The price of everything and the value of nothing
This story decrying the plight of interpreters abandoned by the withdrawing British Army in Southern Iraq is aimed at pointing a moral gun at Western politician's hearts with its heart-rending stories. But how effective are moral arguments -- really -- when it comes to politicians, so let's pose the question another way. How much will it cost the British defense establishment to throw these interpreters away?
In a war where information warfare and intelligence is as important, if not more important, than manufactured combat hardware how much money is the British Army/Coalition throwing away by essentially abandoning these interpreters to a fugitive existence or painful death? What metrics can be used to estimate the dollar value of what is being thrown over the side. The first is replacement value. If Britain had to reinvade Iraq or part of the Middle East for whatever reason in the near future, how much time and effort would it cost to reproduce this cadre of interpreters? Unless Western forces of the future are expected to fight without interpreters, how can this vital capability be regenerated rapidly again? They can measure that from how much and how long it took the last time, adjusted for inflation. And to it they should allow for a premium prospective interpreters are certain to demand as insurance against a second abandonment. A first betrayal radically tilts the odds in favor of a second. Accountants understand the effects of premiums on defaulting borrowers. They will understand that.
A second set of costs might be how much intelligence and propaganda mileage Britain's potential enemies will gain from torturing information from the abandoned interpreters, putting them on display before the media or forcing them into counterintelligence tasks. In this case the loss is must be counted more than once. Not only must money be found to pay for a replacement interpreter network but counter-intel assets must be emplaced to protect against fluent English speakers, familiar with the ways of the British Army now in the enemy employ. It's a little bit like demolition and cleanup costs that must be incurred before building a new house to replace the old one that was freshly constructed before it was abandoned.
Other costing methods may occur to accountants. And so they should. Costs on the credibility of future action, the effect on the "loss of prestige". Dollars and cents. Ka-chink. Ka-ching. Money is the language of politcians, the media and too many of us. Money is something Whitehall and even Brussels might understand. But pointing a moral gun at the heart of politicians is worse than useless. As Captain Renault in Casablance said, "that is my least vulnerable spot."