The Second Version

20/12/06

The Price of Inaction

Things do not happen just because, but there always are cause-effect relations and chain of events that produce a certain outcome. Even chaos does not break cause-effect the rule.

Causes of the observable outcomes can be laws of nature, human will, or a combination of both.

If we decide to take action, in most cases we can influence the outcome - in a way preferable for us.

But taking no action is no neutral position. It is equivalent to letting laws of nature take their course unhindered; when human will is involved, inaction is equivalent to letting the other actors do what they please.

An example is a soccer match (or an analogous sport of your choice): the ball follows Newton's laws of motion and the laws of fluid dynamics. But it has to be kicked and carried around by players with a precise intent. Both teams use a combination of laws of nature and their will to score goals and prevent the other squad from scoring in turn.

If one team's players decided to do nothing and just loiter around the pitch fooling around, the other team would win with no effort at all. They wouldn't just win; they'd score dozens of goals against nil.

Also doing nothing is a decision, and there is a price to pay even in this case. The price is to let the other party(s) take and maintain initiative.

In the specific case of the Iraq War, many of its opposers apparently favored a do-nothing stance. They usually don't spend much time examining the possible consequences of that, but they seem to imply that the pre-war status quo could be maintained indefinitely. Or that Saddma Hussein would just see the light and give up. Or that his regime would fade away, like Franco's or Pinochet's regimes.

In any case, they seem to disregard the fact that Saddam Hussein had a will of his own, and to the best of my knowledge his plans did not include stepping down quietly and retiring to private life. Rather, his plans included clinging to power as long as possible; having the sanctions lifted and rearm - and also restart NBC weapons (yes, I like this vintage expression much more than the overused WMD) programs.

In that case, the price of inaction was letting Hussein proceed with his plans. Action has been taken, and a price is being paid too. There is no way to know with any certainty which price is higher, and only time will tell where the action taken will lead.

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