After three years in Iraq (and three years worth of news and commentary on Iraq) I just had a new thought on the situation this morning. What would happen if we left Iraq now?
I am not an advocate of cut-and-run but I think we have to ask ourselves that question if we are to make an honest assessment of the situation. The only reason to stay in Iraq is if we want to prevent what would happen if we were to leave. The general consensus seems to be that if we leave there will be anarchy and its attending chaos. I am beginning to wonder how much worse it would be than it already is.
I know the Bush Administration would argue that it would be worse, and that they don’t intend to leave until Iraq is stable. I believe that violence would get worse soon after the US military leaves, but will Iraq ever be stable?
Sometimes a temporary solution to a problem may prevent a final solution (like propping up “friendly dictators” rather than allowing other countries their autonomy). Currently in Iraq there are thousands of Iraqis dying each month. What would it look like if we left?
What if, in the absence of the US military, Iraq entered an unchecked civil war where 10,000 Iraqis died each month for 6 months before they reached some sort of stability and the death tolls fell to 500 per month. The reason for my thoughts this morning was that I began to wonder if that was inevitable. If we stayed in Iraq for two more years and then pulled out would they have a short period of extreme instability as soon as we left before things settled down? Perhaps they would have 10,000 casualties per month for only two months.
Let’s compare these two scenarios to see what the cost would be of “staying the course” for two more years. The war is costing us roughly $100 billion per year and (conservatively) 50 US casualties per month. That translates into a cost to the US of $200 billion dollars and 1200 more lives. What does that purchase give us according to my scenario? Assuming 2500 Iraqi casualties per month while the US is on the ground, there would be 80,000 Iraqi deaths (60,000 over 2 years at 2500 per month plus 10,000 per month for two months of instability) before they achieved stability. If we were to cut and run under my scenario there would be 70,000 Iraqi casualties (60,000 over six months of civil war plus 500 per month for the next 20 months) before they achieved stability.
I don’t pretend that my numbers are accurate, if they were it would be easy to decide to save $200 billion dollars, 1200 US lives, and 10,000 Iraqi lives. I think my numbers should be just realistic enough to make people want to see real estimates of the cost of continuing this war. Let’s get experts to consider all the factors so that the public knows what they are supporting, or opposing.