth trying, and I am glad it worked when I thought it would fail. Also, for all the older comparisons to Vietnam, this is worse in the sense that our enemies are not fully centralized, so leaving would create an unacceptable power vacuum.

The danger in trying to reposition the Iraq War as a success story rather than a salvage operation in foreign policy is that it blinds us to the costs we have incurred and makes us more likely to get involved in unwise military actions in the future. This doesn't mean we shouldn't finish the job-- the cost of not doing so at this point is far higher than the cost of doing so. However, the current view needs to be that at best, we will come out of the Iraq war in a slightly weaker position in the Middle East than when we went in. The point of staying now is to avoid big problems in the future.

BTW, Iraq has always been the central front in the war on terror, but the Bush Administration was not very honest about why, unless we believe that the CIA doesn't do rudamentary fact checking (Powell's map showed the alleged Al Qaeda training grounds in Northern Iraq, but in territory controlled by the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, not Ansar Al'Islam-- the PUK is supposed to be our allies).

The real reason why Iraq was the central front in the war on terrorism was that the US troops stationed in Saudi Arabia to contain Saddam were the main propaganda target for bin Laden. The idea was simply to redeploy these troops by invading Iraq and in doing so, deny Al Qaeda a key propaganda point. Of course the Iraq War ended up being a far better propaganda point and so we were suckered into what really should be seen as a serious strategic blunder.
11.26.2008 12:20pm
yes, you're right. you blithely talk about national interest considerations when about a million people from another nation have been killed. i agree, my estimate of 1/10 was way too high.
11.28.2008 7:30am
einhverfr (mail) (www):
Bushbasher wrote:

yes, you're right. you blithely talk about national interest considerations when about a million people from another nation have been killed. i agree, my estimate of 1/10 was way too high.

I am assuming this is in reply to my post?

I am not sure that is relevant because I am not convinced that a) the sanctions were humane and b) that we would have been able to remain uninvolved forever. My position at the time we went to war was "not here, not now." I felt that Iraq was unlikely to survive as a coherent state after Saddam, and I felt that we would do better to wait him out and then, if necessary, take part in a truly international effort to help stabilize the country. The problem is that failed states are fundamentally dangerous to everyone in an age where groups like Al Qaeda use them as training grounds.

Hence I don't think we will ever have a picture of whether more lives were lost because we went to war now, rather than waiting until things got ugly. Maybe more lives were lost, and maybe less. Such are the hazards of "if" history. Since this is fundamentally unknowable, I talk about what can be known, which is the longer-term shifts in power in the area.
11.28.2008 12:17pm
my post was addressed at anybody who indulges themselves in the abstract calculus of "national interest" whilst ignoring the psychopathic lying which started the iraq war, and its completely tangible and thoroughly predictable murderous result. specifically, it was directed at posner, and anybody who doesn't smell the nastiness of his post.
11.28.2008 8:49pm

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