Friday, July 18, 2008

Fact-Finding, Fact-Losing

McCain recently criticized Obama for reiterating his intention to get American troops out of Iraq within eighteen months if he's elected even though Obama hasn't yet made his upcoming fact-finding trip to Iraq.

“In my experience," McCain said, "fact-finding missions usually work best the other way around: First you assess the facts on the ground, then you present a new strategy."

I'm not sure it's a fair accusation in this case, but it's a reasonable one. Policy decisions should always be inspired by aspiration but shaped by information. And even more important than finding facts is really thinking them through--making sure that they're as reliable, complete, and contexualized as possible. I've got no problem with McCain making this critique of Obama's stance. It rings a little hollow since I don't think there's any facts McCain could find that would make him change his policy, but that's a another story.

What I do object to is that since learning in 2000 just how ruthless and dishonest Bush and his retinue can be, McCain seems to have developed Stockholm syndrome for his captors in the creep wing of the GOP. In the past 5 years in Iraq, the US government has spent about a trillion dollars that could have been used at home (hello, mortgage crisis, hello tanking dollar), the US military has lost 4,121 soldiers, and (conservatively) 90,000 Iraqis have been killed.

This all happened to eliminate the threat of weapons of mass destruction that were long gone and to take out al Qaeda loyalists who weren't yet there. Before the invasion, those facts had been found. But then the White House had them lost. McCain isn't dumb. He knows that. But he's been mute on it for five years, and he'll be mute for another five months at least. If it's worth criticizing Obama for not making military decisions in terms of the best available information, surely it's worth criticizing the Bush administration-- Oh, never mind. We know what's going on.

Anyway, the good news in all this is that during the Bush administration, human life hasn't become worth less just figuratively. It's now literally worth less. 11.5% less, to be precise. In 2003, the EPA set the value of human life at $7.8 million dollars in deciding whether certain environmental pollution regulations saved enough life-dollars to be worth the regulation-dollars spent on them. Since then, the figure has dropped to $6.9 million.

Putting the dead from the Iraq war at 94,121 and setting aside deaths due to opportunity costs, the new EPA figure means that those who died in the Iraq war are only worth $649 billion. So it turns out that losing those facts about Iraq was only about a $1.65-trillion mistake rather than a $1.73-trillion mistake. Nice.

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