Prudence: The Lost Virtue

What does it mean to exercise “prudential judgment”? In recent years this phrase has been thrown around quite a bit in Catholic circles. I recently read a Facebook update arguing that prudential judgment is to the conservative right what “the demands of conscience” (I paraphrase) are for the liberal left. In both cases, so it is said, you have cafeteria Catholics putting politics over doctrine, and using these phrases to cover-up their misdeeds.

Of course there is some truth to this idea, but not a lot. When we speak of “prudential judgment”, we are almost always speaking of the most efficient way to attain a given objective. The moral mandate to care for the poor is non-negotiable, which is why we must reject the vicious anti-altruism of someone like Ayn Rand. Even if this is agreed to semantic disputes are unavoidable. What does it mean to “care for”, and who qualifies as “poor”? Obviously there are radically different and in some cases mutually exclusive concepts behind these words in different camps. Even if understanding can be achieved here, there will still be disputes over how this is to be done. This is where we exercise prudential judgment.

The bigger problem, in my view, is the presumption that prudence and morality are somehow distinct. Prudence is a virtue, after all. To deliberately ignore prudence and pursue whatever policy sounded the most righteous as it was being proposed isn’t moral at all – in fact, such behavior ought to be denounced as recklessly immoral. The act of prudential judgment itself is not something distinct from moral behavior, but is in fact essential to moral behavior. The possibility that more harm than good will be done if a particular policy is pursued is always worth considering, no matter how morally justifiable it appears in the heat of the moment.

Many of the problems we face are caused by activists and policymakers on both sides who believe that moral outrage is sufficient to combat social and economic problems, or even foreign policy problems. Leftists and conservatives have told me that it is immoral to consider costs and consequences (to exercise prudential judgment, in other words) when considering the poor or the merits of bring “democracy” country X. Part of the problem is that the policies of the Federal Reserve have unquestionably created the illusion that there is no problem that governments can’t hurl a seemingly infinite supply of paper money at. Just fire up another stimulus, announce unlimited quantitative easing, and all of those questions about costs and limits become pointless. Right?

Except that without a sense of limits and proportions, I don’t see how we can be a moral people at all. I suppose I could be wrong about the illusory nature of the demise of fiscal limitations – that we can afford Obamacare and/or Romney’s Pax Americana and heaven knows what other idealistic projects future cost-blind leaders will propose (while denouncing the equivalent pie-in-the-sky scheme the other party is proposing). But something tells me I am not wrong, that we are entering a phase of economic chaos fueled by currency devaluation and a global collapse of confidence not only in the dollar but in America itself.

If only we had used far more of, and not less, of that “prudential judgment” that peace-and-justice types find so distasteful. It might have actually resulted in peace. Instead it became our ideological mission to topple geopolitically inconvenient states enemies of freedom and democracy. The day average conservatives realize that foreign policy idealism is as imprudent as left-wing domestic policy idealism is the day we might get this country back on track.

As for the dispute among Catholics, what we really have are some people, quite hungry and lustful for power, hoping to align their political preferences with infallible statements on morality made ex cathedra. What could be more intoxicating?  What better weapon to bludgeon your political opponent over the head with? All of their blathering can be answered with this:

But in matters merely political, as, for instance, the best form of government, and this or that system of administration, a difference of opinion is lawful. Those, therefore, whose piety is in other respects known, and whose minds are ready to accept in all obedience the decrees of the apostolic see, cannot in justice be accounted as bad men because they disagree as to subjects We have mentioned; and still graver wrong will be done them, if – as We have more than once perceived with regret – they are accused of violating, or of wavering in, the Catholic faith. — Pope Leo XIII, Immortale Dei, 48

24 Responses to Prudence: The Lost Virtue

  • Faith, Hope, Love (the most important).

    Fortitude, Justice, Prudence, Temperance.

  • Humility, and her twin daughters obedience and prudence.

  • Another case in point. EPA being sued for inhumane experiments. http://nlpc..org/stories/2

    Is this America? Unbelievable story. God help us if it is. What judgment was made to conduct experiments using diesel fumes for humans to breathe. Unfortunately the same judgments made by the Nazi regime.

  • I agree with the general sentimmeasuret have a rather large nit to pick.

    “The day average conservatives realize that foreign policy idealism is as imprudent as left-wing domestic policy idealism is the day we might get this country back on track.”

