Bush: The War Was Worth the Cost

The president says, despite all the costs of the Iraq war, that it has been worth it. This is truly extraordinary, considering that those costs have, by and large, not been incurred by him.

Of course, this is the nature of government: It socializes costs and privatizes benefits. All beneficiaries of government—whether they be members of the public, connected businesses, or public agencies—comprise private individuals and private individuals alone. President Bush is one such private interest. In a free economy, he could only determine whether something was “worth it” if it were him paying the costs, not others being forced to.

But war, like any socialist program, disperses those costs over many people (though never equally, for that would be logistically impossible): The taxpayers are hit hard, as well as the American soldiers held under indentured servitude to the state (“stop-loss”). But the greatest victims are typically the foreign people such wars of “liberation” are supposedly designed to help. In July 2006, the Lancet estimated that more than 600,000 Iraqis were killed as a result of the invasion. More recently, Opinion Research Business put the number at 1.2 million. Aside from this, one out of five Iraqis, by some estimates, have been displaced from their homes.

This war has become one of the greatest atrocities of our time in all the world, and Bush’s pronouncement that the price has been “worth it” betrays the utilitarian mindset typical of mainstream political reasoning, socialism, central planning and war-making. It should not be up to his cold calculus to determine whether hundreds of thousands of people across the world should live or die. And once the decision is up to him, once individual rights have been sacrificed to such utilitarian calculus, it is almost inevitable that, even by the most superficially defensible utilitarian standards, the state’s central plan will fail. After all, when Madeline Albright had a similarly cold thing to say in 1996 that the death of half a million Iraqi children under US-UN sanctions had been “worth it” to aid the ousting of Saddam, much of the American media didn’t notice, but the international Muslim community likely did. Such callousness toward victims of US warmaking abroad can only add to the terrorist threat, filling the ranks of anti-American terrorist groups and gaining them sympathy from people abroad who surely misdirect such sympathy but are understandably horrified by the cavalier way in which American politicians presume to decide whose child’s life is worth extinguishing for the sake of their grand global projects.

It was such arrogant utilitarian warmaking abroad that led to the cataclysm of 9/11. Not only is more war an immoral response to the immoral act of terrorism, it is as doomed to failure as any socialist program.

Anthony Gregory is a former Research Fellow at the Independent Institute and author of the Independent books American Surveillance and The Power of Habeas Corpus in America.
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