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The Iraq War -- A Humanitarian Success?

See here. (I tried posting this originally on the VC website but the software handles tables very poorly.)

Update:

Correction here.

Update:

Tim Lambert says the UNICEF data I relied on have been revised and show no improvement from the sanctions regime.

AntonK (mail):
An interesting post. But as a commonsensical matter, the fact that the Iraq war is a humanitarian success is obvious on its face.
11.24.2008 9:59am
Cardozo'd (www):
All that is nice and good, until you read the part about 100,000 dead Iraqis, which seemingly dwarfs the ability to google.
11.24.2008 10:11am
Mahan Atma (mail):
I'd say 100,000 dead is a pretty low estimate.

Anybody got statistics on, say, infant mortality, or overall life expectancy pre/post war?

How about the availability of electricity, or clean drinking water?

Those are the sorts of statistics social scientists usually look at to determine whether a society is better off.
11.24.2008 10:18am
Mahan Atma (mail):
"But as a commonsensical matter, the fact that the Iraq war is a humanitarian success is obvious on its face."


How can you possibly make such a claim?

Do you have some sort of absolute equation that tells us how much the hundreds of thousands of lost lives were worth, compared to whatever benefits are being enjoyed?
11.24.2008 10:21am
GV:
In case anyone wondered how many lives a commercial radio station is worth, now we know.

The fallacy running throughout the post is that the United States had two options: the war or continue the status quo of sanctions. But that’s obviously not right and many people thought we should do something about the sanction regime that was in place. Moreover, if we’re going to compare the costs of the war, I have no idea why you used the low-ball number of one hundred thousand deaths, although you seem to recognize that this was an absurd number by saying that there has “probably” been many more. (The website you link to counts only documented Iraq civilian deaths. That’s supposed to be an absolute bottom floor for the number of deaths. First, many deaths are not documented. Second, lots of people have died in this war who are not Iraqi civilians, either because they are not from Iraq or they are not civilians.) I also have no idea why you did not consider the opportunity cost of the lives of Americans lost or the amount of money we have poured into Iraq.

But when you want to pat yourself on the back for your war mongering and your complicity in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people, I suppose there’s no reason to try to paint a realistic picture of the costs of the war.

Onward Mr. Posner! Keep fighting the good fight. I look forward to your next post where you calculate how many lives (or fraction of a life) are worth losing for every ten cent drop in the price of a car.
11.24.2008 10:22am
Mahan Atma (mail):
Ah, OK, I see the child mortality stats. Let me think about those as a demographer for a while.
11.24.2008 10:23am
George Smith:
This'll be good.
11.24.2008 10:30am
Mahan Atma (mail):
Wait, I see the problem -- Posner, this is just wrong:

"Under these assumptions, 400,000 Iraqi children would have died if the war had not occurred and the sanctions regime continued. Now, almost 100,000 Iraqis died during the war, and so one of the war’s benefits is that it saves the lives of 300,000 Iraqis (over 10 years)."


The 100,000 figure from Iraq Body Count only counts deaths from violence. Child mortality statistics capture deaths from all causes.

I can guarantee you that child mortality from non-violent causes shot way up immediately after the invasion, because of the relative lack of clean drinking water, electricity, prenatal care, and so on. But the Iraq Body Count would not have captured that excess mortality.

That's just one way in which the Iraq Body Count number fails to capture the true number of lives lost due to the invasion.

(PS - I was a demographer prior to being a lawyer.)
11.24.2008 10:31am
Houston Lawyer:
How do you rate the value of millions of people living in a functioning democracy verses that same number of people living under an absolute despot? Some people seem to be absolutely certain that this could have been achieved without anyone being killed.
11.24.2008 10:36am
Mahan Atma (mail):
"How do you rate the value of millions of people living in a functioning democracy verses that same number of people living under an absolute despot?"


It seems a bit over-stated to call Iraq "a functioning democracy". By all accounts, things are run mostly by local despots and militias.

Voting, by itself, does not a democracy make.
11.24.2008 10:39am
Mahan Atma (mail):
Posner, as an overall critique of your analysis: You want to compare pre-war Iraq with what it looks like now, largely ignoring the five years in between (for that, solely relying on the Iraq Body Count number, which by its definition tells us only deaths by violence, even assuming its accuracy).

Lets compare apples to apples and oranges to oranges: What was the child mortality rate and life expectancy from 2003-2008?

You won't find these numbers (or at least accurate ones) for the most part, but in a few years, it may be possible to estimate them. If an accurate census of the population is taken, we'll be able to estimate fairly reasonably past age-specific death rates through inverse projection (because those deaths get reflected in the existing population age-pyramid. You'll need total annual births as well, but there are probably fairly accurate stats on that).

Every demographer in the world will tell you the invasion must have caused a massive spike in child mortality from all causes, for the reasons I mentioned above. We don't know the exact number yet, but I guarantee you it went way up.

When we find that out, I hope you come back and re-visit your analysis.
11.24.2008 10:50am
MarkField (mail):

How do you rate the value of millions of people living in a functioning democracy verses that same number of people living under an absolute despot?


To paraphrase Rick's response to Major Strasser, when you get there, ask me.
11.24.2008 10:56am
PLR:
While I have enjoyed some of Eric's prior posts, this is the most idiotic and offensive post that has appeared on the VC in the time I have been here. Zywicki, you're off the hook for your pre-election mudslinging.

Over a million dead Iraqis (The Lancet) and millions more displaced, with the numerical equivalent of a 9/11 happening every few weeks in a population that is less than 10% of ours. But hey, they have more newspapers!
11.24.2008 11:08am
Passerby:
Ah yes, the false dichotomy. The surest way to make something terrible seem like something great. Good work Mr. Posner.
11.24.2008 11:14am
Michelle Dulak Thomson (mail):
GV,

The fallacy running throughout the post is that the United States had two options: the war or continue the status quo of sanctions. But that’s obviously not right and many people thought we should do something about the sanction regime that was in place.

Oh, yes, indeed they did. In fact "The US sanctions have killed 100,000 Iraqi children" was the mantra right up until it became "The UN [NB not "US," not any more] sanctions are working!"

Which "do something about the sanctions" did you have in mind, though? Lifting them entirely?
11.24.2008 11:15am
Sarcastro (www):
I do love contrary-to-fact hypotheticals, especially those backed up with statistics!

I can't believe it's not science!
11.24.2008 11:25am
A.C.:
I can't evaluate the numbers here, but I do think the post makes sense in that it sets out the actual options:

1) War;
2) Sanctions;
3) Lifting sanctions with Saddam still in place.

There are some counterfactual variations, of course. There could have been a war run differently, or sanctions run differently. And there could have been combinations -- sanctions, or even lifting sanctions, followed by war at some later date.

But the point is that all the options were pretty vile. Whether we ended up with the least vile one (or, if you are trying to demonstrate something else, the most vile one) IS an open question, and it will probably remain open for a long time to come. Some of the events that will answer it haven't occurred yet, and some are counterfactuals that we will never be able to evaluate with real numbers.
11.24.2008 11:29am
Melancton Smith:
GV wrote:

Onward Mr. Posner! Keep fighting the good fight. I look forward to your next post where you calculate how many lives (or fraction of a life) are worth losing for every ten cent drop in the price of a car.


Good point. Given that according to the CDC, in 2005 roughly 30,000 deaths were attributed to automobile accidents including 4550 children under the age of 14.

Given that, why do we allow the use of cars at all? There has to be some financial motivation. If so, what is the dollar amount placed upon the lives of those 4550 children? How low would that financial benefit of automobile possession go before we'd say those deaths do not justify the possession of automobiles?