    I think most conservatives have abandoned foreign policy idealism given the reality of events in the last ten years.

    Were the left to give up its domestic policy idealism it would cease to exist. I don’t believe that is in any measure hyperbole of the left wing worldview.

  • Darn auto correct. That should read:

    I agree with the general sentiments however I have a rather large nit to pick.

  • Paul,

    I disagree. I understand how it looks that way from one angle. And frankly, I think the higher echelons of the GOP establishment are imperial realists – realpolitikers of the highest order. However, this does not prevent them from using and abusing the language of idealism to frame and sell their foreign policy vision.

    I believe that the last 10 years have been about preserving American hegemony at all costs. But this can never be plainly acknowledged and debated. Instead we must have moralistic platitudes shoved down our throats. Once the case for WMDs fell flat, we were told that it was a moral imperative to topple Saddam and bring democracy to Iraq. We are still being told that we have a moral imperative to usher in “democracy” to the Middle East.

    Aside from the fact that I think the American/Israeli media narrative about Iran and much of the Muslim world sounds like a poorly written episode of 24, there is the more serious problem of the hemorrhaging Southern border. While our troops wander around Afghanistan waiting for the day we recklessly attack Iran, the greatest security threat this country faces goes almost entirely un-addressed. Is it appropriate to laugh at the resemblance to ancient Rome, with its far-flung legions unable to protect it from the barbarians at the gates?

    America IS an empire, and a crumbling one. Because I care about my country, I would like to see it engage in a tactical, graceful military withdrawal, a massive redeployment on the Mexican border, and an intense focus on domestic economic and social problems. But foreign policy idealism keeps many conservatives willing to approve of trillion-dollar wars, assuming that we are bringing “freedom and democracy” to people who really want it. But they don’t always want it, and even when they do want it, they use it to elect dictators, and even if they all want it, we can’t afford to give it to them.

    If America can’t get its house in order, it won’t be worth a damn to anyone, anywhere, ever.

  • You’d never know any of it solely from reading/watching the MSM.

    Last ten years? I think Obama spent the last three years and nine months handing over to Muslim extremists, e.g., the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, the Middle East and North Africa.

    AQ no longer needs Afghanistan or Pakistan for training camps or recruits.

    Some think the mad mulahs in Iran want to bring about the “end times” by nuking Israel. Maybe, they do. And, maybe they need nukes because they are running out of oil and the “jigs up” for the mullahs unless they sieze their neighbors’ oil fields. They could get way with it if they had nukes.

    How are we going to avoid the pain the Fed is generating? Poor people coming north will not “do us in.” The Fed is doing it as we click-clack.

    Lenin knew there is no subtler, no surer means of over-turning the existing basis of society than to debauch the currency. The process engages all the hidden forces of economic law on the side of destruction, and does it in a manner which not one man in a million is able to diagnose. By combining a popular hatred of the class of entrepreneurs with the challenges to societal security by upcoming (see Greece riots) violent and arbitrary disturbances of the “contract. Governments could be rendering impossible the continuation of the social and economic order.

  • “Once the case for WMDs fell flat, we were told that it was a moral imperative to topple Saddam and bring democracy to Iraq. We are still being told that we have a moral imperative to usher in “democracy” to the Middle East.”

    Bonchamps, you would do well to read both the Kay and Deufler reports. While both agree that there was no evidence of stockpiles (and stockpiles is the operative phrase here) of WMDs, the fact that Saddam was maintaining and growing the intellectual and monetary capacity to produce WMDs, especially given the eroding sanctions and the corruption of the Oil for Food Program, the Iraqi regime posed an even graver threat thean the Bush administration thought. Saddam had all the countries that were trying to undermine our invasion of Iraq in his pocket to do his bidding, which they did in spectacular fashion.

    WMDs are pretty easy to produce and conceal if you have the know how, which Saddam had. Many of these weapons are made from chemicals that have normal inductrial purposes like insecticides. We found dual use facilities all over Iraq after the invasion, which is very telling, given that the infrastructure in pre invasion Iraq was so bad that he certainly wasn’t using these facilities to kill bugs. By the way, the failure to find WMD stockpiles was not the worst intelligence failure viz. the Iraq War. It was we had little knowledge as to had bad the Iraqi infrastructure was. And speaking of WMD intelligence, every major intelligence agency in the world, including UNSCOM, and many of those in the Middle East believed Saddam had the stockpiles.

