23 March, 2008

Michael Ware on Iraq

AN INTERESTING and sobering video out of Iraq, as Bill Maher interviews the notoriously unscripted CNN correspondent Michael Ware (hat tip to Sullivan):




It is good to get some frankness from our correspondents. But Matt Yglesias' point (echoed by Ezra Klein) about an "asymmetry of assumptions" applies perfectly here: when considering an American withdrawal we posit the worst, whereas those arguing for continued occupation get away with assuming a best-case outcome for their particular scenario. Ware aptly summarizes the strategic disaster that is our invasion of Iraq, and catalogs the atrocities that will very likely befall its people if American troops withdraw. Ware clearly wants to make his audience think hard about the consequences of withdrawal, which indeed we should. But absent from his testimony, and from that of most proponents of remaining in Iraq indefinitely, is any argument as to why those things won't happen anyway despite or even because of our continued presence. Similarly missing is any reflection on the opportunity cost (either domestic or foreign) of the vast resources necessary to maintain that presence. Simply put, what return on our investment are we getting, either for the Iraqi republic or for our foreign policy objectives?

You can see in this video how those sorts of holistic, cost-benefit types of analysis get steamrolled by the emotional evocation of the laundry list of post-occupation horrors -- and how that leads to a sort of moral stalemate. Both options are unpalatable (stay, and continue stoking anti-Americanism while diverting resources from vital domestic priorities and global threats; leave, and perhaps witness genocide and regional proxy war break out over a significant proportion of the world's oil, with the main beneficiary probably being Iran) which seems to have the effect of favoring the status quo. But shouldn't it be the opposite? Shouldn't the burden of proof be on those whose approach to and view of the conflict has been consistently proven wrong over the course of five years in which they were able to enact without hindrance their chosen policies?

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