How much is one child's life worth, in whole dollars?
11.24.2008 11:41am
Obvious (mail):
"How do you rate the value of millions of people living in a functioning democracy verses that same number of people living under an absolute despot?"

A more basic question is why you seem to think it is your call to make?
11.24.2008 11:47am
Mahan Atma (mail):
Posner, another couple of points: I think it is quite disingenuous to treat the Iraq Body Count stats as anything but an underestimate. The IBC researchers say so themselves:

"We have always been quite explicit that our own total is certain to be an underestimate of the true position, because of gaps in reporting or recording."


The IBC only counts violent deaths occurring to non-combatants that can be independently documented by two or more sources. The method is practically guaranteed to underestimate mortality, and they admit it.

Second, you might want to acknowledge (1) the large number of violent casualties (people who lose their legs, eyes, etc.), and (2) millions of refugees. I realize this is a lot harder to spin, but if you're purporting to do an honest analysis, it's rather required.
11.24.2008 11:55am
wfjag:

Over a million dead Iraqis (The Lancet) and millions more displaced

Next time, just cite Rosie O'Donnell. On this issue she's got more credibility (or, at least sincerity) than the multi-debunked Lancet claims.

In October, 2004, Lancet published a report estimating 98,000 war-related deaths in the first 18 months of the conflict. Two years later, the report referred to by PLR, Lancet updated that figure to 655,000 Iraqis dead by July 2006 as a consequence of the March 2003 U.S. invasion, with 600,000 of those directly from violence. However, Lancet failed to explain the incredible jump in its numbers or why the later report believed that the October 2004 report was so completely wrong. Lancet's estimates have been questioned on a large number of bases, including lack of verification.

More recently, Vol. 358:484-493, The New England Journal of Medicine (Jan. 31, 2008), Violence-Related Mortality in Iraq from 2002 to 2006 by the Iraq Family Health Survey Study Group concluded that there were an estimated number of violent deaths of 151,000 (95% uncertainty range, 104,000 to 223,000) from March 2003 through June 2006 due to the conflict. And, as noted in the article linked to Prof. Posner's post, Iraq Body Count has concluded that the violent deaths related to the conflict are even lower than this.

Although (nod to Sarcastro) this isn't science, the Lancet claims are more akin to science fiction.
11.24.2008 11:58am
BGates:
A more basic question is why you seem to think it is your call to make?
Why should it be yours?
11.24.2008 12:00pm
Assistant Village Idiot (mail) (www):
Always nice when people criticise without having read the links.

I believe the Iraqis' opinion should count for something in the equation. The Kurds and Shiites believe the invasion was a good thing on balance, by healthy margins. The Sunni's, the minority previously in power, do not. As those people were actually living through whatever tradeoff occurred, how they value the exchange is perhaps more important than how we value it. People seldom evaluate such calculations by the national numbers but by their own experiences. If they do not believe it was a humanitarian disaster on balance, I don't see where commenters on a law blog get to overrule that.

As an aside, the numbers from the Lancet have been pretty soundly thrashed, I believe. Using them would seem to be more advocacy than discussion to arrive at the truth.
11.24.2008 12:02pm
TheWhaler (mail):
Very persuasive analysis, Mr. Posner. As with any consequentialist moral reasoning, it all depends on how accurately we count, what we count, how much weight we give to each factor, and how long our time horizon is.

Should consequentialists support the Iraq war? That's a good question. Thanks for the beginning of an answer.
11.24.2008 12:04pm
Mahan Atma (mail):
"I believe the Iraqis' opinion should count for something in the equation."


And overall, only 49% supported it. This, of course, ignores the opinions of the dead people and refugees.
11.24.2008 12:06pm
Mahan Atma (mail):
"And, as noted in the article linked to Prof. Posner's post, Iraq Body Count has concluded that the violent deaths related to the conflict are even lower than this."


Again, from the Iraq Body Count researches themselves:

"We have always been quite explicit that our own total is certain to be an underestimate of the true position, because of gaps in reporting or recording."


Even more importantly, they only look at violent deaths. War causes a significant number of non-violent deaths because of the disruption in basic services, which in turn results in much higher child mortality.

This is something Posner complete ignores in his calculations.
11.24.2008 12:09pm
statfan (mail):
More recently, Vol. 358:484-493, The New England Journal of Medicine (Jan. 31, 2008), Violence-Related Mortality in Iraq from 2002 to 2006 by the Iraq Family Health Survey Study Group concluded that there were an estimated number of violent deaths of 151,000 (95% uncertainty range, 104,000 to 223,000) from March 2003 through June 2006 due to the conflict. And, as noted in the article linked to Prof. Posner's post, Iraq Body Count has concluded that the violent deaths related to the conflict are even lower than this.

The Lancet study was not counting only deaths by violence. It was counting all excess mortality. That includes things like: the water is off so someone drinks from a polluted stream and dies of cholera. Or: there's a roadblock, so the ambulance can't get to the guy who has a heart attack. Or: there's a roadside bombing which disrupts the supply of insulin. Also, it had a huge margin of error, which the NEJM study is either totally or mostly inside.

IBC's count only includes deaths of non-violent people, so it's not directly comparable.
11.24.2008 12:11pm
mls (www):
"As to whether it was in the American interest to confer these benefits on the Iraqis at vast expense, and virtually no gain, in security or otherwise, to itself – well, that is an entirely different question."

Not to mention one that answers itself.
11.24.2008 12:18pm
statfan (mail):
One other thing that Posner ignores is the status of women in Iraq. Under Saddam, women were not required to wear veils, and could have jobs. Under the new regime, women are subject to intimidation and violence for simply living their lives as before. See for instance this article.
11.24.2008 12:26pm
The Unbeliever:
Even more importantly, they only look at violent deaths. War causes a significant number of non-violent deaths because of the disruption in basic services, which in turn results in much higher child mortality.
Anyone bother calculating similar non-violent deaths caused by Sadaam Hussein's oppressive policies, torture rooms, and occassional gassing of villages? Or did the suddenly-cherised Lancet not bother to do a survey during those years.
11.24.2008 12:27pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
I believe that anti-sanctions folks claimed it was half a million Iraqi kids dead of the sanctions. Which were evil until the invasion and then they got to be really good and effective and all.
Funny.
Anyway, if the half a million number is correct, and the post-invasion number is correct, there shouldn't be many kids left at all.
But there are.
11.24.2008 12:28pm
statfan (mail):
Anyone bother calculating similar non-violent deaths caused by Sadaam Hussein's oppressive policies, torture rooms, and occassional gassing of villages? Or did the suddenly-cherised Lancet not bother to do a survey during those years

The Lancet's survey compared the death rate under Saddam Hussein to that after Hussein. So, yes.
11.24.2008 12:41pm
Josh E.:
It is also important to take into consideration the refugee situation. It is estimated that "About 4.4 million Iraqis have fled their homes since the start of the war, with some two million in Syria and Jordan, according to the United Nations."

11.24.2008 12:41pm
PLR:
Next time, just cite Rosie O'Donnell. On this issue she's got more credibility (or, at least sincerity) than the multi-debunked Lancet claims.
The Lancet study has not even been mono-debunked. Feel free to post a link to either (a) a contrary study, or (b) an epidemiologist who says that the Lancet report errs on the high side (we already know it may err on the low side).

Happy hunting!
11.24.2008 12:51pm
Michelle Dulak Thomson (mail):
Richard Aubrey,

I believe that anti-sanctions folks claimed it was half a million Iraqi kids dead of the sanctions. Which were evil until the invasion and then they got to be really good and effective and all.

