Friday 20 Jul 2018 | 02:55 | SYDNEY
Friday 20 Jul 2018 | 02:55 | SYDNEY

Iraq is better off, so why was the war wrong?


Sam Roggeveen


25 November 2008 13:53

Amid a strong consensus that the Iraq war was a mistake, it is refreshing to see the case in favour of the war made in such dispassionate terms as these.

University of Chicago professor Eric Posner does not mount an ideological or moral argument for the war, but a utilitarian one, using the Brookings Institution's Iraq Index to show that by many metrics, life has improved considerably for Iraqis since Saddam was overthrown. Posner does not ignore the human costs of the war, but argues that if Saddam had been allowed to stay in power, many more Iraqis would have died.

The post is worth reading in full. I would make a few objections:

  • Posner adopts a consequentialist ethic, which is to say that he judges the rightness or wrongness of an action by its consequences rather than by whether it is intrinsically good or bad. Needless to say, this leads us down some uncomfortable moral alleys: is it right to murder one person to save ten more?
  • Posner does not consider the opportunity cost of the war. What else might have been done with the resources used in fighting it? (Likely US$1-2 trillion.)
  • Posner compares the costs of the war with the likely costs of a continued sanctions regime. He does not allow for the possibility that there were other options available to the US than those two. For me, Michael Walzer presented the best case for a third way.

(I note the first comment made in response to Posner's post, suggesting Posner is not being entirely serious with his argument. Useful exercise, though.)