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Sunk Costs in Foreign Policy

Summary:
And then there was the manner in which Trump conducted himself personally. In an astonishing display of insensitivity, during a 2017 meeting about how to best prosecute the Afghan war, Trump said in Kelly’s presence that the young American soldiers who had died in Afghanistan had died for a worthless cause. Trump said, “We got our boys who are over there being blown up every day for what? For nothing. Guys are dying for nothing. There’s nothing worth dying for in that country.” Kelly had lost a son in Afghanistan, 29-year-old Marine First Lieutenant Robert Kelly. Trump either didn’t know or didn’t care. This is from Peter Bergen, “The Generals Tried to Keep Trump in Check. What Happens to Foreign Policy Now That They’ve Left?“, Time, December 5, 2019. Yes,

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Sunk Costs in Foreign Policy

And then there was the manner in which Trump conducted himself personally. In an astonishing display of insensitivity, during a 2017 meeting about how to best prosecute the Afghan war, Trump said in Kelly’s presence that the young American soldiers who had died in Afghanistan had died for a worthless cause. Trump said, “We got our boys who are over there being blown up every day for what? For nothing. Guys are dying for nothing. There’s nothing worth dying for in that country.” Kelly had lost a son in Afghanistan, 29-year-old Marine First Lieutenant Robert Kelly. Trump either didn’t know or didn’t care.

This is from Peter Bergen, “The Generals Tried to Keep Trump in Check. What Happens to Foreign Policy Now That They’ve Left?“, Time, December 5, 2019. Yes, believe it or not, Time magazine still exists. This article is excerpted from Bergen’s book Trump and His Generals: The Cost of Chaos.

Notice Bergen’s implicit acceptance [he takes the side of the generals who want the U.S. government to maintain its presence in Afghanistan] of the idea that we should not ignore sunk costs. Bergen’s presumption seems to be that former General John Kelly, Trump’s chief of staff at the time, would want the U.S. to stay in Afghanistan because he had lost his son there, and Bergen appears to agree with that desire. But that loss, horrible as it was, was a sunk cost. Trump seemed to understand that.

Kelly’s son is gone. Nothing can get him back. The question is whether losing future U.S. military people is worth it. But, as Trump said, “Guys are dying for nothing.”

David Henderson
David Henderson is a British economist. He was the Head of the Economics and Statistics Department at the OECD in 1984–1992. Before that he worked as an academic economist in Britain, first at Oxford (Fellow of Lincoln College) and later at University College London (Professor of Economics, 1975–1983); as a British civil servant (first as an Economic Advisor in HM Treasury, and later as Chief Economist in the Ministry of Aviation); and as a staff member of the World Bank (1969–1975). In 1985 he gave the BBC Reith Lectures, which were published in the book Innocence and Design: The Influence of Economic Ideas on Policy (Blackwell, 1986).

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