    I would also recommend you read Doug Feith’s War and Decision.

  • Greg,

    When both Bush and his pointman, Colin Powell, admit that the case they presented to the American people regarding WMDs was false (not that they lied, but they were simply wrong), I don’t see what the point is in reading reports.

    I do not believe Iraq posed the threat you are assuming it did. Saddam only invaded Kuwait in 1991 because he assumed the U.S. would take no position on it -as he had been told by our own diplomats. After the beating Iraq took in the Gulf War, it was hardly in a position to threaten anyone. Meanwhile, the Clintonian sanctions were responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians.

    I don’t believe there is anything Saddam Hussein could have done, short of replacing the Iraqi flag with the Stars and Stripes, converting to Episcopalianism, and singing Yankee Doodle Dandy that would have been accepted by our government as a reason NOT to invade, destroy and occupy Iraq for geopolitical purposes. Even then, I don’t think it would have been enough.

    In any case, I don’t think the mere possession of WMDs warrants the invasion and occupation of a sovereign state. It especially doesn’t warrant it when the country doing the invading, as a matter of documented, incontrovertible historical fact, helped the country being invaded obtain chemical weapons for its previous war against another country – as the US helped Iraq obtain chemical weapons for its war against Iran.

    Lets just cut the crap, alright? Iraq wasn’t invaded because (as we WERE told) there is a moral imperative to overthrow dictators and install democracies. It wasn’t invaded because the mere possession of WMDs is some sort of crime against humanity, no – not when this country was happy to provide them for Saddam to use against Iranian and Kurdish civilians. Iraq was invaded to prevent the countries you mention from obtaining exclusive oil contracts with Saddam’s regime, and to establish a permanent military presence in a vital region of the world.

    Unfortunately, only a few people are rational enough to discuss the merits of these objectives in an objective manner. So they have to be dressed up in moralistic, idealistic language so the public can digest it and feel righteous about what their government does.

  • Thank you Bonchamps for demonstrating with great eloquence that you have no case.

  • “Iraq was invaded to prevent the countries you mention from obtaining exclusive oil contracts with Saddam’s regime..”

    Wow.

    Bonchamps, I have just one question. Who was at the remote controls for the airliners that hit the twin towers: Bush or Cheney?

  • Oh right, I forgot. Governments only do things out of the sheer goodness of their hearts. No wait. Only our government, and governments we temporarily approve of. Our enemies are ruthless realpolitikers who only do things for material, pragmatic, or cartoonishly evil reasons though. They engage in plots and conspiracies. But our leaders have little halos over their heads that glow brightly while they pluck harps and distribute lolilipops to schoolchildren.

    Wow indeed. Nothing is worse than imperialists in denial.

  • Greg,

    I do have a case. Your unwillingness and inability to confront inconvenient facts is really unfortunate, though. I’d welcome a substantive discussion on these topics, but I guess all some people can do when ‘Merica is called out is go sulking home.

  • What facts did you present? All you did was make a bunch of unsubstatiated assertions. I presented facts from two different reports regarding the WMD issue in Iraq. You are the one who is unwilling to deal with facts. You just dismiss them out of hand.

  • An assertion isn’t “substantiated” just because you mention a published book.

    I’m not going to go fishing for links. If you want to believe I’m a liar or mistaken, that is your prerogative. The only thing I said that isn’t part of the documented historical record is the last part – the ultimate motives for the war. I don’t believe it is possible for us to know what those really were, so the best we can do is make an informed, educated guess within the context of all the facts. ALL of them.

    The claim that the US government went to war with Saddam in 2003 over WMDs does NOT square with the facts. Even Paul Wolfowitz said as much:

    “For bureaucratic reasons we settled on one issue, weapons of mass destruction, because it was the one reason everyone could agree on,”

    Indicating, quite clearly, that different factions within the government had different strategic motives for wanting Iraq out of the picture. I believe that they believed that there might have been WMDs in Iraq, but that it was not the reason why they invaded and destroyed the regime. They “settled” on that reason to sell to the public, to wrap up in a nice little package.

    Does it not register in your brain that President Bush, Colin Powell, and a score of other high-ranking officials involved in planning the war have all publicly admitted that the case they made for WMDs was, to say the least, incorrect?