That's so, "half a million"; thanks for reminding me. And, again, they were "US" sanctions when they were killing kids, but "UN" sanctions when they were supposed to have been "working." Since no WMD were found, we know now that the "UN" sanctions "worked"; and the human cost of the sanctions, which the Left was so eager to count back when they were styled "US" sanctions, isn't even in the picture.

What the human cost would now be if there had never been sanctions, we have no way of knowing. I can only assume that Saddam would have continued as he had begun with his various projects. The numbers of dead that leap to my mind aren't small, but I may be quite wrong.
11.24.2008 1:05pm
Obvious (mail):
BGates,

Don't be dense. It isn't my call to make. Neither is it yours. I can think of numerous uses of force that I suspect would make the world a better place. I am not allowed to initiate force to achieve them. I don't believe a coherent reading of the Constitution allows the President to use military force anywhere in the world he happens to think it might "make things better".

I do not use force, and people die. I do use force, and (other) people die. What's the difference, aside from the relative magnitudes? I am morally responsible in the latter situation, but not in the former. [This is a general statement; I recognize many people on this blog, including myself, can generate hypotheticals that make this claim incorrect, but I hope the general truth of the matter is clear.]
11.24.2008 1:05pm
Andrew J. Lazarus (mail):
I was looking for Eric Posner's post on how much better Myanmar is since we invaded and I couldn't find it. That SLORC Myanmar junta is smart, staying out of W's Oedipal problems.
11.24.2008 1:18pm
AntonK (mail):

The Lancet study has not even been mono-debunked. Feel free to post a link to either (a) a contrary study, or (b) an epidemiologist who says that the Lancet report errs on the high side (we already know it may err on the low side).

Happy hunting!
Short hunt. So much game out there, it's hard to know where to aim.
11.24.2008 1:21pm
David Warner:
MarkField,

"How do you rate the value of millions of people living in a functioning democracy verses that same number of people living under an absolute despot?

To paraphrase Rick's response to Major Strasser, when you get there, ask me."

Why the second person? I can see first or third. Second is odd.
11.24.2008 1:35pm
James Gibson (mail):
In a recent post I agreed its too early to pass a judgement. Here's another such post.

We don't know how many people lost their lives to the invasion, since we are still counting the dead from Saddam's other wars. Mass graves made during Saddam's rule are still being uncovered and the people who were officially "missing" are still being accounted for.

In the same regard mass graves made by Sunni insurgents, technically supporters of Saddam, are being found in areas that have recently been taken by the US and Iraqi government. In these cases does one count the dead as due to the United States or due to Saddam since Saddam would have probably ordered the executions.

Some mentioned the sanctions and the deaths caused by it (all directed at the United States). But when the UN is mentioned the Sanctions didn't seem to cost any lives and were well run. Of course this requires sweeping under the rug the UN oil for food scandal and whatever injuries or deaths it caused.

People have mentioned the problems caused by water shutdowns, poor sanitation and other post invasion problems. No mention of the withholding of medical aid by Saddam to people who didn't support his rule, or were of a different religious sect.

In the end its going to take years to get a handle on what the death rate was in Iraq before the invasion, what it was during the occupation, and still more years to pass to determine what the post occupation will be like. At which time all these additional factors will be included, and then some. Only then will it be possible to claim whether the Invasion helped or hurt the Iraqi people.
11.24.2008 1:39pm
William Oliver (mail) (www):
"The Lancet study has not even been mono-debunked."

Actually, the Wikipedia does a pretty good job of going over most of the criticisms of the papers. There are, in fact, some serious issues, including the lowballing of prewar mortality and the highballing of postwar mortality. The argument that "it's the best one can do under the circumstances" does not mean "it is accurate," as is reflected by the extraordinarily large confidence interval.

See: The Wikipedia article
11.24.2008 1:40pm
PLR:
Short hunt. So much game out there, it's hard to know where to aim. [Link to the usual garbage from the National Journal. Too funny].

Exhaustive deconstruction of that "critique" is here, with links.
11.24.2008 1:48pm
AntonK (mail):
Sorry PLR, happy fantasizing though!

One critic is Professor Michael Spagat, a statistician from Royal Holloway College, University of London. He and colleagues at Oxford University point to the possibility of “main street bias” – that people living near major thoroughfares are more at risk from car bombs and other urban menaces. Thus, the figures arrived at were likely to exceed the true number. The Lancet study authors initially told The Times that “there was no main street bias” and later amended their reply to “no evidence of a main street bias”.

Professor Spagat says the Lancet paper contains misrepresentations of mortality figures suggested by other organisations, an inaccurate graph, the use of the word “casualties” to mean deaths rather than deaths plus injuries, and the perplexing finding that child deaths have fallen. Using the “three-to-one rule” – the idea that for every death, there are three injuries – there should be close to two million Iraqis seeking hospital treatment, which does not tally with hospital reports.

“The authors ignore contrary evidence, cherry-pick and manipulate supporting evidence and evade inconvenient questions,” contends Professor Spagat, who believes the paper was poorly reviewed. “They published a sampling methodology that can overestimate deaths by a wide margin but respond to criticism by claiming that they did not actually follow the procedures that they stated.” The paper had “no scientific standing”. Did he rule out the possibility of fraud? “No.”

If you factor in politics, the heat increases. One of the Lancet authors, Dr Les Roberts, campaigned for a Democrat seat in the US House of Representatives and has spoken out against the war. Dr Richard Horton, Editor of the Lancet is also antiwar.
And here:

Much of the math here is mind-numbingly complicated, but Kane’s bottom line is simple: the Lancet authors “cannot reject the null hypothesis that mortality in Iraq is unchanged.” Translation: according to Kane, the confidence interval for the Lancet authors’ main finding is wrong. Had the authors calculated the confidence interval correctly, Kane asserts that they would have failed to identify a statistically significant increase in risk of death in Iraq, let alone the widely-reported 98,000 excess civilian deaths.

An interesting side note: as Kane observes in his paper, the Lancet authors “refuse to provide anyone with the underlying data (or even a precise description of the actual methodology).” The researchers did release some high-level summary data in highly aggregated form (see here), but they released neither the detailed interviewee-level data nor the programming code that would be necessary to replicate their results.
And although I disagree with their ideology, I must applaud the owners of the anti-war web site Iraq Body Count for their intellectual honesty (at least in this case), in a detailed and devastating refutation of the ludicrous Lancet article on Iraqi civilian deaths: Reality checks: some responses to the latest Lancet estimates
11.24.2008 2:07pm
PLR:
Actually, the Wikipedia does a pretty good job of going over most of the criticisms of the papers. There are, in fact, some serious issues, including the lowballing of prewar mortality and the highballing of postwar mortality. The argument that "it's the best one can do under the circumstances" does not mean "it is accurate," as is reflected by the extraordinarily large confidence interval.

