Memories from Govy 10

by Frank Webb | 10/11/05 5:00am

To the Editor:

Professor Ronald Edsforth in his Oct. 7 letter to the editor ("Some More Appropriate Statistics") provided some interesting numbers to consider. While I will not question his sources, I had some immediate objections to his arguments.

While most numbers are presented ostensibly to make us question if the war in Iraq is somehow "worth" the cost, the number of Iraqi civilian deaths since the start of the war is listed without a number of deaths for a similar amount of time during the rule of Saddam's regime. Nearly 30,000 civilians dead is a sobering number of innocents, but little context is provided. Surely he doesn't believe that Iraq was some pristine Scandinavian state under Saddam.

Although I think it's important to consider the opportunity cost of the money being spent on the war, Edsforth asks us to consider instead a huge program of educational scholarships, deploying hundreds of thousands of American "peacemakers" around the world, to presumably talk militant Islamic terrorists and despots out of pursuing their jihad against the West. Perhaps there are more relevant opportunity costs for Dartmouth students to consider. How about the cost of another 50 years of Baathist rule to the Kurdish population in Iraq?

Many would-be international terrorists from elsewhere in the Muslim world are presently engaged in fighting American, coalition and Iraqi forces in Iraq. Would Professor Edsforth care to speculate on the potential cost of those forces focusing their violence and attention on domestic American cities? Professor Robert Looney of the Center for Contemporary Conflict estimates that the cumulative cost of the 9/11 attacks to the end of 2003 amounted to 5 percentage points of the annual GDP, or half a trillion dollars. Professor Edsforth's cost of the war at $200 billion isn't anything to sneeze at, but it is in fact still dramatically less than the cost of the first large-scale terrorist strike on US soil. What would another attack to Manhattan cost the second time around? Or to Houston or Los Angeles?

I believe the costs of the Iraq war are indeed great, no matter how you slice it. To ask any American serviceman or woman to pay the last full measure is a responsibility none of us would relish. To set in motion events which would cause a large number of civilian deaths is a decision I would not want to make alone. But given his narrow view of the costs, risks and principles involved, I'm glad Professor Edsforth is responsible neither for the security of our nation, nor our foreign policy.

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