Sunk Costs and Iraq

March 21, 2006 | By | 1 Reply More

Three years ago, my 96-year-old grandfather was dying and he was upset.  But he wasn’t upset about dying. He approached his own death with great inner strength.  What made him upset was that his government had needlessly invaded Iraq.  Because Iraq was not a threat, he said, we were squandering precious resources better used at home. The Iraq invasion was an alien idea to my grandfather’s conservative values.  Until his death in May of 2004, he lamented that the invasion would result in an intractable mess with no palatable solution. 
His assessment has proven correct.  Every day, we are paying 200 million more dollars to prolong this bloody occupation. That’s $100,000 per minute.  That’s a lot of money.  St. Louis baseball fans who revel at the near completion of the new stadium for the St. Louis Cardinals might appreciate that this war effort is the financial equivalent of buying a new major league baseball stadium every two days.  The cost of the Iraq war so far could have paid for 32 million children to attend a year of Head Start.

The $350 billion we will have spent on this war (by the end of 2006) amounts to more than $3,500 for each American household.  There is also a more precious resource to consider; the occupation is killing more than sixty American soldiers every month, almost 2,400 troops killed to date. This is the equivalent of crashing a packed airliner every other month. Nor must we forget that this war has inflicted terrible injuries on more than 17,000 U.S. soldiers.   If you lined them up (you’ll have to falsely assume that they are each capable of standing), the line of wounded soldiers would stretch more than ten miles.
Our very presence is creating enemies where there were none.  That’s what one should expect, of course, when an occupying power waves off 35,000 Iraqi civilian deaths as “collateral damage” .  Remember how angry we were when a foreign power killed one-tenth that many people on 9/11?

Never mind that Saddam Hussein is sitting in a prison. The U.S. presence in Iraq is creating new Saddams every day—we just don’t know their names yet.  Their hatred is being fueled by charred bodies of Iraqi children, by perverse images from Abu Ghraib and Gitmo, by unstoppable car bombs and by American lust to pour Iraqi oil into our fat cars.  Those newly-created Saddams fantasize of someday inflicting massive damage upon American soil.  Perhaps you think this is hyperbole.  If so, you shouldn’t have any problem walking down the streets of any major Iraqi city and asking the people what they think about us.

We can mitigate this disaster only by leaving. Our continued military presence is causing massive problems that dwarf any good deeds we might be accomplishing.  Blowing through tax dollars and having our soldiers stand around like targets is not an exit plan.

This administration’s failure to have any exit strategy is a pathology characterized by economists as the “sunk costs fallacy.” Colloquially, it is referred to as throwing good money after bad.  “Sunk costs” are those that have already been incurred and which cannot be recovered.  When rational people make decisions, they do not consider sunk costs.  Rational people walk away from businesses gone sour.  They walk away from gambling tables, destructive relationships and counterproductive wars.  

Perhaps it’s too much to expect that this Administration would bring the troops home.  To do so would be to admit that we have wasted lives and resources.  The trend lines, however, tell us that to maintain the status quo is to sentence more soldiers to death, each of them for no good reason. 
Imagine that Great Britain had invaded Iraq, without any allies, and that the occupation deteriorated into the real-world mess we see in Iraq today.  Assume that the British announced their immediate unilateral withdrawal, inviting the U.S. to come in and take over for them on their way out.  Would you commit U.S. troops and lives in that situation?  Whether we should prolong the U.S. occupation of Iraq today is the same question and it deserves the same answer.  It shouldn’t matter to good decision-making that we were the ones that sunk the initial costs.

Albert Einstein once described “insanity” as doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results.  It’s time to stop this insanity.


Category: Iraq, Politics

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

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