I agree that the Wikipedia entry is quite useful. As far as the large confidence interval, remember that we're talking about a bell curve. The likelihood that the real number falls at either extreme is quite low relative to the numbers in the middle of the range.
11.24.2008 2:08pm
srg:
Statfan,

I am really delighted to hear that women had such a good life under Saddam. I bet the ones in mass graves were especially fortunate.
11.24.2008 2:28pm
Crust (mail):
wfjag:
The New England Journal of Medicine (Jan. 31, 2008), Violence-Related Mortality in Iraq from 2002 to 2006 by the Iraq Family Health Survey Study Group concluded that there were an estimated number of violent deaths of 151,000 (95% uncertainty range, 104,000 to 223,000) from March 2003 through June 2006 due to the conflict.
One of the many puzzles in this area is that while the NEJM/IFHS study obtained much lower numbers for violent deaths than either the Lancet or ORB numbers (which are fairly close as these things go), the numbers on deaths overall are pretty compatible. A likely explanation is that the NEJM/IFHS study used questioners from the Iraqi government and unlike the Lancet study did not request to see death certificates. It may well be that many respondents (especially Sunni respondents) judged it to be more "politically correct" to respond that family members died of natural causes rather than violence. (ORB also did not request
11.24.2008 2:28pm
Crust (mail):
AntonK, are you honestly citing Michael Spagat? The man almost makes John Lott look like a paragon of intellectual honesty. See e.g. here.
11.24.2008 2:32pm
AntonK (mail):
Crust, I'm afraid it's difficult to take a "computer scientist" seriously when they list their gmail account with the word "AT" instead of @ as a way to avoid spam. Jeesh...
11.24.2008 2:36pm
PLR:
Crust, I'm afraid it's difficult to take a "computer scientist" seriously when they list their gmail account with the word "AT" instead of @ as a way to avoid spam. Jeesh...

Pathetic.

It's not spam avoidance, it's avoidance of a click-through link.
11.24.2008 2:43pm
Crust (mail):
AntonK:
Crust, I'm afraid it's difficult to take a "computer scientist" seriously when they list their gmail account with the word "AT" instead of @ as a way to avoid spam. Jeesh...
It is however apparently easy to take an "economist" seriously when he computes an (unadjusted) R-squared with just three data points (and for good measure one on those three data points was cherry-picked amongst many possibilities). Jeesh...
11.24.2008 2:43pm
Assistant Village Idiot (mail) (www):
Mahan Atma, as a demographer you must know something about the use of statistics. That 49% supported something does not mean that 51% opposed. As you are so quick to understand such things when they support your point of view, I must conclude that you have a significant bias which prevents you from acknowledging uncomfortable data. I would like to know why you wish for a particular side of this discussion to "win," rather than trying to arrive at the truth. Why is it unacceptable to arrive at a conclusion that suggests Iraq is in a better spot now?
11.24.2008 2:50pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
One commenter noted that women have more threat, of the informal kind, now than they did under Saddaam. The plight of Christians in some areas is troubling.

I suppose this, too, is a kind of victory. If you want to insist that Islam is just like any other kind of religion and Iraqi (or Arab) culture is just like ours except better, we have an example of what happens when you let up on the controls.

Now, either this is not happening, or we have a rather expensive field experiment on the subject and those who claimed Islam and the ME cultures are not as nice as advertised are proven right.
11.24.2008 3:01pm
AntonK (mail):

"It's not spam avoidance, it's avoidance of a click-through link."
Right, 'cause they're really a bother! Jeesh...
11.24.2008 3:04pm
Crust (mail):
Mr. Posner, I find it remarkable that while you highlight the fact that hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have gained internet service, you don't find it worthy of mention the millions of refugees displaced from their homes as a result of the Iraq War. Not to deny that increased internet service is a public good, but it's not remotely on the same level as people being forced out of their homes and living in refugee camps.
11.24.2008 3:06pm
AntonK (mail):
Crust, I find it remarkable that you highlight statistics and numbers with are fantastic on their face, and continue to repeat them as though you are experiencing some sort personal 'groundhog day' event.
11.24.2008 3:14pm
Crust (mail):
AntonK, linking to Deltoid but actually quoting Michelle Malkin:
"Much of the math here is mind-numbingly complicated..."
Have a look at that Deltoid post you linked to. Lancet skeptic David Kane -- to his credit -- had requested that his argument against the first Lancet paper be critiqued there. As you go through the comments, you'll see he got that in spades; his argument was eviscerated.
11.24.2008 3:15pm
Portland (mail):
AVI,

One opinion survey does not an argument make. Many surveys have would overwhelming majorities of Iraqis saying the invasion was wrong. The OP also failed to provide a link to the survey, so we don't know the questions, the methodology, the sample size, or really anything at all that would make this particular opinion poll a notable data point. Of course, it might be. Let's see a link.

Anton,

You have met the challenge of finding one source that doesn't like the Lancet report. However, this is still a carefully conducted, methodologically rigorous survey of 12,000 people published in one of the top five peer-reviewed medical journals in the world. It compares the postwar environment to the sanctions regime, so the "sanctions were worse" argument does not apply to those figures.

For me, a larger problem with the post than the results of the Lancet study is the fact that Mr. Posner failed to cite it. He certainly could have brought it up in order to try and debunk it. But failing to mention the most authoritative paper on the very question he is examining -- prewar vs postwar conditions in Iraq -- that can be explained in only two ways, both of them very damaging to Mr. Posner's credibility. One, he is cherry-picking the evidence. Two, he didn't know about the study. Neither possibility lends credence to Mr. Posner's "analysis."

The refugees impact this discussion in several respects. Not only is their displacement part of the cost of the war, their death rates in the surrounding countries must be factored in, and their opinions of the war, even if they are longer in the country to by surveyed, are a necessary part of the collective opinions of the Iraqi people on the war.

Finally, I'd like to make the point that in considering the cost to Iraq of the war, there is no reason to exclude military deaths. People who died bearing arms against the invaders of their country are part of the cost too. We often separate military and civilian deaths under the assumption that military deaths are legal, moral, and part of the objectives of the conflict while civilian deaths are a mistake. In calculating the cost of war that distinction is irrelevant. Dead is dead.
11.24.2008 3:27pm
KeithK (mail):
At the end of the day, the whole argument is a subjective one. It cannot be won by a quantitative comparison of numbers. To decide whether the war was "right" or "worth it" you have to place subjective value on the various factors, including casualties and changes to the lives of Iraqis. Some think that the cost in lives and the negative consequences outweigh the positive consequences. Others disagree. Numbers can show the magnitude of a particular effect but can't attach a weight to it.

Oh to have an alternate universe where we could run a controlled experiment. Would Iraqis be better off if we'd never invaded? You can't prove it one way or another.
11.24.2008 3:31pm
RPT (mail):
It is my understanding that there were Saddam-era Catholic, Orthodox and Evangelical Protestant communities which have been effectively wiped out. I don't think, per Mr. Aubrey, that this is the result of some "field experiment".
11.24.2008 3:33pm
Portland (mail):
AVI,

You can find the poll in question at:

globalpolicy.org/security/issues/iraq/pollindex.htm

49% right
50% wrong

In other words, every poll shows a plurality of Iraqis believe the invasion was wrong; every poll done by this institution prior to 3/08 found majorities thinking it was wrong as well.

