Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Sunk Costs & The War in Iraq

Sunk Costs denote the resources that have already been invested in a given project or effort. Usually, sunk costs act to induce further investment, as psychologically we don't wish to consider our already committed resources as wasted or lost. However, psychology can work both ways.

In the case of the War in Iraq, it is evident to the meanest intellect that the invasion was a mistake, based on poor intelligence. Moreover, it is now clear that the White House engaged in foolishly utopian thinking about the possibilities of a peaceful democratic transition while utterly neglecting to prepare for the hard work of securing the country and rebuilding a functional polity. As a result, over 3,500 American troops are dead, along with scores of Iraqi allies and untold numbers of civilians. Iraq remains a mess.

The reaction is to cut the losses- to recognize the error and remove oneself from it. Yet, I think this is not necessarily right. The loss of life is irrevocable. The resources are already lost. It is necessary to look at the situation always anew, though alive to the witness of history. At the moment, the effectiveness of the troop surge in Baghdad appears much in question- but it is not necessarily a failure. The once-hopeless Anbar Province, seat of the insurgency is now quiet and (relatively) peaceful. Al-Qaeda in Iraq has been pushed out of both Anbar Province and now Baqubah. In short, it may be the case that the military situation is finally taking a turn for the better. Moreover, even the political situation seems to have a whisper of hope about it now. Perhaps the Americans need to stay in a little longer, if only to leave Iraq less chaotic than it is now.


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