Monday, March 15, 2004

The "Lump of Effort" Fallacy

One very popular argument for opposition to the war in Iraq and rejoicing at the outcome of the Spanish elections is that invading Iraq needlessly detracted from the effort against al-Qaeda. This seems at first blush to be an entirely reasonable argument, but when examined more closely, it becomes clear that a hidden assumption lies behind the plausibility this argument is accorded, namely that there is a fixed amount of effort a government and a people can put into fighting an enemy, and any energy devoted to Iraq must mean that less is available for other activities. This is quite simply a blatant falsehood, and one that I find particularly strange, coming, as it tends to, from the Left, where the more typical assumption is that there is absolutely no limit to what governments can successfully undertake.

The war in Iraq was by no means World War 2, and today's America is a much more populous and far wealthier place than Roosevelt's, yet the America of the 1940s was able to simultaneously bash Germany and Japan into submission whilst enjoying an unprecedented boom in domestic prosperity, so what good reason is there to expect that today's America can't possibly go all out in defeating al-Qaeda even while turfing Saddam's regime out on its ear? Are we to believe, against all evidence, that Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein are mightier foes than Adolf Hitler and Hideki Tojo ever were? What is more, if Saddam really was as insignificant and unworthy of immediate attention as so many detractors of the war like to claim, this makes such an assumption even less plausible than it might have been.

America was able to enjoy growing prosperity even while arming the world and fighting on two fronts for one very simple reason, namely an excess of unutilized industrial capacity due to the depression. Though the current economic situation is by no means as gloomy as the likes of Paul Krugman like to make out, it is also true today that American businesses have plenty of slack left, which explains their reluctance to hire in great numbers. What this means from a military perspective is that, on the assumption that one buys into the Keynesian view of the economy that is the orthodoxy on the Left, one ought to welcome a war on several fronts, in as much as arming for it would prime the pump for a return to robust economic growth. The bottom line is that there is simply no reasonable argument available to those who believe in the great possibilities of government action that will support the contention that Iraq must have detracted from the effort against Islamic terrorism, even if one accepts as the gospel truth that Saddam and bin Laden had absolutely nothing to do with each other.