It will be interesting to see what future studies show. For the moment, neither this poll nor any other finds a majority of Iraqis thinking the US invasion was right.
11.24.2008 3:37pm
BGates:
Obvious, you'd look less foolish if you didn't feel the need to point out that "I am not allowed to initiate force [sic]", or suggest that it's incoherent to think that the President was authorized to use military force in Iraq by the Joint Resolution to Authorize the Use of United States Armed Forces Against Iraq.
11.24.2008 3:54pm
Crust (mail):
AntonK, you may think the reality that there are millions of Iraqi refugees "fantastic", but (unlike the death tolls) that isn't really disputed:
A total of 4.7 million Iraqis have been uprooted as a result of the crisis in Iraq. Of these, over 2 million are living as refugees in neighbouring countries – mostly Syria and Jordan – while 2.7 million are internally displaced inside Iraq.
11.24.2008 4:12pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
RPT.
Not a "field experiment". Does that observation make you feel really, really smart?
Get a grip.
There are few major issues in human affairs subject to replicable experiment with sufficient variables controlled.
In this case, we had little or no threat to women, and, we hear, Christians getting along okay. That was because.... Saddaam kept the trouble down with a heavy hand. What trouble? That a number of Iraqis like to do rotten stuff. Now that theyare free to do it, they do it.
So this could be considered a field experiment. As a liberal, I suppose you'll be all over me for using a termm not dripping with angst. Anguish. Sympathy. Empathy. Outrage--the impotent kind, the potent kind being too macho.
But the point is, we see what happens when the heavy hand of an unspeakable tyrant is removed from a population of Muslim Arabs.
Now, if the conclusion is too mean for you, you have, I'm sure, a better one. Or you can turn around real fast and insist that the stuff isn't happening. Shouldn't be a problem for a liberal.
And, to preempt another tactic, I don't favor this result. I just point it out.
11.24.2008 4:20pm
MarkField (mail):

MarkField,

"How do you rate the value of millions of people living in a functioning democracy verses that same number of people living under an absolute despot?

To paraphrase Rick's response to Major Strasser, when you get there, ask me."

Why the second person? I can see first or third. Second is odd.


I agree it's ambiguous, but I intended the last clause to be a direct address to HL in the form of a quote. In that sense, I see it as first person.
11.24.2008 4:37pm
Portland (mail):

But the point is, we see what happens when the heavy hand of an unspeakable tyrant is removed from a population of Muslim Arabs.


This bigoted excuse-making for the conservatives' disaster in Iraq is totally unwarrented. End of the tyranny in Yugoslavia, what was the result? Christians went after Muslims and each other. End of the British occupation in Palestine, what was the result? Massive ethnic cleansing by Jewish forces, as well as small-scale ethnic cleansing by the invading Muslim armies.

End of the British occupation in India; massive Hindu-Muslim communal violence. Etc., etc.

Not only is the bigoted attribution of intercommunal violence to Muslim communities ahistorical, it's also irrelevant. The occupier is responsible for security in the territory occupied. This legal fact reflects the moral reality that when you dispose of a government, however bad, you are responsible for the results of your actions. If those results are predictable, this merely emphasizes the immorality of the intention and the incompetence with which it was implemented.
11.24.2008 5:26pm
George Smith:
KeithK, well said, bu you forget "le narrative, toujours le narrative!"
11.24.2008 5:43pm
wfjag:

A likely explanation is that the NEJM/IFHS study used questioners from the Iraqi government and unlike the Lancet study did not request to see death certificates.

Dear Crust:
Although that is possible, there are other unexplained "explanations," and so questions. All of the studies can be questioned on GIGO grounds. The Lancet report appears particularly questionable on this basis.

According to Lancet, the field interviewers it used allegedly asked to see and overwhelmingly were allowed to see death certificates. However, Iraq Body Count (IBC) is getting its numbers by counting verified deaths -- for which death certificates should be issued and recorded. This is only one of the responses IBC made to the Lancet article. See the BBC article Huge gaps between Iraq death estimates by Paul Reynolds, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/6045112.stm The article explains:

IBC response

The Iraqi Body Count response is as follows. Its says the Lancet report implies that:

• On average a thousand Iraqis have been violently killed every day in the first half of 2006, with "less than a tenth being noticed by any public surveillance mechanism."

• Of 800,000 wounded people in the past two years, "less than a tenth received any kind of hospital treatment."

• Over 7% of the male population has been killed; 10% in central region.

• Half a million death certificates were issued to families but not officially recorded.

• The Coalition has killed far more people in the last year than in the invasion and Falluja type-operations of earlier years.

The IBC says that such assertions suggested incompetence/ fraud on a massive scale by hospitals and ministries, self-destructive behaviour by the wounded, an utter failure by agencies to notice decimation of the male population and an abject media failure to observe the scale of events.

The IBC concludes: "In the light of such extreme and improbable implications, a rational alternative conclusion to be considered is that the authors have drawn conclusions from unrepresentative data. In addition, totals of the magnitude generated by this study are unnecessary to brand the invasion and occupation of Iraq a human and strategic tragedy."

In Could 650,000 Iraqis really have died because of the invasion? by Anjana Ahuja (March 5, 2007) in The Times Online, it is stated:

They [Lancet] drafted in Professor Riyadh Lafta, at Al Mustansiriya University in Baghdad, as a co-author of the Lancet paper. Professor Lafta supervised eight doctors in 47 different towns across the country. In each town, says the paper, a main street was randomly selected, and a residential street crossing that main street was picked at random.

Among the questions raised about the Lancet report are:

Another critic is Dr Madelyn Hsaio-Rei Hicks, of the Institute of Psychiatry in London, who specialises in surveying communities in conflict. In her letter to The Lancet, she pointed out that it was unfeasible for the Iraqi interviewing team to have covered 40 households in a day, as claimed. She wrote: “Assuming continuous interviewing for ten hours despite 55C heat, this allows 15 minutes per interview, including walking between households, obtaining informed consent and death certificates.”

Does she think the interviews were done at all? Dr Hicks responds: “I’m sure some interviews have been done but until they can prove it I don’t see how they could have done the study in the way they describe.”

Professor Burnham says the doctors worked in pairs and that interviews “took about 20 minutes”. The journal Nature, however, alleged last week that one of the Iraqi interviewers contradicts this. Dr Hicks says: : “I have started to suspect that they [the American researchers] don’t actually know what the interviewing team did. The fact that they can’t rattle off basic information suggests they either don’t know or they don’t care.”

This raises a number of questions about how the research relied upon by the Lancet report was, in fact, carried out. To accept the Lancet report you have to assume that during a time of an allegedly huge increase in injury and death among Iraqis, that 8 Iraqi doctors decided to spend their time knocking on doors and asking questions, instead of providing medical care to the injured and the ill. As there was no way for a non-Iraqi during this time to verify the work of the people Lancet says did the field work -- unless that non-Iraqi had some desire to be kidnapped or killed -- the entire Lancet report rests on an assumption that the field work was, in fact, done, and done according to the methodology reported in Lancet.

A somewhat similar set of facts arose in the recent election. An organization (ACORN) hired people to register voters. Up to a third of those registrations are suspect. One of ACORN's defenses has been that some of the people it hired did not follow its guidelines (but, apparently, instead, made up information in order to collect their pay). In a war-ravished nation where unemployment is high and money is tight, it's hard not to question whether at least some of the persons hired to do the field work -- who are educated professionals if all of them were doctors -- didn't decide to submit responses without doing the field work and so both get paid, and also still have time to provide medical care to other Iraqis. And, since the Lancet report relied on the field work of 8 doctors, if only 2 or 3 decided to dummy the data instead of doing the field work and interviews, that would badly skew the results.

This is one of the reasons that IBC's responses to the Lancet report are so convincing. In order for the Lancet report to be accurate, there would have been other facts consistent with Lancet's assertions which would tend to support or verify those assertions. Such facts "impled" (to use IBC's terminology) by the Lancet report's assertions have never been shown to exist.

The Lancet reports looks a lot like a case of GIGO.
11.24.2008 5:57pm
Mahan Atma (mail):
"Mahan Atma, as a demographer you must know something about the use of statistics. That 49% supported something does not mean that 51% opposed.


Actually, 50% opposed the war, so more people opposed it than supported it. The numbers are here:

"From today’s perspective and all things considered, was it absolutely right, somewhat right, somewhat wrong, or absolutely wrong that US-led coalition forces invaded Iraq in spring 2003?"

