Tuesday, October 12, 2004

A thought on the arguments for war:

The Duelfer report says, at the very least, that the sanctions regime we had in place had prevented Saddam Hussein from obtaining weapons of mass destruction, or even mounting a serious development program. But the objection will be raised -- was raised, in fact, before the war -- that we couldn't afford to keep those sanctions on forever. Is that the case?

Let's consider what those costs would have actually been. Let's assume that costs of the sanctions regime -- beyond what could be charged to oil-for-food program revenues as administrative overhead or diverted as Gulf War I reparations -- somehow amounted to a billion dollars a year. (Sanity check: as of November, 2002, the oil-for-food program had generated $57 billion in sales, and received $23 billion worth of goods). The thirty-year treasury bill is currently selling for a bit under five percent. The present value of a perpetual annuity is the annual payment divided by the discount rate; applying those to the figures I've given, continuing the sanctions regime in perpetuity would have cost maybe $20 billion. Or choose your own figures -- it's hard to get a cost above the tens of billions of dollars. Which isn't chump change, even in Washington, but it has already been dwarfed by the cost of the war.

The sanctions regime, of course, created another argument for war -- that it was imposing an immoral level of privation on the Iraqi people, which, as the indispensable Jeanne D'arc reminds us, led to the resignations of two U.N. heads of the program. Talk all you like about corruption in the program, the fact remains that the U.S. government was quite deliberately sitting on contracts for

Among the goods that the United States blocked [in winter 2001]: dialysis, dental, and fire-fighting equipment, water tankers, milk and yogurt production equipment, printing equipment for schools. The United States even blocked a contract for agricultural-bagging equipment, insisting that the U.N. first obtain documentation to "confirm that the 'manual' placement of bags around filling spouts is indeed a person placing the bag on the spout."

But right now, when there's raw sewage running on the streets of Sadr City, reconstruction is more or less shut down because the streets are not safe, and Iraqis noting sardonically that Saddam wondering why Saddam was able to get the power on after the last war -- sanctions, corruption, and all -- better than we have, it's an awkward time for proponents of the war to make that argument.


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