The Duck of Minerva

The Duck Quacks at Twilight

Was it worth it?

January 10, 2008

We now have a lower-end estimate of civilian casualties in Iraq:

An estimated 151,000 Iraqi civilians have been killed in the violence that has engulfed the country from the time of the US-led invasion until June 2006, according to the latest and largest study of deaths officially accepted by the Iraqi government.

The figures come from a household survey carried out by the World Health Organisation and the Iraqi health ministry. They are substantially lower than the 601,027 death toll reported by US researchers in 2006 in the Lancet using similar study methods, but higher than the Iraq Body Count’s (IBC) register – based on press reports – of 47,668.

Maia says that, on NPR, the main talk was about how this was less than the Lancet study. Well, yes. But even if this number is wrong, and IBC is more accurate, I think its pretty much impossible to make the “better off” claim at this point.

This doesn’t change my opinion about current US policy, which is that we should stay in for at least a while longer, but it does suggest the better “Pottery Barn Rule” might be something like this: don’t break the stuff in the first place.

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Daniel H. Nexon is a Professor at Georgetown University, with a joint appointment in the Department of Government and the School of Foreign Service. His academic work focuses on international-relations theory, power politics, empires and hegemony, and international order. He has also written on the relationship between popular culture and world politics.