Wednesday, May 24, 2006


I have to admit I haven't really formulated any deep thoughts about Iraq. I've thought alot about the, now largely irrelevant, question of whether or not invading Iraq was wise terrorism policy, but I tend to avoid the currently relevant question -- what should we do now?

Answering that question requires first answering two other questions: where would we like to be and where are we now? That is, what are our objectives and how close are we to achieving them? Only after we address these questions should we address the question of how do we close the gap between where we are now and where we would like to be (i.e., what should we do now).

Currently, I am not sure I know what the objective is anymore (it keeps changing), nor do I have a really good sense about how close we are to achieving it. Heck, I can't even tell you with any degree of certainty whether or not we are getting closer to or moving further from achieving it. This probably explains why I don't have a strong opinion about what we should be doing now (well, that and the fact that I have very little incentive to invest the effort in formulating a detailed opinion).

As a reminder to those of you wishing to formulate or update your opinions here are the broad strokes of the economic approach. The broad objective, I guess, is to reduce or eliminate threats to America and American interests. (Of course, in order to assess the impact of policies on our pursuit of these objectives, we need to clearly define American interests, and in a global community it is not obvious how to best define them.) Deciding on a course of action requires that we assess the likelihood of ALL of the possible outcomes in Iraq and their affect on our interests, and that we understand how any policy we might choose changes the likelihood of different outcomes. This allows us to approximately define the expected benefits associated with different policy options which should then be weighed against the costs.

Middle eastern expert Juan Cole offers his (pessimistic) opinions about where we are headed here. His bottom line:

I am not optimistic. I think the likelihood is that either Iraq will descend into a Yugoslavia-type maelstrom with much death and destruction and a break-up into mini-states as a result; or it will descend into a Lebanon-type maelstrom with much death and destruction but manage to come back together as a weak nation-state in the end. The second is the better outcome for the region and the world, but it is not guaranteed. Both scenarios are dire, and could spin out of control into regional conflagration.

I am not sure if he's correct, but I was reading the interview and realized that I didn't even have the basic tools to assess his opinion. Thus, I decided to do a little blogging to kick start my brain a little bit. I would like to think that there is some way to avoid what he thinks is likely, but that may just be wishful thinking at this point. We may have passed the point of getting the parties in Iraq to find an arrangement which produces self-sustaining, mutually beneficial cooperation.

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