Absolutely Right: 21%
Somewhat Right: 28%
Somewhat Wrong: 23%
Absolutely Wrong: 27%


You go on to say:

"As you are so quick to understand such things when they support your point of view, I must conclude that you have a significant bias which prevents you from acknowledging uncomfortable data. I would like to know why you wish for a particular side of this discussion to "win," rather than trying to arrive at the truth. Why is it unacceptable to arrive at a conclusion that suggests Iraq is in a better spot now?"


But the statistics above objectively support my position.

So by your own reasoning, perhaps you should consider your own question, and ask yourself why it is so unacceptable for you to arrive at the a conclusion that suggests Iraq is worse off.
11.24.2008 6:23pm
MatthewM (mail):
A lot of the anti-war side's arguments often miss the point. Just a few points:

1. The death toll issue has to take into account the side that caused the deaths. The vast majority of civilian murders and deaths were caused by al qaeda/sunni resistance/shiite death squads, not by American troops. This is a critical issue in the determination of the morality of the war -- the U.S. can't be blamed for killings it did not inflict.

2. The anti-war side seems to believe there would be no cost to leaving Hussein's Iraq unmolested and uncontained via sanctions. Do they really believe there would be no more invasions/persecutions of shiite and other populations and terrorist actions, either by his regime or by his homicidal sons? This has to be taken into consideration in determining whether the war was just or not.
11.24.2008 7:09pm
Pat C (mail):
Well, things often do get better in places eventually. That doesn't justify all the actions between the two timepoints in question. If it was determined that the people of Hiroshima in 2008 were better off than the people of Hiroshima in 1944, would that be an argument that the atomic bomb explosion wasn't really so bad? OK, that's too extreme.

But to me the question is not just, "would they be better off had we not invaded", but also "would they have been better off had we not gone into the war with such ignorance and optimism? For example, had we followed the recommendations to preserve the Iraqi Army as the only point of Iraqi unity, would that have drastically lessened the insurgency and made it possible to have built a stable nation much sooner and at much less cost in lives and refugees?" Unfortunately, that kind of "what if?" question can't be answered.
11.24.2008 7:39pm
Mahan Atma (mail):
"1. The death toll issue has to take into account the side that caused the deaths. The vast majority of civilian murders and deaths were caused by al qaeda/sunni resistance/shiite death squads, not by American troops. This is a critical issue in the determination of the morality of the war -- the U.S. can't be blamed for killings it did not inflict."


For me, it isn't so much a matter of whether the U.S. can be morally "blamed" for those deaths; rather, it's that those deaths were a foreseeable and avoidable consequence of the invasion.

Besides, Posner's analysis is in the form of a post hoc counterfactual -- what would have happened had we not invaded. Consequences, intended or not, are supposed to figure into it.
11.24.2008 8:03pm
AntonK (mail):

Summary

A new study has been released by the Lancet medical journal estimating over 650,000 excess deaths in Iraq. The Iraqi mortality estimates published in the Lancet in October 2006 imply, among other things, that:

1. On average, a thousand Iraqis have been violently killed every single day in the first half of 2006, with less than a tenth of them being noticed by any public surveillance mechanisms;
2. Some 800,000 or more Iraqis suffered blast wounds and other serious conflict-related injuries in the past two years, but less than a tenth of them received any kind of hospital treatment;
3. Over 7% of the entire adult male population of Iraq has already been killed in violence, with no less than 10% in the worst affected areas covering most of central Iraq;
4. Half a million death certificates were received by families which were never officially recorded as having been issued;
5. The Coalition has killed far more Iraqis in the last year than in earlier years containing the initial massive "Shock and Awe" invasion and the major assaults on Falluja.

If these assertions are true, they further imply:

* incompetence and/or fraud on a truly massive scale by Iraqi officials in hospitals and ministries, on a local, regional and national level, perfectly coordinated from the moment the occupation began
* bizarre and self-destructive behaviour on the part of all but a small minority of 800,000 injured, mostly non-combatant, Iraqis;
* the utter failure of local or external agencies to notice and respond to a decimation of the adult male population in key urban areas;
* an abject failure of the media, Iraqi as well as international, to observe that Coalition-caused events of the scale they reported during the three-week invasion in 2003 have been occurring every month for over a year.

In the light of such extreme and improbable implications, a rational alternative conclusion to be considered is that the authors have drawn conclusions from unrepresentative data. In addition, totals of the magnitude generated by this study are unnecessary to brand the invasion and occupation of Iraq a human and strategic tragedy.
...'nuff said.
11.24.2008 8:27pm
Assistant Village Idiot (mail) (www):
Funny. When I click through I get these numbers to the questions "Was ousting Saddam worth it?" which includes specific reference to the US-British invasion.
Overall 77%
Kurds 91%
Shia 98%
Sunni 13%
11.24.2008 8:29pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
Jeez, Portland, you think the violence in Iraq by members of the citizenry was predictable? Doesn't that make you the bigot? I mean, you predicted it before it happened. That you were right is never an excuse when a conservative is accused of bigotry.
The blame for security issues is not the issue. The issue is what was keeping this from happening. And once that was removed, some of the peeps did what they'd wanted to do all along.
Me, I'd prefer to see justice, freedom, prosperity, and peace flowing like a river. It annoys me no end that we spent all this blood and treasure and freed up subhumans to do vile deeds to the weak.
I was not predicting it, btw.
Apparently you were.
11.24.2008 8:35pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
I believe the survey teams found death certs in eight of ten cases.
So that means the death certs were being issued in something like an organized fashion.
That means they could be counted upon.
So count them and multiply by 1.25 and you've saved a lot of trouble.
I also believe that somebody did that math when the subject last came up and got a whole hell of a lot less than the 650K extra.
To impeach that would require insisting that the surveyors' finding of death certs 80% of the time was a localized fluke. And then proving it.
11.24.2008 8:41pm
Portland (mail):
Richard, you misunderstood what I wrote. The argument I was responding to was "this is what happens" when Muslim Arabs are released from tyranny. That argument is both racist and religiously bigoted. It also implies that, since we knew these were Arabs, and since we knew most were Muslims, that we should have predicted the violence, unless the entire theory is predicated on this one instance.

The issue is not "what was keeping this from happening" but rather what allowed it to happen: the American invasion and occupation of Iraq. You want to blow this off as "what they wanted to do all along" which in addition to being a baseless assertion, is irrelevant both to the question of whether the invasion can be justified on humanitarian grounds (no) or the question of the responsibility of the invader/occupier for what followed the invasion (yes).

Btw, I really like the phrase "freed up subhumans to do vile deeds to the weak." On this, see also US presidential elections, 2000 and 2004.
11.24.2008 8:48pm
Mahan Atma (mail):
"Funny. When I click through I get these numbers to the questions "Was ousting Saddam worth it?" which includes specific reference to the US-British invasion."


Click through to what? Got a link? There's no such question in the survey I linked to, which is the same survey Posner is referring to.
11.24.2008 8:51pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
Portland.
You should try Dancing with The Stars. You have terrific footwork.
You are the one who said these actions were predictable. Not me. That makes you the bigot. Own it.

