Take 171,175 for example. That’s the total number of civilians that have been killed as a direct consequence of the illegal 2003 invasion of Iraq.
Still, not all numbers are bad. George W. Bush went into the Iraq war with a 71 percent approval rating.
And left office at 34 percent.
Saturday Night War Fever
The relationship between approval ratings and war is a complicated one.
In America, as with most western countries, the onset of conflict is often used as an excuse to stifle debate. The commander-in-chief generally enjoys a surge in approval. The notion of ‘getting behind the troops’ is seen to be of paramount importance.
At the same time, a paradox is usually at work.
The U.S. has always had something of an allergic reaction to the consequence of foreign adventurism; body bags, flag-draped coffins, the never-ending drone of news feed casualty reports.
The reason for it is simple. When it comes to the domestic death toll it has been extremely lucky.
Since WWII, the U.S. military has killed around 20 million people — mostly civilians — worldwide. In contrast, U.S. casualties across the four major conflicts of the same period stand at around 96,000.
Indeed, the total number of American soldiers killed in all U.S wars stands at around 1.1 million — a staggering figure that is put into perspective only when one realizes that during WWII alone the Soviet Union lost at least 11,000,000 soldiers as well as somewhere between 7,000,000 and 20,000,000 of its civilian population.
The Balking Dead
The president of the United States has to walk a fine line. A war is good for popularity ratings, yes, but only as long as a few criteria are met.
To begin with, the U.S. must be victorious.
The war also needs to be relatively brief since if not it runs the risk of falling into the third trap of mounting casualty rates. Even in the case of a short war causality rates are of paramount importance.
During the Cuban missile crisis, President Kennedy blanched at the notion that an invasion of Cuba would cost 18,500 American lives.
He knew that the public had no stomach for such bloodshed and opted for a blockade instead.
Two other criteria are also of great importance to the relationship between war and presidential approval ratings. First, the justification for any action must be sound.
The slavish devotion to the flag that characterized the early months of the Iraq war soon gave way to late-night talk show snide remarks about the absence of the much-touted weapons of mass destruction. Opposition to the Vietnam war grew more slowly but remained centered on questioning the wisdom of U.S. involvement.
And lastly and perhaps most importantly, the pain must not be felt at home. The sheer cost of invading a country 1/12th of America’s size for no good reason literally hit home in 2007 when the financial crisis all but crippled middle America. With home repossession at an all-time high and the banks responsible for the crash flush with taxpayer-funded welfare checks to the tune of several trillion dollars, people began to ask questions.
Like, why hadn’t the money spent in Iraq been used to build new schools, roads, hospitals, and libraries instead?
The Bystander In Chief
So where does that leave President Donald Trump? With approval ratings so low that a chipmunk couldn’t limbo under them he is in desperate need of a war. But more than that, he’s actively courting one.
Two questions remain then. Why and with whom?
The latter question is easier to answer.
Forget China. For all his bluster Trump must know that China is too big of a player to mess with in any significant way. As a nuclear power, the risk of ‘accidentally’ losing the entire eastern seaboard in a desperate attack would be very real. And very visceral.
North Korea might look like a pushover but here as well, their possession of nuclear weapons makes the payoff somewhat asymmetrical. The loss of New York — or as is more likely Tokyo — would do wonders for the world economy I’m sure.
No, what Trump wants is something that would truly inspire the people who voted for him in the first place.
He wants a holy war.
Jihad Such A Lovely Time
There is an irony here of course. That the people of Islam have more to fear from the ‘peace-loving’ forces of the West than we do from them.
The prospect of a war against the non-white Muslim horde is an easy sell. Get them before they get you is the kind of facile thinking that the GOP-faithful love.
And Trump’s actions would reinforce that which he has argued all along. That his opponents are weak. That they are incapable of doing what needs to be done. That the people he sees as presbyopic, bastard, immigrant-loving, leftist media elites, are nothing short of mewling apologists for the excesses of Islam. They are, he would proclaim, what he always said the were. Losers destined to ever put their principles before their country.
This isn’t even really conjecture.
White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon has been arguing this for years.
In a 2014 speech to a Christian conference held in the Vatican, Bannon set out his world view stating that:
“We’re at the very beginning stages of a very brutal and bloody conflict, of which if the people in this room, the people in the church, do not bind together and really from what I feel is an aspect of the church militant, to really be able to not just stand with (sic) our beliefs, but to fight for our beliefs against this new barbarity that’s starting, that will completely eradicate everything that we’ve been bequeathed over the last 2,000, 2,500 years.”
Indeed, according to Bannon, the war is not only inevitable, it’s already begun:
“We’re now, I believe, at the beginning stages of a global war against Islamic fascism. And this war is, I think, metastasizing far quicker than governments can handle it,”
The central flaw with the plan rests with its feasibility.
The U.S. can’t afford any of this. Not monetarily and not morally.
If the final cost estimate for the Iraq war is accurate, then for every Iraqi killed — around 250,000 people if we include military personnel — the U.S. spent around $24 million for each death. Even assuming such things scaled on a one to one basis. the total cost to the U.S. of waging war on the entire Muslim world would be staggering.
There are around 2.2 billion Muslims in the world, which is around 84 times the population of Iraq as it stood in 2003. Trump would have to kill around 21 million people — men women and children — at a cost of around $504 trillion in order to have the same effect on the entire religion as Bush’s invasion had on Iraq.
War On Error
Their ‘war’ on Islam will be a never-ending series of engagements on the periphery of the fight they insist needs to be fought. The most obvious place to begin such an assault would be Iran.
It will add to levels of national debt that are already set to increase by $10 trillion dollars. It will ruin America’s reputation whilst failing to destroy either ISIS or Islam. Without achieving safety for America at home or abroad it will drain coffers and good will as the U.S. gets bogged down in war in which it can score many victories but never actually win.
And when that hits home, the boost Trump received from holy war rhetoric will fall off a cliff.
And go into the ground like a fucking dart.
A ground scattered with the bones of hundreds of thousands of people, sacrificed at the altar of Trump’s hubris. And so at last, the long predicted fall of the American empire will come to fruition.
Watch the comparison of U.S. and Iranian military power. Note how the comparison does not mention the horrendous dollar cost of the conflict nor does it examine the damage to the U.S reputation.
Featured image from MemeGenerator.net.