Iraq is a Minefield

Have any of you ever realized that you just may be in a minefield? It’s a difficult conundrum because you don’t want to just stay there, but you also don’t want to move. It seems as though there is no good choice to make. That, according to an analyst at the National Defense University, is the US fate in Iraq currently.

During our relatively short discourse into international ethics, we discussed Table 2.1 from Amstutz’s book, which demonstrates the Three Dimensions of Moral Judgment.

Here it is:

We notice that in order to evaluate the morality of a foreign policy decision, we must judge the motives behind the decision, the means used, and the final result of the decision. A new paper by Joseph J. Collins, of the Institute for National Strategic Studies of the National Defense University analyzes the Bush administration’s decision to invade Iraq in 2003. According to the author,

To date, the war in Iraq is a classic case of failure to adopt and adapt prudent courses of action that balance ends, ways, and means.

The paper is an interesting and nuanced read and I encourage you to take a look. Here is the first page:

Measured in blood and treasure, the war in Iraq has achieved the status of a major war and a major debacle. As of fall 2007, this conflict has cost the United States over 3,800 dead and over 28,000 wounded. Allied casualties accounted for another 300 dead. Iraqi civilian deaths—mostly at the hands of other Iraqis—may number as high as 82,000. Over 7,500 Iraqi soldiers and police officers have also been killed. Fifteen percent of the Iraqi population has become refugees or displaced persons. The Congressional Research Service estimates that the United States now spends over $10 billion per month on the war, and that the total, direct U.S. costs from March 2003 to July 2007 have exceeded $450 billion, all of which has been covered by deficit spending. No one as yet has calculated the costs of long-term veterans’ benefits or the total impact on Service personnel and materiel.

The war’s political impact also has been great. Globally, U.S. standing among friends and allies has fallen. Our status as a moral leader has been damaged by the war, the subsequent occupation of a Muslim nation, and various issues concerning the treatment of detainees. At the same time, operations in Iraq have had a negative impact on all other efforts in the war on terror, which must bow to the priority of Iraq when it comes to manpower, materiel, and the attention of decisionmakers. Our Armed Forces—especially the Army and Marine Corps—have been severely strained by the war in Iraq. Compounding all of these problems, our efforts there were designed to enhance U.S. national security, but they have become, at least temporarily, an incubator for terrorism and have emboldened Iran to expand its influence throughout the Middle East.

As this case study is being written, despite impressive progress in security during the surge, the outcome of the war is in doubt. Strong majorities of both Iraqis and Americans favor some sort of U.S. withdrawal. Intelligence analysts, however, remind us that the only thing worse than an Iraq with an American army may be an Iraq after the rapid withdrawal of that army. The 2007 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iraq’s future stability said that a rapid withdrawal “almost certainly would lead to a significant increase in the scale and scope of sectarian conflict in Iraq, intensify Sunni resistance to the Iraqi government, and have adverse consequences for national reconciliation.” The NIE goes on to say that neighboring countries might intervene, resulting in massive casualties and refugee flows. No one has calculated the psychopolitical impact of a perceived defeat on the U.S. reputation for power or the future of the overall war on terror. For many analysts (including this one), Iraq remains a “must win,” but for many others, despite the obvious progress under General David Petraeus and the surge, it now looks like a “can’t win.” To date, the war in Iraq is a classic case of failure to adopt and adapt prudent courses of action that balance ends, ways, and means.