    Whatever your authors discovered in hindsight played no role in the decision to go to war. It would not have served as a legitimate reason for our government to go to war had they known, from their point of view or mine.

    These, however, are facts, not “unsubstantiated assertions”:

    – that Saddam was supplied with tbe basic ingredients for chemical warfare by the United States and Western Europe in his war against Iran
    – that Saddam was led to believe that the US would take no position on his invasion of Kuwait
    – that Clinton’s sanctions killed hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians
    – that the Iraqi regime was significantly weakened by over 20 years of warfare. Whether or not you believe this reduced or eliminated its potential to threaten its neighbors is a matter of opinion, I suppose.

    None of that is “unsubstantiated.” And all of it is relevant when it comes to evaluating the moral right of the US government to invade and occupy Iraq, kill a million of its people, use radioactive weapons that have caused some of the most hideous birth defects since Agent Orange, and install a Shiite Muslim regime friendly to the very nations that we claim to be the enemies of civilized humanity, namely Iran.

  • “These, however, are facts, not “unsubstantiated assertions”:

    – that Saddam was supplied with tbe basic ingredients for chemical warfare by the United States and Western Europe in his war against Iran
    – that Saddam was led to believe that the US would take no position on his invasion of Kuwait
    – that Clinton’s sanctions killed hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians
    – that the Iraqi regime was significantly weakened by over 20 years of warfare. Whether or not you believe this reduced or eliminated its potential to threaten its neighbors is a matter of opinion, I suppose.”

    How do any of these “facts” provide an argument against our 2003 invasion? If anything, a strong argument can be made in favor of invasion on this basis.

    What evidence do you have that we “killed a million of [Iraqis]’?

    As to the Wolfowitz quote, dp you have an article, book, where this came from so I can verify that Wolfowitz actually said this,let alone get the proper context? See, that’s why I refer you to sources, so you can do the same.

    What Bush said was that the intel they had on the WMDs was wrong, not there wasn’t a WMD threat. As far as the installing of democracy part, that was one aspect that I did not agree with because I do not believe that Islamic countries are capable of self-governenace. I see you unwittingly admitting that Iran is something of a threat, interesting.

  • Furthermore, what those of you who have the, “America cannot keep being the world’s policeman.” refuse to understand is that if we are not there are many others who want very much to stpe in and fill that vacuum. And they are not in the least benovolent. In fact, they would use their “hegmony” to do us and the rest of the free world harm.

    Now, of course, I do not think that our government is above criticism, but what they should be above is having people like you attribute rather sinister motives without any evidence to suport those assertions.

  • I don’t think there is anything sinister about the motives I’ve attributed to the government. That’s how you read it, and that’s why they have to hide their motives, because of the moralizing public.

    I think our government does what imperial governments have done from Rome to Britain. I don’t find that automatically worthy of condemnation. I do find worthy of condemnation the massive loss of innocent life that has taken place, though.

  • Greg,
    The Wolfowitz quote is located here:
    http://www.defense.gov/transcripts/transcript.aspx?transcriptid=2594
    This is the DOD recorded transcript of an interview that Sam Tannenhaus of Vanity Fair conducted with Wolfowitz over two sessions. The “Kellems” individual that shows up in the second part of the interview is DOD communications director Kevin Kellems.

    Wolfowitz said sort of what Bonchamps quoted. The actual quote is:

    “Wolfowitz: No, I think it happens to be correct. The truth is that for reasons that have a lot to do with the U.S. government bureaucracy we settled on the one issue that everyone could agree on which was weapons of mass destruction as the core reason, but — hold on one second –”

    The Vanity Fair article ran with a version of this quote as the lead. It was picked up by the MSM who brandished it as the smoking gun that WMD was a lie fabricated by the Bush administration to justify the Iraq invasion.

    Reading the context of the quote gives an entirely different impression, however. I recommend reading all of it.