"allowed" means something changed. Which was the iron hand of Saddaam. The idea that, upon Iraq being freed, these vile ideas appeared for the first time to these cretins is silly. Therefore, they'd wanted to do it all along.
I failed to think through the issue. What happens to women in Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, parts of India, parts of Jordan, some of the larger cities in the UK, what happens to Christians in Egypt, and projected the same to Iraq. You, apparently, were ahead of me there and that's why you said the crap was predictable. Good for you, bigot.
See, even being right doesn't get you off charges of bigotry.
Gosh, this is fun.
Anyway, I wasn't addressing the rightness of the invasion, but the conclusion to be drawn from one of its aftermaths.
11.24.2008 9:00pm
Portland (mail):
Although, Richard, if you want to defend yourself and your fellow conservatives from accusations of bigotry, you might want to avoid referring to the people you are fighting as "subhumans." I know that you don't mean anything by it, but the word has certain connotations.
11.24.2008 9:01pm
Portland (mail):

You are the one who said these actions were predictable. Not me. That makes you the bigot. Own it.


Nope, you read it wrong. The exact quote:


If those results are predictable, this merely emphasizes the immorality of the intention and the incompetence with which it was implemented.


If the argument is true, then so-and-so follows.

It's OK, Richard. I guess when your education is heavy on the "Muslim Arab" need for tyranny and proper contempt for the "subhumans," close reading is a low priority.
11.24.2008 9:05pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
I believe that the people who attack women and blow up girls' schools, and toss acid, amount to "subhuman". And we're not fighting them because they prefer to go after women and they won't go after a man, much less one who happens to be an American soldier. And you'd best by God think I do mean something by it.

Unfortunately for your thesis, I was not prepared for this because I did not think it predictable. In a rare diversion from my usual hardheaded view, I went with the mushy idea that all victims are always good guys by virtue of suffering.

Now, either the invasion forced these ideas into otherwise innocent heads, or the propensity existed there already. Given that there is no conceivable mechanism whereby being liberated by Americans causes a person to decide to attack women for being immodest, and given what happens elsewhere in parts of the world we won't name so as to avoid being labled a bigot and because I already named them, it would seem disappointingly likely that these subhumans had always wanted to do this stuff. Maybe Saddaam had them working for him, and now they're doing it for grins instead of pay.
In any event, this seems kind of common across the ME and other places, so perhaps it would be a good idea to consider it in the future.
Or we could, as I was and you were not, continue to be surprised.
But I still want to know how come you knew in advance.
11.24.2008 9:47pm
John Moore (www):
@Mahan Atma
For me, it isn't so much a matter of whether the U.S. can be morally "blamed" for those deaths; rather, it's that those deaths were a foreseeable and avoidable consequence of the invasion.


The US had terrible intelligence about that war, as the WMD issue shows. Among the things missing was the knowledge that Saddam had created a resistance organization before we ever invaded, complete with distributed caches of weapons and money. The US also didn't know that Turkey, at the last minute, would prevent the 4ID from invading from the north, which would have caused the bulk of fighting and the demonstration of US ground capability to take place in the Sunni heartland. The US didn't anticipate (did anyone) Saddam's tactic, part of his resistance, to release all imprisoned criminals at the start of the invasion. The US didn't anticipate an alliance between Saddam's forces and Al Qaeda, which intensified the conflict.

In other words, NO, the outcome could not have been forseen. It is always easy in hindsight to claim otherwise. Certainly there were concerns about sectarian violence.

The US took a gamble: use minimal troops for the invasion (worked just fine) and and then keep them relatively isolated form the population afterwards. The reasoning was that having US troops all over the place would heighten the sense of foreign occupation and lead to resistance. Hence standard COIN tactics were not used.

Just as Abrams showed in Vietnam, Petraeus showed that a standard COIN approach, with only slightly more troops than were there before, was the right approach. He successfully defeated Al Qaeda in Iraq, the Sunni insurgency, and apparently the Shia militias. The violent death rate in Baghdad is now below that in New Orleans.

Who, before this started, could have forseen this course of events?

Also, it is appropriate to compare the situation now with that if Saddam had remainined in power until now. Saddam was already responsible for the violent deaths of about one million Muslims, mostly in the Iran/Iraq war. His suppression of the Kurds and Shia was ruthless, and he engaged in ecocide and genocide against the "Marsh Arabs."

It is reasonable to predict that by now, Saddam would have been involved in at least one more war. Certainly many would have died from his regime. He would by now have WMD's again.

Saddam ruthlessly used the UN Sanctions to corrupt the international decision making apparatus (through the billions in bribes in the Oil For Food program); to afflict many in his country, especially children ,by diverting the aid - and then using their fate for propaganda; and to finance his regime and build 40 or so palaces for himself.
11.24.2008 10:03pm
Obvious (mail):
BGates,

You are becoming even more dense. By your line of reasoning, there was nothing particularly wrong with slavery until those post-Civil War amendments were passed. I'm glad to hear you'd have no argument against nations that invade us as long as it is done under proper legal standards.

Lawyers should be able to distinguish moral from legal reasoning. The fact you excel in the latter does not give it pride of place over the former.
11.24.2008 10:46pm
Mahan Atma (mail):
"Who, before this started, could have forseen this course of events?"


Plenty of people. People actually did predict the general outlines of what happened, e.g. major sectarian violence and insurgents fighting the U.S. You forget that people like Gen. Shinseki advised a much larger troop presence for precisely these reasons.

I'm not even a military expert, and even I predicted the U.S. would be stuck in Iraq for years fighting an insurgency.

Claims of bad intelligence excuse nothing. It's the govt's obligation to get the intelligence right.
11.24.2008 10:47pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
Most insurgencies fail, and that happens within six to nine years.
Even if we got everything wrong in anticipation, the insurgency failed in between six to nine years.
I don't see how anybody could have presumed the end of hostilities when the Iraqi conventional and near-conventional (fedayeen Saddaam, ex) were defeated.
Problem is, what do you do about the resistance?
Pretty much what we did.
Let the Iraqis get a taste of al Q and various other sadistic bastards. Otherwise, they wouldn't have a clue.
Takes time.
Fight battles of attrition, which could be done from large bases. Small COPs can't survive until the attrition has done its work. Only then can you do the COP among the locals. Takes time and you can't do them simultaneously.
Prove who is the strong horse.
Train Iraqi military and police forces, vetting as you go.
Gather records using, among other items, biometric data.
Shinseki might or might not have been right. For partisans, the road less traveled, to mix a metaphor, would always have worked just like in the manufacturer's brochure.

Gov't's obligation to get intel right. Like Truman and FDR did in earlier days.
11.24.2008 11:30pm
Mahan Atma (mail):
"Shinseki might or might not have been right."


No. The man was right, period.
11.24.2008 11:55pm
jukeboxgrad (mail):
moore:

the outcome could not have been forseen


"I don't think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees." Oops: "video shows Bush Katrina warning."

Speaking of foreseeing outcomes:

it would have been a mistake for us to get bogged down in the quagmire inside Iraq


More good judgment:

For the US to get involved militarily in determining the outcome of the struggle over who’s going to govern in Iraq strike me as a classic definition of a quagmire. (audio clip)


I wonder who said that.

Who, before this started, could have forseen this course of events?


Lots of people could and did foresee "this course of events." Including and especially the guy I just quoted.

Saddam ruthlessly used the UN Sanctions to corrupt the international decision making apparatus (through the billions in bribes in the Oil For Food program)


I guess you must be talking about the Oil-for-Food scandal that Bush helped facilitate:

the Bush administration was made aware of illegal oil sales and kickbacks paid to the Saddam Hussein regime but did nothing to stop them ... the Senate report found that US oil purchases accounted for 52% of the kickbacks paid to the regime in return for sales of cheap oil - more than the rest of the world put together ... The United States was not only aware of Iraqi oil sales which violated UN sanctions and provided the bulk of the illicit money Saddam Hussein obtained from circumventing UN sanctions ... On occasion, the United States actually facilitated the illicit oil sales.
11.25.2008 12:36am
jukeboxgrad (mail):
aubrey:

I don't see how anybody could have presumed the end of hostilities when the Iraqi conventional and near-conventional (fedayeen Saddaam, ex) were defeated. Problem is, what do you do about the resistance? Pretty much what we did. … Takes time.


