Thursday, February 20, 2003

How Do We Know If We've Won?


Calpundit suggests some criteria for war success (found via Goblin Queen).

He asks pro-war partisans, assuming that a war results in a relatively swift regime change in Iraq, with Saddam Hussein and his top lieutenants either captured or killed, are any of the following possible "good" outcomes also necessary to consider the war a success, and would any the following possible "bad" outcomes render the war a failure?

Possible Good Outcomes:
  • Introduction, to at least some extent, of democratic institutions in Iraq.

  • Rapid reconstruction of Iraqi infrastructure and introduction of market reforms, food aid, and medical aid.

  • A clear demonstration to the world that Iraq did indeed have the hidden WMDs that we said they had.

  • Continued protection of the Kurds and other ethnic minorities in Iraq.

  • At some level, evidence that Western values introduced in Iraq are starting to make inroads in the rest of the Middle East.


Possible Bad Outcomes:
  • A serious uprising of the "Arab street" that ends up promoting increased terrorist activity.

  • Additional wars in the Middle East, whether they involve us or not.

  • Pursuit of WMDs by countries like Iran or Syria, which don't currently have them.

  • A serious attack, possibly nuclear, on Israel.

  • An interruption of the Mideast oil supply, either via embargo or war, that causes a serious recession in the rest of the world.


My Answer: I don't like to dodge questions normally, but I can't just check these off. First, I don't think most of them are binary, although a few are. It's certainly possible to have more or less "Western values", or more or less of an uprising on the Arab street.

Here's my calculus. To go to war without reservation, the following conditions must be met:
  • There must be a substantially probable net benefit to the US from the war, considering all possible costs and benefits. (I agree that other countries should use their own self-interest in deciding whether to join with the US.

  • The war must be probable to leave the people of Iraq substantially better off than if there was no war.

  • The war must be probably to leave the people of the Earth as a whole (excluding the US) not worse off than they would be without a war.


Most of Calpundit's proposed outcomes would add costs or benefits to the appropriate side of those three equations. In this case, I think it is best to go to war because I think Saddam Hussein is a substantial threat to the region, the US, and the world (in that order) and that this threat cannot be contained without war, that his people will be better off without him, including, in the medium-long run, the Kurds, and that eliminating Saddam Hussein will also eliminate a substantial threat to the world economy. I also think that eliminating him will reduce, rather than increase, world terrorism. I think that the war will weaken international structures like the UN slightly, but in areas where their value was already minimal (and it might encourage badly needed reform at the UN).

If I'm proved wrong on enough points that the US, Iraqis, or world are rendered worse off, then I would consider the war a failure at least with regard to that aspect of the equation. (Which could render it a partial success, I guess.)

As an example, the Taliban were the easiest case to meet my criteria. Almost any government imaginable would be better for the Afghans, and the Taliban were harboring murderous terrorists who took American hesitance as a license to kill more people. Iraq is close - Saddam is dangerous, Saddam is violating international law, Saddam is so bad that it's hard to imagine making the situation much worse, and easy to imagine making it substantially better. It's not as easy a case as the Taliban, but it's far enough on the continuum to make me want to go forward.

How's that?