    If you don’t want to, here’s the fuller context of the quote (it’s been condensed by removing the phone interruptions:

    “WOLFOWITZ: No, I think it happens to be correct. The truth is that for reasons that have a lot to do with the U.S. government bureaucracy we settled on the one issue that everyone could agree on which was weapons of mass destruction as the core reason, but . . . there have always been three fundamental concerns. One is weapons of mass destruction, the second is support for terrorism, the third is the criminal treatment of the Iraqi people. Actually I guess you could say there’s a fourth overriding one which is the connection between the first two. . . . The third one by itself, as I think I said earlier, is a reason to help the Iraqis but it’s not a reason to put American kids’ lives at risk, certainly not on the scale we did it. That second issue about links to terrorism is the one about which there’s the most disagreement within the bureaucracy, even though I think everyone agrees that we killed 100 or so of an al Qaeda group in northern Iraq in this recent go-around, that we’ve arrested that al Qaeda guy in Baghdad who was connected to this guy Zarqawi whom Powell spoke about in his U.N. presentation.”

    If you back up a bit in the interview, Wolfowitz says something very interesting that Vanity Fair and the MSM missed, but I think is huge. Here’s the quote:

    “There are a lot of things that are different now, and one that has gone by almost unnoticed–but it’s huge–is that by complete mutual agreement between the U.S. and the Saudi government we can now remove almost all of our forces from Saudi Arabia. Their presence there over the last 12 years has been a source of enormous difficulty for a friendly government. It’s been a huge recruiting device for al Qaeda. In fact if you look at bin Laden, one of his principle grievances was the presence of so-called crusader forces on the holy land, Mecca and Medina. I think just lifting that burden from the Saudis is itself going to open the door to other positive things.
    I don’t want to speak in messianic terms. It’s not going to change things overnight, but it’s a huge improvement.”

    The Saddam regime was a threat to its neighbors despite what some people may claim to the contrary. Even after the destruction of so much armor during the Gulf War, Saddam still had almost 400 T-72’s. The low estimates of his standing army were at a quarter million men. The Saudi’s were wet-their-pants scared of him.

    Keeping US troops in Saudi Arabia after the first gulf war kept Saddam at bay, but it also had some unintended consequences. Bin Laden’s charter screed didn’t mention anything about the Palestinians, but it was big on infidels in the “land of the two cities”. Old Bin was so ticked at the Saudi’s he wouldn’t even say the name of his home country. Setting up the situation in the Middle East so that troops were no longer needed in Saudi Arabia eliminated one of the gripes muslims had with the US. Eliminating the Saddam threat also meant that another serious gripe could be eliminated. That would be the one Bonchamps was referring to when he wrote “Clinton’s sanctions killed hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians”. I don’t know why he refers to them as “Clinton’s”. They were established when Bush Sr. was in office and were instituted by the UN security council. Saddam did an excellent job of harming his own people and blaming the US for it. People have very short memories. Prior to 9/11 there was a lot of domestic and international pressure to lift the sanctions. Saddam was managing to turn himself into the poor victim of US aggression and increasing middle eastern resentment towards the US. Lost down the memory hole is the fact that Saddam was offered an Oil for Food program almost immediately after the war and he turned it down until 1996. It should be noted that the Iraqi population increase rate remained stable during the sanctions. It seems kinda hard to lose half a million souls in a country of 30-some million and not have that show up in a population stat. Things that make you go hmmm.

    One last item. Bonchamps wrote the following: “…use radioactive weapons that have caused some of the most hideous birth defects since Agent Orange…” I can only assume he means the use of spent uranium projectiles. They are “spent” (another term is “depleted”) because they have had the U-235 isotope extracted out of the more mundane U-238 isotope. It is a byproduct of the enrichment process. Because U-235 is more radioactive than U-238, what you are left with is less radioactive than the naturally occurring metal. In fact, a kilo of depleted uranium has about a thousand microcuries of radioactivity while natural uranium has 1360 microcuries per kilo. This amount of radioactivity is comparable to what a self luminating sign possesses. And is just as harmful. If you fear spent uranium shells, I recommend you also stay away from stairwells with exit signs.

  • Tony,

    Regarding Wolfie’s invocation of the treatment of the Iraqi people, it is, again, ironic coming from a regime that supplied him with the components to create chemical weapons for use against Iranians and the Kurds living under his rule in Iraq.

    “The Saudi’s were wet-their-pants scared of him.”

    Even if this is true – and I guess I’m the only one expected to do academic research to support assertions made in comboxes – why is it our problem anyway? Replace some of the specific nouns and I would apply General Smedley Butler’s words to the whole Middle East:

    ” Besides, what business is it of ours whether Russia or Germany or England or France or Italy or Austria live under democracies or monarchies? Whether they are Fascists or Communists? Our problem is to preserve our own democracy.”

