I’m watching the Sunday morning news shows, and of course, the Iraq crisis is a major source of conversation. One thing I’m hearing over and over again is hand wringing about how much blood and treasure we (the US) have already spent in Iraq. The reasoning appears to be that all that suffering and sacrifice shouldn’t be allowed to count for nothing, that one of our “vital interests” in Iraq are the costs we’ve already invested.
We may or may not have vital interests in Iraq. If we do, our leaders should be required to articulate clearly and specifically what those interests are before we engage again in that country. Personally, I’m not sure we should accept vague statements about terrorist threats or spreading chaos. There are too many areas in the world like that where we don’t intervene.
I think most people would admit that we have at least some political and economic interests there, but whether those interests rise to the level of requiring new American military intervention is a very different matter. For instance, I doubt most Americans would be willing to sacrifice any more of our soldiers to insure a $0.50 lower price per gallon of gas.
Regardless, how much we’ve already spent and sacrificed there should have no relevance to this decision. The fact is, sunk costs are sunk regardless of what happens. What we have to decide is whether this situation is worth new future costs and sacrifices. Anyone with any experience in management, investing, or strategic decision making will tell you that you don’t make decisions on past costs. If you’re wise, you make them based on future costs, future threats, and future benefits. And that’s where our decision making toward Iraq should be oriented.
I do sympathize with the agonizing powerful sentiment of those who lost loved ones in Iraq, that their sacrifice not be in vain. What we have to ask is whether satisfying that sentiment is worth the cost of possibly losing additional loved ones. History shows that even interventions like airstrikes will have long term American costs.