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A Cold-blooded Cost-benefit Analysis

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A Cold-Blooded Cost-Benefit Analysis

Early in the reading of Noam Chomsky 's latest, Failed States, we find a discussion on the unstated but certainly longstanding American policy with respect to soft targets (that is, the killing of innocents), in which it is suggested that a:
"sensible policy [should] meet the test of cost-benefit analysis " of "the amount of blood and misery that will be poured in, and the likelihood that democracy will emerge at the other end " "democracy " as defined by US elites, of course. "
Chomsky wryly cites this as a pragmatic approach to evaluating the appropriate level of terrorist attacks on unarmed civilians. After all, as he says: "their terror against us and our clients is the ultimate evil, while our terror against them does not exist or, if it does, is entirely appropriate ".

For all but the most naïve of souls, this is hardly a stunning revelation. After all, "gun-barrel democracy " has for decades been a key element in the application of American foreign policy, though that most unfortunate phrase is always suitably recast by the elites as part of any pre-war propaganda process. What is stunning, however, is the stark juxtaposition of blood and misery with the nascent democracy it is intended to produce; so, too, is the slick transformation of the brutal process into a simple business concept. That the generally benign tool known as cost-benefit analysis would be employed to mask the terror and murder of innocents is, in its own way, nothing short of brilliant. Some might, however, be less kind in their judgment.

Journey back in time to the previous administration, when just such a bloody-minded calculation was, in fact, openly defended. Madeline Albright, SecState for Bill Clinton, famously opined that the death of half a million Iraqi children was "worth it ". Leslie Stahl of 60 Minutes questioned Albright on US sanctions against Iraq in 1996:
Stahl: We have heard that a half million children have died. I mean, that's more children than died in Hiroshima. And, you know, is the price worth it?
Albright: I think this is a very hard choice, but the price--we think the price is worth it.

Madeline did not refute the number, although she did, several years later, worry that her response could have been more empathetic. Half a million children dead (!) and "we think the price is worth it ". This judgment was surely based on a sensible cost-benefit analysis, given the misery that was poured in, balanced against the containment of a weakened and pathetic Saddam as a precondition to democracy as would soon be defined by US elites, of course.

Let us now fast-forward. In what passes for present-day Iraq, the cost-benefit analysis fits the blood and misery that is poured in (and on), balanced against the democratic state that has fitfully emerged at the other end. So, peering into the future of the Iraq War, and assuming that a cost-benefit has in fact been done, it is perhaps time to ask: "When can America end the killing of unarmed civilians? " Or, put another way, "When will the number of Iraqi civilian deaths finally balance and justify the faltering democracy that America has created? "
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In assessing the level of civilian sacrifice against the democratic result thereby produced, it might be helpful if the administration could reveal just how much carnage it thought appropriate. Clearly, conditions on the ground are rapidly evolving (the US was, sadly, not greeted with garlands), so the acceptable level of terror and death has most certainly been revised upward over the last three years. Still, the original expectation would be an excellent place to start. George thought the blood and misery count to be 30,000, "give or take "; the Lancet says 100,000 either (and both) rising rapidly. George says that it will be up to a future president (he didn 't say it would be the next one) to decide when America departs, so how does the administration factor an unknown end-point into the cost-benefit analysis? And while the recent spike in sectarian killings is not reflected in the US totals, they are of American design, and so can be reasonably included in the blood and misery count. There is also the little matter of environmental devastation caused by US armaments treated with depleted uranium; this gift of democracy will produce soft target misery for generations. And, finally, given that the occupation has destroyed Iraq 's water, sewage and power infrastructures, and given that US reconstruction funds have now been withdrawn, perhaps the administration can extrapolate the near-certain growth in future mortality rates, and just call it a day.

And there is little joy on the benefit side of the equation. Three years after the invasion, it is fair to say that Iraq is not much of a democracy, as exemplified by the inability of its elected officials to convene as a governing body. Were Parliament to accede to American demands for a Prime Minister of appropriate disposition (democracy as defined by US elites?), perhaps the administration could create some positive spin on this side of the equation. And after three years there exists no clear statement by US elites as to what will define a successful democracy in Iraq, a consideration that is central to a cost-benefit analysis. Perhaps, though, we can guess. Unfettered access to resource wealth, and a national government favorably aligned to US policies, will likely remain tenuous goals for some time to come.

The unintended consequences that now plague the benefit side of the equation would thus appear to render soft target costs intolerably high unless, of course, the administration fails to admit to their existence, or deems them entirely appropriate. It is more likely, of course, that the Bush administration never considered the costs in misery and death to Iraqis greater and greater civilian sacrifice only serving to magnify the glorious victory for democracy over tyranny.

If this is true, America won 't end the killing of unarmed civilians, and there is no number that will balance the result (however dismal), because the cost-benefit analysis, as a concept in American foreign policy, is only employed post mortem. As articulated so beautifully by Madeline Albright, it is merely cited to justify the killing and laud the result (however imperfect). And so, it will always be "worth it ". The fact is that US administrations just don 't care how many citizens of other lands are killed in the pursuit of their foreign policy and neoliberal goals. And once again, for all but the most naïve of souls, this is hardly a stunning revelation.

As we look to the future, and in light of the revelations by Seymour Hersh in his latest article in The New Yorker, it is quite possible that the planned Iran War could become a one-sided nuclear engagement, setting the stage for soft target terror of unimaginable proportions. While public protest has a sorry record in containing American military adventure, the anti-war community must now mobilize and expose the cold-blooded sacrifice of innocent life in self-righteous pursuit of "democracy " as a signal foreign policy and humanitarian issue, and it must do so before the killing begins. It is time to forcefully highlight the human side of the cost-benefit analysis in gun-barrel democracy, and there is no more urgent issue than the impending disaster in Iran save perhaps for the unfolding disaster in Iraq.
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David Ruhlen lives in Calgary, Alberta, Canada and works in the security industry. He has a Bachelor's degree in Music and a Master's degree in Business Administration.

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