    I don’t care which corrupt regime conquers which corrupt regime in the Middle East. We have our own oil, more than enough to keep the country running for decades. And if Saddam’s supposedly technologically advanced army could barely make a dent in Iran, I have a hard time believing that, at nearly 1/3 its capacity from that war, it would have done a damned thing to Saudi Arabia – not that a true blue American should be defending those women-beheading Al-Qaeda-loving Wahabists anyway, right?

    “I don’t know why he refers to them as “Clinton’s”. They were established when Bush Sr. was in office and were instituted by the UN security council.”

    Clinton was the foremost advocate.

    “. Saddam did an excellent job of harming his own people and blaming the US for it. People have very short memories.”

    Right, because he imposed the sanctions himself. No, Saddam was good at capitalizing on the harm done to his people by the sanctions – hence the international pressure to lift them. Its psychopathic to be the one inflicting harm and claiming that someone else is doing it. This government inflicted the harm. Saddam used it, but then, who wouldn’t?

    “Lost down the memory hole is the fact that Saddam was offered an Oil for Food program almost immediately after the war and he turned it down until 1996.”

    It was likely pride, and it still doesn’t matter anyway. Why should he have had to accept an oil for food program? Because he was an aggressor against Kuwait? Is that really why all of that misery had to be imposed upon all of those people? The military defeat wasn’t disastrous enough?

    “It should be noted that the Iraqi population increase rate remained stable during the sanctions. It seems kinda hard to lose half a million souls in a country of 30-some million and not have that show up in a population stat. Things that make you go hmmm.”

    Depends on who you read. Here’s wiki’s list of estimates. One of them reflects your statement – many of them do not. But of course, as I suspect, all the ones that contradict your own source will be dismissed as left-wing bias or something of the sort:

    “Unicef: 500,000 children (including sanctions, collateral effects of war). “[As of 1999] [c]hildren under 5 years of age are dying at more than twice the rate they were ten years ago.”[30][39]
    Former U.N. Humanitarian Coordinator in Iraq Denis Halliday: “Two hundred thirty-nine thousand children 5 years old and under” as of 1998.[40]
    “probably … 170,000 children”, Project on Defense Alternatives, “The Wages of War”, 20. October 2003[41]
    350,000 excess deaths among children “even using conservative estimates”, Slate Explainer, “Are 1 Million Children Dying in Iraq?”, 9. October 2001.[42]
    Economist Michael Spagat: “very likely to be [less than] than half a million children” because estimation efforts are unable to isolate the effects of sanctions alone due to the lack of “anything resembling a controlled experiment”[43], and “one potential explanation” for the statistics showing a decline in child mortality was that “they were not real, but rather results of manipulations by the Iraqi government.”[43]
    “Richard Garfield, a Columbia University nursing professor … cited the figures 345,000-530,000 for the entire 1990-2002 period”[8] for sanctions-related excess deaths.[44]
    Zaidi, S. and Fawzi, M. C. S., (1995) The Lancet British medical journal: 567,000 children.[45] A co-author (Zaidi) did a follow-up study in 1996, finding “much lower … mortality rates … for unknown reasons.”[46]
    Iraq expert Amatzia Baram compared the country’s population growth rates over several censuses and found there to be almost no difference in the rate of Iraq’s population growth between 1977 and 1987 (35.8 percent), and between 1987 and 1997 (35.1 percent), suggesting a much lower total.[47]”

    Who knows what flaws in the methodology are responsible for different outcomes. I’d like to see the methods used in the population growth study – I would also note that while it may “suggest” a lower total, a similar population growth rate does not necessarily prove that there was a total lower number of deaths. Whether or not the population grows is based upon what people do (breed), not necessarily how many people there are.

    I’m not even going to dignify the last paragraph with a response. I’ve seen the pictures of the deformed children, you can too if you want to, and it is obscene to suggest that exposure to “stairwells with exit signs” could produce anything of the sort.

  • Bonchamps,

    I want to apologize for the tone of my last response. I was being snarky. You have brought up serious points that need serious answers.

    We stand on different sides of the issue of foreign intervention. I don’t like the fact that our country is world cop. We are not particularly good at it, but my opinion is that we’ve done a better job than if the Soviets or Chinese had carried the mantel of lone superpower. I think you will agree with me though, that our time as world cop is coming to an end. We are a superpower because of our military strength. We have our military strength because of our economic strength. And we are losing our economic strength. Our military strength will wane much more rapidly than our economic strength will.

