A number of people contend that the U.S. should achieve victory in the Middle East at any price. After all, anything short of total success dishonors the memory of those who fell to realize American foreign policy goals and spread freedom and democracy to oppressed people. This view is entirely wrong, though. In economics, there is the concept of sunk costs. Sunk costs are, simply put, costs that have already been incurred and can never be recouped. Economic theory teaches us that, because sunk costs are sunk, they should play no role in future decisions. For example, if a restaurant installs a pizza oven but fails to turn any profit from pizza sales, the restaurant should eliminate pizza from the menu and begin to produce more profitable menu items. The fact that large sums of money were wasted on the pizza oven is irrelevant, as it has no bearing on future earnings. The death of a soldier is very much like a sunk cost. It is permanent and can’t be reversed or altered by future actions. Regardless of the strategy adopted by the U.S. and its allies, that soldier’s life can, sadly, never be restored. Therefore, it is completely illogical to use the sacrifice of American service members to justify endless war.
Instead, the United States should only consider the best strategy for the future given the current situation in which it finds itself. Of course, one can learn from previous mistakes and failures in order to develop better strategies and tactics. However, one cannot change what has already occurred. Put simply, casualties are a tragic result of war, not a reason to continue fighting. All wars generate costs; that is the nature of war. If we were to fight simply because costs were incurred, wars would never end.
Sadly, many people don’t seem to realize that endless warfare won’t resurrect the fallen. They are so worked up and emotional that they fail to see reason or think rationally about meta-level strategic calculations. Israelis and Palestinians demonstrate the utter stupidity of justifying conflict because of previous slights. Both have legitimate grievances about past actions, but instead of accepting that the past is unchangeable and largely irrelevant to future strategic calculations, they continue to fight and despise one another because of previous, unchangeable events. Neither side is willing to relent or forgive the other, so both are locked in an endless conflict that costs the lives of scores of soldiers and civilians every year.
The sacrifice of American and allied soldiers should never be forgotten or ignored. However, their deaths should not be used as a justification for endless war. By exploiting their loss to continue conflicts, we only condemn more soldiers to die. To be clear, this post isn’t arguing that the United States should never fight protracted wars. On the contrary, it is sometimes entirely justified and necessary to engage in long conflicts despite the costs. However, the decision to prolong a conflict should be based on strategic goals, not emotional appeals to the sacrifice of soldiers. Anger and sadness are not strategies, they are emotions; I think that we can all agree that the foreign policy of the world’s sole superpower should not be determined purely on account of someone’s sentiments.