Wednesday, March 12, 2003

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The costs of containment

I've had discussions with numerous anti-war faculty on campus here. They inevitably get uncomfortable when I mention that starting a war now would probably save more lives than continued containment.

I understand this discomfort. After all, war is the most violent option in world politics. Pacifists wish to put a normative taboo on military action, as a way of constraining states. The mere suggestion that a quick war is superior to a long siege (which is what the containment of Iraq would mean) cuts at the core assumption of pacifists.

That said, facts are facts -- containment will probably spill more blood than force. In separate op-eds, Walter Russell Mead and Charles Lipson make this point. To quote Mead's conclusion:

Morally, politically, financially, containing Iraq is one of the costliest failures in the history of American foreign policy. Containment can be tweaked -- made a little less murderous, a little less dangerous, a little less futile -- but the basic equations don't change. Containing Hussein delivers civilians into the hands of a murderous psychopath, destabilizes the whole Middle East and foments anti-American terror -- with no end in sight.

This is disaster, not policy.

It is time for a change.

Amen. [Er, doesn't Mead exaggerate the number of deaths in Iraq that can be attributed to sanctions?--ed. Yes -- see Matt Welch and Stephen Green for the details -- but even a conservative estimate supports his point].

(FULL DISCLOSURE: Charles is a departmental colleague of mine. He also has an excellent web site for those generally interested in international relations)

posted by Dan on 03.12.03 at 03:12 PM