Deadly Hubris

The UK’s Opinion Research Business has released another statistical study of Iraqi casualties since the launching of the American invasion, one that updates, revises, and essentially confirms their earlier estimate of a million-plus dead. The price of “liberation” is indeed high, but was it worth it? The Iraqis have a simple answer: some 60 percent tell pollsters attacks on US and allied military personnel are justified. So much for being greeted with garlands of flowers and hailed as “liberators.”

The Americans have a similar, if less emphatic answer: a recent poll asking if the invasion and subsequent occupation “was or was not worth the number of U.S. military casualties and the financial cost of the war” yields a resounding no, with 59 percent – up three points.

A million dead – and for what?

So that the neoconservatives could stand astride Washington and the world, bellowing threats and beating their chests in the wake of 9/11, braying that everythingeverything – had changed, especially the basic rules of human decency. Because it was “doable,” as Paul Wolfowitz put it. Because our foreign policy is in large part built around the concept of making the Middle East safe for Israel. And, most of all, because of the sheer hubris of those who thought themselves above the laws of God and man – who thought they were gods, and let loose American thunderbolts with reckless abandon, with deadly consequences.

The response to the last ORB data release was vehement: the US government, which doesn’t even bother counting Iraqi dead and wounded, derided it, and the neoconservative pundits lit into it as “propaganda” and an exaggeration, whilst the more ambitious assailed the methodology of every attempt to measure the vast war crime that the killing fields of Iraq represent.

Yet the results of the ORB study have been expanded, to include estimates from rural as well as urban areas. The major criticism of the previous study was that the emphasis on conducting interviews in urban areas skewed the results in the direction of an overestimation: the revised study meets this critique head on, covering all areas of the country except for Karbala and Al Anbar, for safety reasons, and also Irbil – for political reasons. It seems Kurdish regional government officials weren’t eager for a full accounting of the war dead, for reasons best known to themselves: the interviewers were barred from conducting interviews in the area. The impact of these omissions pushes their estimate downward, and yet the number is astonishing.

Think of it: a million plus dead. A full 20 percent of all Iraqi households have endured a death in the family not of natural causes, the great majority of these being Sunnis.

In light of this horror, I couldn’t help but think of John McCain’s remarks the other night at the Republican debate, defending his stated contention that we could and probably should stay in Iraq for a hundred years:

“We are going to be there for some period of time, but it’s American casualties, not American presence. We’ve got troops right next door in Kuwait. We’ll probably have them there for a long time. We have troops in Bosnia. We’ve had troops in South Korea for some 50 years. By the way, President Eisenhower didn’t bail us out of Korea.But the point is that we need to protect America’s national security interest. It’s not a matter of presence. It’s a matter of casualties.”

American, not Iraqi casualties: the latter don’t even figure into McCain’s moral calculus, such as it is.

As long as Americans aren’t dying in any great numbers, it’s okay to drive us into bankruptcy, alienate the peoples of the world, and fuel the fires of anti-American terrorism. Since our national security is so often invoked by McCain and his ilk to justify their policy of perpetual war, it needs to be emphasized that the tactics employed by suicide bombers and other terrorist acts have historically been responses to military occupation by a far superior force. Yet McCain looks forward to extending our suzerainty over Iraq for a hundred years. How many more Iraqis will die in the span of Iraq’s American century?

McCain is not so much of a maverick that he doesn’t bother looking at the polls: he knows how many Americans think the war wasn’t worth it, and he knows he can’t win unless he confronts this sentiment. So he’s going out there with his line about how “it’s a matter of casualties.” For all his self-promoted concept of himself as some sort of crusading idealist, in this instance at least his cold political calculation is that Americans just care about American dead, and screw the Iraqis.

Except it isn’t true. Soldiers are coming home with terrifying tales of the war and the level of violence, which is not declining but visibly rising after a brief lull even as the neocon pundits sing paeans to the surge. The American people are horrified by what Bush and his neocon brain trust have wrought in Iraq, and they aren’t going to be anything but repulsed by this kind of moral blindness, which only takes into account our own costs, both human and material.

Not that McCain, whose self-confessed difficulty with economic issues comes as a surprise to no one, cares much about the latter. He grimaced and rolled his eyes during the debate, as Ron Paul laid out the economic consequences of the McCainiac hyper-interventionist foreign policy. In answer to a question about whether we’re better off now than we were eight years ago, the Texas troublemaker averred:

“No, no, we’re not better off. We’re worse off, but it’s partially this administration’s fault and it’s the Congress. But it also involves an economic system that we’ve had for a long time and a monetary system that we’ve had and a foreign policy that’s coming to an end and we have to admit this. … We were elected in the year 2000 to have a humble foreign policy and not police the world, and yet what are we doing now? We’re bogged down in another war. We’re bankrupting our country and we have an empire that we’re trying to defend which costs us $1 trillion a year.”

It’s coming to an end, and we have to admit this, because the markets are roiling as the prospect of an American super-recession takes shape, and the central bank acts with unprecedented boldness to shore up the shaky foundations of an economy built around artificial bank credit expansion. This, after all, is how states finance wars, and especially wars of choice (i.e. wars of aggression) such as Iraq: the invisible taxation of bank credit expansion, i.e. inflating the money supply. Without the link to gold, or some other commodity or basket of commodities, governments are free to debase their own currencies, and thus destroy the very basis of commerce.

The three branches of the federal government are bound by the chains of the Constitution, and yet when gold was separated from the value of the currency the government was “freed” from its bounds, and unchained it went forth – to make war.

Financing wars, especially unpopular wars, is a tricky business: direct taxation is the least desirable option. It might create undue awareness of the war’s real costs. Much better to exact the invisible tax of inflation, which eats into people’s savings and takes its highest toll on those least able to afford it. It’s the most regressive tax of all, yet both political parties support it fulsomely. They’d rather sell the country’s assets off to the Chinese than give up their bipartisan delusions of Washington as the Imperial City, the capital of a rising world empire. Paul’s dark warning that we have “a foreign policy that’s coming to an end and we have to admit this” certainly rings true as the financial markets quiver on the edge of a massive meltdown.

Our empire is a bubble that’s about to burst, along with the economic bubble the Federal Reserve lives in mortal fear of. Whether this is punishment from on high, or simply economic “blowback” rebounding from our fiscal and foreign policies, is a matter of taste and disposition. I’ll leave it to the secularists and the faithful to argue it out, and simply note that we’re about to pay the price of our deadly hubris.

Author: Justin Raimondo

Justin Raimondo passed away on June 27, 2019. He was the co-founder and editorial director of, and was a senior fellow at the Randolph Bourne Institute. He was a contributing editor at The American Conservative, and wrote a monthly column for Chronicles. He was the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement [Center for Libertarian Studies, 1993; Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2000], and An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard [Prometheus Books, 2000].