Blood & Treasure in Iraq: How Much Is Too Much?

The willingness of Americans to support the war in Iraq is tracking the mounting casualties and the hemorrhaging cash flow into Bush’s War. When American casualties rise, support wanes; when Congress votes another $80 billion appropriation, the taxpayers grumble. However, voters have displayed remarkable tolerance for dead soldiers and war deficits in the past, and I expect they will be no different with Bush’s War. But they do have a tipping point, beyond which they will no longer tolerate this war, no matter how noble the goals.

Syndicated columnist Richard Reeves predicts we won’t reach that point for another six years, citing the examples of nine years in Vietnam for the US, and nine years in Afghanistan for the Soviets. Nine years appears to be the point at which the patience and fortitude of the population wears thin, and then the pressure on political leadership become too great to resist.

Personally, I think we should get out now, but using Reeves theory, Bush and his successor (if he/she is so inclined) should be able to resist the anti-war sentiment until mid-2011, after an estimated* 6351 US soldiers have died, at a cost of $590 billion.

Whether the math of my projections is correct or not is really not the issue; the point is, there is a number out there, maybe higher than mine, maybe lower, but there is a number that represents the end of the patience of the American public for this perpetual war.

How much blood & treasure will the American voter tolerate before demanding an immediate withdrawal from Iraq?

There is only one ground rule for this discussion:

“Whatever it takes” is not a number; if this is your belief, I can only conclude that Vietnam-style slaughter (55,000+ body bags) and $1.06 trillion inflation adjusted dollars is acceptable to you., and you truly have no sense of the value of human life or the destruction of war.

*Based on a monthly average of 64 US soldiers killed per month + 1743 killed to date, and $5 billion per month burn rate + $230 billion already spent, projected over the next six years. .

Six more years? I dunno. I don’t think you can draw such neat parallels with Viet Nam and Afghanistan. For one thing, because of the explosion of TV news and the internet, we’re much more aware of what is going on in Iraq than we ever were in Viet Nam. This kind of closeness we have to the violence over there will more rapidly wear down resistance to leaving.

Second, let’s remember that the Iraq War had a distinct cause and starting point. Viet Nam sprang forth from a kind of mushy anticommunism; our commitment there simply snowballed until we realized we couldn’t pull out. Iraq, on the other hand, began in the traumatic aftermath of 9/11, massaged by an administration that conflated Saddam Hussein with Osama bin Laden, and abetted by a public that frankly didn’t want to hear anything about how Saddam really had nothing to do with 9/11.

So in a political sense, the underpinnings of the Iraq War are more distinct and unambiguous than those of Viet Nam. Yet ironically, that allows the American public to more easily evaluate the purpose of this war. And we are increasingly seeing how flimsy (at best) our impetus to war really was. A recent poll says that 53 percent of Americans think we made a mistake in going to war in Iraq. (Warning: PDF.)

If you’ve lost the majority of Americans, that has to mean that the pressure to pull out is mounting, and it’s hard to envision any event that would cause that pressure to relent. So that’s why I think six years is a ridiculously long time to expect the American voters to tolerate the current state of affairs in Iraq.

Of course, that same poll I cited says that 59% of the respondents think we should keep troops in Iraq until the situation has stabilized. So right now there isn’t overwhelming support for simply pulling out.

Bottom line is that IMLTHO once a solution that involves returning the troops while preventing a catastrophic power vacuum presents itself (I personally favor involving the UN, at our expense), you’ll see the American public flock to it. But I can’t say when that solution will pop up, or who will be able to make its case to the United States, or whether the current administration will go for it.

I think that the formula for public support is probably not just a sum of blood and treasure multiplied by time; it’s blood and treasure times time, but divided by the public perception of whether or not something is being accomplished.

Public support for Vietnam began to really fall off after Tet, which was what triggered the public into realizing the war was not going to end anytime soon. People are willing to suffer war if they perceive that the war might end favourably. There are lots of examples of this; the public in Germany supported the Great War through millions of casualties, but once it became apparent the war would never be won, support collapsed.

