The Spectacle Blog

Sunk Cost Fallacy and the Surge

By on 4.11.08 | 12:09PM

Economic theory on sunk costs -- that you shouldn't consider irretrievable costs when making decisions -- has been applied to Iraq in the past by war critics to counter the argument that we have to stay in Iraq so the thousands of men and women we lost will not have died in vain. President Bush has made this argument repeatedly, and I agree that it's bogus. However, it strikes me that lately war critics have been making the same sunk cost fallacy in trying to argue that, essentially, because we bungled the war for so many years we have to begin to withdraw even though we finally have a strategy that is showing real, measurable, progress.

President Bush deserves blame for stubbornly sticking with the Donald Rumsfeld war strategy for years while it was clear it wasn't working. And supporters of the war, even non-prominient ones such as myself, understandably have lost a lot of credibility because we were wrong about so much for so long. But it pains me that after all the mistakes, what Gen. Petraeus has achieved in Iraq in the past year has been absolutely remarkable, and yet unfortunately everything is seen through the prism of several years of failure in Iraq.

Clearly, there are plenty of arguments that could be made in favor of withdrawal. I think the strongest is the one Jim made the other day, that "at some point, we have to quantify how much of our finite military resources we are willing to spend in pursuit of a goal ... that may not be achievable in full." But while Americans are understandably frustrated and angry by the five years, hundreds of billions of dollars, and thousands of lives that cannot be recovered, policy makers should only be basing their decisions on the merits of the current strategy as outlined by Gen. Petraeus.

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