    I won’t defend our past actions other than to say we often chose what at the time appeared to be the lessor of two evils. Support a dictator or let the country fall to something we thought was worse.

    I stand by the statement about Saudi Arabia’s fear of Iraq. Here’s a link:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iraq%E2%80%93Saudi_Arabia_relations

    What’s left unsaid in the article is how much domestic heat the Saudi government took for keeping US troops in its country.

    The sanctions against Iraq and their effects are interesting. I remember hearing reports prior to 9/11 that 5000 children a month were dying due to the sanctions. This number did not ring true. The Lancet was claiming over half a million deaths just five years after the sanctions were instituted. That is a death rate of 10000 a month. Here’s a link:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iraq_sanctions

    I am going to detour for a short, but pertinent story. The sci-fi writer Robert Heinlein went to Moscow as a tourist in 1960. As he walked around the city his engineer’s eye caught something peculiar. He knew what the official population total for Moscow was. The same number appeared in Soviet atlases as it did in American ones. But as he walked around he took stock of the infrastructure of the city and came to the conclusion that the official number was off by at least a factor of five. When he returned to the states he spoke with an active military officer and explained his observation. According to Heinlein, the officer confirmed his estimate. Here’s a link:

    http://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/archive/index.php/t-461765.html

    The moral of the story is this: It can be tough to get at the truth in a sea of propaganda and conflicting claims, but sometimes by looking around and doing basic math, you can get a little closer to it.

    While I’ve never been to Iraq, I have seen plenty of photos and video from the country, both before and after the invasion. I’ve also seen pictures of Sudan. Some estimates say that Sudan’s civil war and associated famine claimed 350000 lives in its first two years. Here’s a link:

    http://necrometrics.com/20c300k.htm#Somalia

    This gives a death rate of 15000 per month. Sudan is almost equal to Iraq in population, both at about 31 million. So as an effect on these two nations, Sudan’s civil war/famine of 91-92 and the first five years of Iraqi sanctions are comparable. Granted I’ve calculated Sudan’s death rate as 50% higher, but I’m calling it close enough given the band of both death claims.

    This is what Sudan looked like during its famine stage with 15000 deaths a month:

    http://iconicphotos.wordpress.com/2009/08/12/vulture-stalking-a-child/

    This is what Iraq looked like after twelve years of sanctions:

    http://notmytribe.com/2007/where-are-they-now-8949.html

    Taking a guess, I’d bet the death rate was significantly less than 10000 month.

    You can accuse me of cherry picking the photo but search through google images of pre-invasion Iraq and you will see a society that is hard to square with the figure of 10000 people a month dying of malnutrition and disease.

    I do realize that people were dying because of the sanctions. As a general rule, if you worsen an economy, more people will die as a result. How many died? I don’t know. The given values in the above link that depended on Saddam’s own reporting are certainly not reliable.

    As for who is responsible for those deaths, I have no problem pinning them on Saddam. It was in his power all along to eliminate them or at least mitigate them. It was his decision to go to war, it was his decision not to abide by the terms of the cease fire, it was his decision to turn down Oil for Food.

    Some three million plus Germans were killed by the Allies in WW2. Who is to blame for their deaths? The Allies or Hitler?

    Finally regarding depleted uranium weapons, I was serious but my snarky-ness got in the way. Really, these weapons are no more dangerous, radiation wise, than those signs I wrote of. I understand you’ve seen pictures of horribly deformed children, but that doesn’t prove how they came to be deformed. U-238 is an alpha particle emitter, the same particle that is emitted by radon in people’s basements in the northeast. If you were to grind it up and breathe it in, you would increase your risk for lung cancer (the same kind of danger radon presents). But you could hold this weapon in your hand with no ill effect to you. Alpha particles can’t penetrate the outer layer of your skin. That is also why they are not a significant teratogenic concern; they can’t penetrate into the developing fetus directly, unlike deep penetrating particles such as gammas and neutrons.

    What’s also significant about U-238 is how small its specific activity is. The longer an isotopes half-life, the lower the rate of radiation it puts out. U-238 has a half-life of 4.5 billion years. That’s pretty close to just plain dirt. Here’s a link:

    http://www.physics.isu.edu/radinf/du.htm

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