American support for the war in Iraq will therefore probably not collapse until, if and when, it becomes apparent that the casualties will just go on forever. I think one of the reasons we’ve seen such a drop in support lately is that the government and media were trumpeting victory in Iraq during the interim elections, portraying the relative lack of violent opposition as a sign things were getting better. It now seems that things are not getting better, so the public’s reacting angrily to their own sudden perception that the war may not be winnable.

American support for the war will dramatically decline when this administration calls it a day. Even if the next administration is Republican, they will not run a campaign of prolonged engagement in Iraq.

Nobody in this administration will admit fault or error. Therefore, there will be quick or aggressive exit strategy while they still hold office.

American public tollerance has already been exceeded but there is a lot wrapped up in pride and reluctance to admit that it hasn’t worked out quite the way many had hoped.

Plus, of course, people have Vietnam to look back on by way of example. There is something all-too-Vietnamesque in the efforts to put a happy face on the war. Six years? No way – people are tired of the war now, and since things are unlikely to improve, the urge to bail is going to get pretty strong pretty quick. Wait till tomorrow, post-speech, and see what people are saying.

Six more years ? I seriously doubt they can keep it up that long.

I agree with the posted above… its a media war and its way to close. Vietnam also took some time building up. Iraq was a fully fledged invasion from the beggining. Even if things quieten up a bit… this will create the illusion that its safe to leave.

Also some things might tip the balance and initiate a general call to leave: A big number of casualties in one event, big killing of civilians by US soldiers, killing of a big VIP visit, etc…

No way will this thing go six more years IMO. If I were to guess when the public opinion will openly turn against the war in enough numbers to force us out it will be next year…depending on how things go after ratification of the Iraqi constituation and the full blown national elections. If things still look grim 6 months after that, if there seems to be no progress in Iraq at all post-election, then I think there will be a serious downturn in public sentiment. So…say the end of next year (if things remain bad) the movement to get the US troops out will REALLY heat up. It won’t be long after that for the house to start making real noise about getting our troops out and back home. I give it mid-2007 tops if things remain bad.

Iraq does not equal Vietnam…and I think on this point especially it won’t take the American people as long to decide they really don’t like how things are going and call to end it. Whether thats a good thing or a bad one I’ll leave up to the individual…but thats what I think will happen.


Really good post RickJay. I agree totally with everything you said.

I do respectfully disagree with the folks who think that 6 more years of this is completely unimaginable. The actual cut n’ run if/when it comes almost certainly won’t happen under Bush under any circumstances, which is more than 3 years away. Figure at least a year for the next President to draw down some in some half assed South Vietnam taking over the “Vietnamization” of the war… and another 2 beyond that to get to the last helicopter out of the greenzone with Iraqi’s hanging on the skids here doesn’t seem that unlikely.

In fact I will say this: I think it is more likely that mid-2011, we will see 6351 US soldiers have died, at a cost of $590 billion and we are still in Iraq pretty much at the levels we are now, than it is that we will have left Iraq t6o be run in 3 Areas by 3 different Governments (Kurdish, Sunni, Shiite).

Too many people think he Iraq theatre is a wild goose chase at this point. Not only that, the coalition inavertently brought terrorism to Iraq where there were none before. It doesn’t help that the troops are blocking access through Syria while the main hotbeds of terrorism and terrorists, Saudi Arabia and probably Iran, remained relatively untouched.

Build the Iraqi troops to viability, and once the Iraqi troops get a couple of victories without coalition help, get the f---- out of Dodge.

How soon they forget.

If the current trend continues then Iraq will be the issue for the midterm elections next year. And that’s exactly the sort of issue that can galvanize the electorate against the incumbent party.

Keep an eye peeled for further Republican members of Congress to be jumping ship and suggesting a ‘timetable’ or an ‘exit strategy’ to be defined. When that snowball begins we’ll be seeing the beginning of the search for ‘peace with honor’.