Foreign Policy by the Numbers


Jeffrey S. Rosenthal

(July, 2005)

In the aftermath of the terrible 7/7 London terrorist bombings, President George W. Bush declared, "The contrast couldn't be clearer between the intentions and the hearts of those of us who care deeply about human rights and human liberty and those who kill, those who have such evil in their heart that they will take the lives of innocent folks."

I completely agree with President Bush that the taking of innocent lives is horrible and unacceptable. And, as a mathematician, I believe in objective, quantitative analysis whenever possible. In that spirit, here are some numbers regarding the taking of innocent life:

The last two items in this list were the direct result of decisions taken by President Bush. So, going strictly by the numbers, it is hard not to reach the conclusion that Bush has done more -- not less -- taking of innocent life than have the terrorists. So much for Bush's "clear contrast".

Of course, the situation is more complicated than this. For one thing, the terrorists intentionally targeted civilians, while the U.S. military apparently did not. However, surely Bush's advisors knew that their actions would result in thousands of civilian deaths. Furthermore, the U.S. military's official policy is that they don't do body counts, i.e. they don't even bother to estimate the number of civilians they kill -- suggesting to me that they are not overly concerned with avoiding civilian casualties.

Another issue concerns hypotheticals: how many people did the military action, however horrible, save from being killed later on? This argument may hold some weight regarding the invasion of Afghanistan, since it seems plausible that without the invasion, the Taliban regime there would have facilitated further al-Qaeda terrorist attacks and therefore additional deaths in the future. But regarding the invasion of Iraq, most experts agree that it made the world more, not less, vulnerable to future terrorist attacks, which completely undermines this argument.

Also, some people may feel that deaths on the "other" side are less serious than deaths on "our" side, or that we have God on our side and they don't, or that we have good values and they have bad values. But such sentiments are precisely the terrorists' motivations, too! Furthermore, the deplorable and illegal treatment of prisoners at the U.S. Naval Base in Guantanamo Bay undermines, to my mind, U.S. government claims to be fighting for "freedom" and other positive values.

Foreign policy and international relations are extremely complicated, and there are no simple answers. But it seems to me is that we should deplore, and work to end, the taking of all innocent life, on all sides. That's foreign policy by the numbers.

-- Jeffrey Rosenthal