Umm, Did Anyone Else Realize It Was This Bad??

Granted these numbers might be inflated--the story itself says it was unclear if they were limited just to deaths from killings--but even the more conservative AP counts have at least 1,500 Iraqi civilians killed...during May and June!!!!

I have a question for the supporters of the war, who think it is good for the Iraqi people. Is there any number of Iraqi civilian deaths that would render the invasion a bad idea, at least on the criterion of helping Iraqis? I realize there is an argument that it's not Bush's fault that insurgents are blowing up people, and I'm asking that, whatever your thoughts on that matter, surely there is some point at which no invasion would have been better.

So I wonder: If, say, one million people died in a single year--and not because of US troops or bombs but from terrorists--would Bill Kristol stop justifying the occupation as good for the Iraqis? Is there some number at which even he couldn't say that with a straight face? If so, what's the ballpark of the number?


  1. If two thirds of the population needs to die for the creation of a better society, so be it. The means of the communists in Cambodia were wrong because of the end. The less you think about it the better.

  2. If Iraq does get a representative government and the terrorists still attack, who then would be to blame?

    After all, can't a (relatively) free people choose at any time to liberate people living under a dictator as the dictator has no legitimate moral authority to rule?

    Or are we talking something else here ....

  3. After all, can't a (relatively) free people choose at any time to liberate people living under a dictator as the dictator has no legitimate moral authority to rule?

    What do you mean by "liberate"? If this entails killing thousands of civilians, then no I don't think a free people can choose to (morally) do this.

  4. Bob - So the American Revolution was wrong?

    Really we probably have a lot of common ground here. Just don't agree with the implicit line of argumentation.

    I was not a supporter of the Iraqi adventure. It runs the risk of being an unmitigated disaster and going into civil war (arguably happening now).

    Arrogant people will not learn from history. I seriously doubt our presence (or "Iraqi democracy" even if it did happen) is going to stop 1400 years (I think that's right) of Shiite / Sunni violence.

  5. JIMB,

    I'm not sure what you mean about the American Revolution. Are you saying that Sam Adams et al. should've known that the British would retaliate, and that thousands of noncombatant civlians would die? (And did that even happen?)

    But to answer your question, yes, as a pacifist I think the American Revolution was unjustified and unnecessary. Gandhi showed a different way to free yourself from the British Empire.

  6. Bob - Don't want to cover ground we've been over; (for instance: I feel having a justice system is worth the cost because it minimizes innocent lives lost even though we know beforehand that we will end up incarcerating and / or killing innocent people - I believe I get your view right if I say you disagree; the same for police pursuits of criminals putting at risk bystanders) - but more interested in the idea that the U.S. "had no business going into Iraq" for the following reasons which I think are questionable:

    1 - The cost of innocent lives necessarily precludes action (as opposed to the cost of inaction which might result in greater loss of life).

    2 - There are no benefits that could outweight the cost of innocent lives.

    3 - The situation otherwise would have been better over the next 50 years.

    I think all 3 are incorrect reasons. There are other issues; for example France supplying Saddam with weaponry and it's radical Islamic population growing rapidly, joint Russian and Iraqi cooperation, etc.

    The reason we should not be in Iraq is because of the potential for creating or broadening a war with radical Islamics, the potential for civil war, and the necessity of maintaining a permanent presence (which exacerbates the above), none of which leads to the preservation of human life - unless there are some critical facts I'm not aware of.

  7. JIMB,

    Your reasons (1) and (2) aren't empirical, and I simply disagree with you. Your reason (3) is empirical, and there too I disagree with you. Do you agree that right now Iraq is worse than it was under Saddam? If so, after how many years of this would you agree that--from the viewpoint of the welfare of the Iraqi people--the US invasion would be a mistake?

    And can you please clarify what you meant about the American Revolution? Are you saying it killed thousands of civilian colonists?

  8. Of course the American Revolution was wrong. Within two decades the people had less freedom than they had under the British. Adam Smith had it right -- Washington et al. just wanted to be in charge themselves.

  9. Bob - We've no need to empirically endure "1000 rapes" before outlawing that behavior with punishment, and we've no need to repeat the experiment over and over to make sure the "empirical relationship" holds. The idea that when we take action it costs innocent lives (like a justice system does) should not necessarily preclude our action if it can be reasonably supported by history.

    Let's focus on #2 as that seems the real crux of the argument, because we probably have common ground arguing to minimize the cost of innocent human lives.

    I am saying - not that there is -but there could be - benefits which outweigh the current cost in lives. You make the extraordinary claim that there cannot be any justification by criticizing the current action without reservation. That's an amazing level of certainty and it requires similarly an extremely strong argument, which I don't believe has been forthcoming.

    Here's a basic scenario: Iran achieves nuclear and biological capability in 5 years with rockets that have long distance pinpoint ability to target Tel-Aviv, being secretly supplied by Russia and China or whoever. Some event sparks a war with Israel.

    Now what? With the current level of Nazi-like fanatics (according to their own words) running the show, we risk a nuclear / biological / chemical exchange. In fact, with recent "advances" biological warfare can target common Jewish genetic traits excluding most Arabs from harm, relieving yet another constraint on aggressive violent action ... horrible.

    Is that better or perhaps strategy and placement really, really matters for the balance of power in the middle east.

    Whether it is worse or better for the citizens under Saddam vs. current situation, I'm not sure that's at all clear either. For some people, freedom is more precious than life - and it has not ever been achieved without sacrifice, so the "scale of values" argument isn't very strong.

    Neither are the numbers at all clear. Saddam's rule probably cost 100s of thousands of lives, directly (war, arrest) and economically (dictatorships are not successful). Our actions so far are probably on par, but they do (however remotely) have a chance of success.

    Yes - I am saying the American Revolution (even leaving England) did kill many innocent people. The people apparently felt that religious and political freedom was more valuable than life. You make the argument that we should not take action in which innocent lives are to be sacrificed, a view I find that history does not adequately support.

  10. Gene - by what forward looking criteria (i.e. logically forseeable result of action) was the American Revolution wrong?

  11. Adam Smith foresaw this quite well -- he wrote his comments in a book that was published in 1776. Here's a maxim -- violence should only be used as the option of last resort, and the American colonists were far from that point.

  12. Gene - If you lived 1000 years and been able to observe one hundred revolutions you probably would have found yourself many times in the losing position with that same argument. Violence should sometimes be the first resort (for instance, when encountering an armed robber in your girl's room).

    To say that "Adam Smith" was right is to make a claim that requires much more than the fact that things turned out as he said. You must also establish that the reasons given by Adam Smith are logically - not just by chance - associated with the outcome and that the reasons given are the most important central issues to determining that outcome. Perhaps he was right.

    The American Revolution was debated at length and many opinions expressed; some might even have been right in another time, but turned out not to be true this time.

    (I note this is a tangent dealing with a specific situation unrelated to the general question on this string: are there times when action should be taken although it will cost innocent lives? I believe the answer is yes).


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