The Price of Betrayal

Richard Fernandez contends that moral arguments against abandoning interpreters and others who have worked with Coalition forces will likely fall on deaf ears (“how effective are moral arguments — really — when it comes to politicians”) and that it would be more useful to present cost-benefit analysis.

In that vein, he argues that abandoning the interpreters will make it much more costly to hire more the next time they’re needed. Not only will there be a cost in finding, vetting, and training the replacements but the enhanced risk caused by the first betrayal will naturally make the price go up. Further, the “intelligence and propaganda mileage Britain’s potential enemies will gain from torturing information from the abandoned interpreters” will require offsetting in a variety of ways.

Commenter NahnCee argues that these people are essentially mercenaries who, unless they were promised safe passage in the event things went south, are owed nothing. There’s something to that; indeed, I’ve made that argument with respect to Western contractors hired to perform various services for the Coalition. The difference, though, is that the Westerners can go home; Iraqi collaborators* left behind are quite likely to be killed.

Now, whether we owe more to Iraqis who have been on the American payroll than to others who are likely to be killed if we leave them in a state of chaos is another question, indeed, and one for which there are no easy answers. Aside from staying until the job’s done, of course. But while the answer is easy in that case, it’s one that begs a number of additional uneasy questions.

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*Daniel Davies objects to this term and any other that suggests that Iraqis who sided with the legitimately elected government and Coalition forces are somehow traitors to their people. I’m using it strictly in a value-neutral sense here.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Triumph says:

    Aside from staying until the job’s done, of course. But while the answer is easy in that case, it’s one that begs a number of additional uneasy questions.

    Yeah, namely, “what in the hell is the ‘job'”?

    Im not sure even Bush has any idea what the “job” is. Luckily he can wait out the clock and pawn his disaster off on someone else.

    The discussion of the translators begs a larger issue: the fact that many Iraqis with modern education and a westernized skillset have fled the country. People with talent in administration and business will undoubtedly be reluctant to go back to Iraq.

  2. NoZe says:

    Wow, a classic utilitarian v. Kantian dilemma! Do you do the right thing because its the right thing, or because it will be more advantageous to you in the long run?

  3. James Joyner says:

    Wow, a classic utilitarian v. Kantian dilemma! Do you do the right thing because its the right thing, or because it will be more advantageous to you in the long run?

    The good news here is that Both is an acceptable answer. I think we’ve learned — and props to Jimmy Carter on this — that, in the longer run at least, doing the right thing tends to be more advantageous anyway. In the short term, though, it can be painful. And, unfortunately, politicians are rewarded for living in the short term.

  4. Tlaloc says:

    In that vein, he argues that abandoning the interpreters will make it much more costly to hire more the next time they’re needed.

    uh a main point here is that we don’t want to do this again. I don’t really care what it costs to do something I fully intend never to do, now do I?

    Commenter NahnCee argues that these people are essentially mercenaries who, unless they were promised safe passage in the event things went south, are owed nothing.

    I prefer the term War Profiteer myself. It helps to strip of the fake mystique of “mercenary” while driving home the war crimes aspect. We don’t owe the war profiteers anything. Frankly it’s in the world’s best interest for there to be some substantial attrition among the vultures in Iraq to convince these parasites that preying on human misery isn’t as lucrative as it seems.

    Their severance plan should consist of a small piece of paper with the neatly printed words “burn in hell.”

    Iraqi collaborators* left behind are quite likely to be killed.

    Iraqi collaborators weren’t mercenaries. The mercs were the foreigners who descended on the carcass of Iraq to take what they could.

    *Daniel Davies objects to this term and any other that suggests that Iraqis who sided with the legitimately elected government and Coalition forces are somehow traitors to their people.

    That’d be true if the current government were legitimate which it simply isn’t. It ceased to be legitimate when it failed a number of tasks each of which by their constitituion required the government to be dissolved and reformed. Because nobody wanted to say follow the rule of law that never happened, and so they just ignored the law. Which makes the government automatically illegitimate (to say nothing of the many problems with their much touted but functionally broken elections).

    Just one example of what I am talking about here:

    http://tlaloc.gnn.tv/blogs/8102/Whoops