Global Issues, US Politics

The human cost equation

In Tuesday’s most deadly attack, two pedestrians wearing vests made of explosives blew themselves up near a restaurant outside the walls of the Green Zone, within a few hundred yards of three busy entrances, Iraqi and American officials said. Soon after the initial blasts, a hidden bomb was detonated nearby, adding to the carnage, the American military said. Some Iraqi authorities said the third explosion was caused by a car bomb.

At least 15 Iraqi civilians and an Iraqi police officer were killed in the explosions, and 4 people were wounded….

In a predominantly Sunni area of Dawra, a district in southern Baghdad, gunmen ambushed a bus carrying Shiite mourners from the holy city of Najaf, where they had buried a relative, government officials and family members said. The gunmen pulled 10 people from the bus and executed them, the Interior Ministry official said.

An hour earlier, in Taji, north of Baghdad, gunmen ambushed another bus, killing one person and wounding five, the official said.

Two mortar grenades hit a Shiite mosque in Dawra, killing 9 and wounding 11 civilians, the Interior Ministry official said.

In other violence, a family of five–a father, mother, grown daughter and two teenage sons–were found beheaded in a predominantly Sunni sector of Dawra, according to an official at Yarmouk Hospital, the main medical facility in western Baghdad.

The police and hospital officials also reported that four car bombs around Baghdad killed at least 7 people and wounded at least 18.

Gunmen raided a company’s offices in the upper-middle-class Mansour neighborhood, killing three employees and wounding three, officials said.

According to the official at Yarmouk Hospital, five bodies were discovered early Tuesday in Jihad, the neighborhood where dozens of people were reportedly executed by marauding gunmen on Sunday. It was unclear when the victims had been killed.

In Tikrit, Saddam Hussein’s hometown, a time bomb exploded in the clinic of Ameera al-Rubaie, the wife of the governor of Salahuddin Province, according to Agence France-Presse, which quoted the local police. Dr. Rubaie, a gynecologist, was killed and four of her patients were wounded, the police said, according to the wire service.

In Baquba, north of Baghdad, the mayor of the Um Al Nawa district was assassinated by gunmen, the ministry official said. In the Shiite holy city of Karbala, a drive-by shooting killed two workers in the central market, according to the Interior Ministry official.

An engineer and his bodyguard were assassinated on their way to work in Kirkuk on Tuesday morning, according to Col. Adel Zain Alabdin of the Iraqi police. A car bomb in Mosul l killed two people and wounded four, the police said. [emphasis added]

The above is a NYT report on one day of violence in Iraq – Tuesday of this week – as noted by Michael Crowley at the Plank. Some days have been better, some much worse. This Times of London report, as AS right states, is equally as grueling. My comment is not so much about these incidents per se, but rather the sum human cost of the war. In many respects, I can sympathise with the humanitarian rationales for the war. Particularly those expressed on this site. I am a strong supporter of humanitarian interventions, under strict conditions and with the types of coalitions, and skill sets, that I believe are essential to the post-conflict nation building process.

On balance, at the time, however, I was against the war based largely on an equation of the human costs. Or more accurately, the combination of the risk of an incredibly difficult post-invasion period, combined with a lack of planning, capability, desire, and coalition to effectively deal with this nation building project. UN support, for me, was not a matter of ‘what the world thinks’, but rather a combination of getting access to the necessary skill sets (imperfect but evolved over numerous post-cold war missions), and local/regional legitimacy, that is essential in post-conflict environments. The humanitarian equation, for me, did not add up.

Of course others had different equations. There has been much talk lately about the 1% doctrine, for example – this is not really a humanitarian argument though. One of Blair’s many calculations was that he could convince the US to accept the greater UN involvement that he knew was needed, immediately after the fall of Baghdad. This of course, for numerous reasons, proved incorrect.

If one’s goals are humanitarian, then this human cost equation is of primary relevance.

My question then is this. For the war’s supporters, is the human cost of the war academic? Do the causalities, or the many days like this past Tuesday, alter the overarching rationale for the war? Or, do the intentions of the war, and the eventual end state (if positive), trump any number of deaths, or any amount of brutality, in the interim? This question is at the center of much of the debate on humanitarian intervention more generally, and I think can, and should, be asked of Iraq.

On a similar note, O’Hanlon, an advocate of humanitarian intervention for which I have great sympathy, last week had a good op-ed on the humanitarian side of the reconstruction effort – how it has faltered and where it might go. Incomplete, yes, but some decent ideas.