I was reading Donald Rumsfeld's just-released memoir, "Known and Unknown," when I came across a passage that brought me to a dead stop:
"The U.S. military involvement in Iraq has come at a high price. Combat took the lives of thousands of American servicemen and -women and left many more wounded. The U.S. Treasury spent hundreds of billions of dollars. The prolong war also poisoned our politics at home."
What's missing from this picture? A hundred thousand or so dead Iraqi civilians.
Iraq Body Count website
, which keeps track of reported civilian casualties, reports that since the U.S. invasion there have been between 99,702 and 108, 854 documented civilian deaths in Iraq related to the war. Some estimates are higher. The actual number doesn't matter. Rumsfeld pays no attention to the notion that many Iraqi civilians lost their lives because of the war he supported and managed.
In his recent book, George W. Bush, also ignored this cost of the war. He wrote:
For all the difficulties that followed, America is safer without a homicidal dictator pursuing WMD and supporting terror at the heart of the Middle East. The region is more hopeful with a young democracy setting an example for others to follow. and the Iraqi people are better off with a government that answers to them instead of torturing and murdering them.
When Bush was promoting his book, he told NBC's Matt Lauer, "I will say, definitely, the world is better off without Saddam Hussein in power, as are 25 million people who now have a chance to live in freedom."
Not everyone, though, is better off. As journalists Nir Rosen put it
Certainly the hundreds of thousands of dead Iraqis are not better off. Their families aren't better off. The tens of thousands of Iraqi men who languished in American and subsequently Iraqi gulags are not better off. The children who lost their fathers aren't better off. The millions of Iraqis who lost their homes, hundreds of thousands of refugees in the region, are not better off. So there's no mathematical calculation you can make to determine who's better off and who's not.
Bush and Rumsfeld might calculate that the benefits of the war do surpass even these particular costs. But what's jarring is that the pair does not acknowledge this side of the ledger. I wonder why.
There are several possibilities. Perhaps they believe their calculus would be harder to defend if such extensive and tragic losses were recognized. This is a tremendous amount of blood to place on the scales. Or can it be that they have just not paid much attention to the matter of civilian casualties and are (perhaps willfully) ignoring the topic? The Pentagon apparently never officially kept a tally of the Iraqi civilian death count. Yet any honest accounting of the Iraq war -- or any war -- would cover this portion of the outcome. Any honest debate about the merits of a war would consider this angle.
Conservatives often hail cost-benefit analysis when it comes to government actions, such as regulations. They praise market forces. They promote the value of responsibility. At least, in the abstract. Rumsfeld's book -- and Bush's too -- is a fine example of an abandonment of such principles. The Iraq war cannot be judged without weighing these consequent deaths. But Rumsfeld and Bush duck the issue. Iraqis and citizens in other nations can be forgiven for regarding the Bushites' inability -- or unwillingness -- to recognize such a tremendous loss of life as an indication that they do not much value Iraqi lives.
It's easy for Rumsfeld, Bush, and others to proclaim that Iraqis have benefited from the war, now that the murderous Saddam and his repressive regime are gone. But Bush and Rumsfeld did not have to pay the ultimate sacrifice. They imposed it on others -- without asking their consent. They were the deciders. In Iran and Egypt, the world has seen that citizens can rise up against autocrats -- when they believe the time is right and when they are willing to accept the consequences of their defiance. The 100,000 or so dead Iraqi civilians were given no such choice.
Is it surprising that Rumsfeld and Bush do not pay even lip service to the dead Iraqi civilians? Probably not, for addressing this subject could cause a debate they'd obviously rather avoid. Better for these warriors to commit an act of moral cowardice than engage in that difficult fight.
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