Now you tell us. You make it all sound very predictable and obvious. Trouble is, for some strange reason Rumsfeld told us that after six months only a "residual number" of troops would be needed.

Isn't it odd that he would make a statement like that, given what was so obvious to you ("takes time"), and also obvious to the "quagmire" guy I just quoted?
11.25.2008 12:36am
Eli Rabett (www):
Riddle me this, a sufficient reason that there are not better statistical estimates of pre and post war mortality in Iraq is that the US and its allies have resisted such studies. Why pray tell.

Oh yeah, David Kane is a statistician in his own mind. Not serious.
11.25.2008 1:07am
traveler496:
Eric,

I'm not sure, but it appears you may believe that if we decide a country needs fixing, and invade it, directly or indirectly causing a few hundred thousand deaths and displacements, that is OK as long as most non-dead, non-displaced residents say so a few years down the road.

If so, do you believe this principle applies only when we are the attacker, or also when we are the attacked (and when, say, one of your children and two of mine are among the millions dead or displaced)? We may not always be the richest and most powerful nation, after all. And as you point out, invasions can change many folks' lives for the better.

When discussing the second scenario you will probably want to draw certain distinctions such as that between a dictatorship and a democracy. Feel free to do so, but be aware that this is irrelevant: In both scenarios, the only distinctions that matter are those made by the attacker.
11.25.2008 1:27am
John Moore (www):
"I don't think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees." Oops: "video shows Bush Katrina warning."


You do have a knack for dragging in irrelevancies, conveniently tied to Bush bashing. Everyone involved in Hurricane preparedness, myself including, knew the New Orleans levee system was going to breach on that day.
11.25.2008 1:42am
John Moore (www):
@jukeboxdude
Lots of people could and did foresee "this course of events." Including and especially the guy I just quoted.

Oh really? Let's see... did they predict that Zarqawi would join with Saddam's folks... after they said that Saddam had no ties with Al Qaeda (hint: Zarqawi was in Iraq before the war). Did they predict that Saddam would have an in-place insurgency ready - that he was prepared for us take the country? Did they predict that he would let out the criminals (a very good source of IED planters, it turned out)? Did they predict the interdiction of 4ID?

No, as was to be expected, lots of people predicted a very wide variety of unpleasant scenarios, none of which were "this course of events."

And of course a quagmire was predicted. Oops... just a mud puddle, by the standard of our past wars. During the Iraq war, US armed forces deaths were lower than during the peace in the '90s.

Then you go back to Bush bashing on the UNOFF program (citing that terribly unbiased source, The Guardian_. Again totally irrelevant.

Having Bush Derangement Syndrome before the election indicated only moderate impairment. Not recovering from the syndrome after the issue is moot...
11.25.2008 1:54am
John Moore (www):
@traveler496

If so, do you believe this principle applies only when we are the attacker, or also when we are the attacked


Oh, only when we are the attacker, of course. It's more fun that way.
11.25.2008 1:56am
jukeboxgrad (mail):
moore:

You do have a knack for dragging in irrelevancies


There is nothing irrelevant about noticing that 'I had no idea that one plus one would eventually end up equalling two' is a universal, catch-all GOP excuse. It's how Iraq and Katrina are both explained, along with lots of other things.

after they said that Saddam had no ties with Al Qaeda


Saddam did actually have "no ties with Al Qaeda." The Senate Intelligence Committee (when it was still controlled by Republicans) concluded this (pdf):

Conclusion 1: ... Postwar findings indicate that Saddam Hussein was distrustful of al-Qa’ida and viewed Islamic extremists as a threat to his regime, refusing all requests from al-Qa’ida to provide material or operational support. ... Saddam distrusted Islamic radicals in general, and al-Qa’ida in particular. ... bin Ladin attempted to exploit the former Iraqi regime by making requests for operational and material assistance, while Saddam Hussein refused all such requests. ... Saddam issued a general order that Iraq should not deal with al-Qa’ida …Postwar information indicates that Saddam Hussein attempted, unsuccessfully, to locate and capture al-Zarqawi and that the regime did not have a relationship with, harbor, or turn a blind eye toward Zarqawi.


This is what Rice said (7/29/01):

But in terms of Saddam Hussein being there, let’s remember that his country is divided, in effect. He does not control the northern part of his country. We are able to keep arms from him. His military forces have not been rebuilt.


Guess where Zarqawi was: in "the northern part" of Iraq, in a Kurdish enclave. The part that Saddam "does not control," according to Rice. And here's another interesting fact about Zarqawi: Bush let him get away.

Zarqawi was in Iraq before the war


Yes, in a place Saddam did not control. And Saddam was trying to capture him.

During the Iraq war, US armed forces deaths were lower than during the peace in the '90s


That bit of utter nonsense, widely circulated by the usual suspects, is eviscerated by factcheck.org:

Actually, even counting non-combat fatalities, more military personnel died during the first six years of George Bush's tenure than during the entire eight years that Bill Clinton was in office.


As I have said, you're a cornucopia of misinformation.

citing that terribly unbiased source, The Guardian


It was silly of me not to anticipate this problem. Instead of pointing you toward the Guardian, I should have pointed you toward Fox News and the Financial Times of London. The commie moonbats at Fox and FT told essentially the same story that the Guardian told. Imagine that! Actually, it's not the least bit surprising, since the underlying facts are meticulously documented and indisputable. A good summary is also provided by WaPo. Fox also does something helpful by giving us a transcript of the testimony of a key witness (Senate Counsel Dan Berkovitz), who does a good job of explaining all the details in a clear, succinct way.

Again totally irrelevant.


No, because there's a common thread to all these disasters: the GOP.

Not recovering from the syndrome after the issue is moot...


It's going to take a long time to dig ourselves out of this hole. And if we don't go to the trouble of understanding how the hole got dug in the first place, we will inevitably dig another one. I'm sure you've heard this concept expressed in one form or another. So these various recent events are anything but "moot."

Oh, only when we are the attacker, of course. It's more fun that way.


You also probably thought it was hysterically funny when Bush tried to turn the non-existent WMD into a joke.
11.25.2008 2:59am
Litigator-London:
I suggest that history will not look at the US/UK "Enterprise of Iraq" in isolation but will take a rather broader brush.

Prior to 1950, Iraq was well on course to a standard of living equivalent to that of Denmark. There was a vibrant and educated middle class with many very competent Iraqi doctors, engineers and other professionals trained in the West.

Account has to be taken of the fact that when General Qassem decided to nationalise IPC and participated in the founding of OPEC, the CIA mounted a coup to put the Baath in power and assisted Saddam to take over.

Account also has to be taken of the fact that the USA and others armed and supported Saddam during the Iraq-Iran War (another proxy war) and looked the other way as he massacred Kurds and Marsh Arabs, expelled the Jewish population of Baghdad (at least those he did not hang), and acted similarly against the Christians.

US involvement went as far as persuading the Arab Gulf states to fund the arms supplies, itself supplying chemical and biological materials and the means of delivery thereof not to mention the delivery of targeting information so he could use his prohibited weapons effectively.

Then there was the despicable encouragement of Kurdish and Shia rebellion under George HR Bush after the Gulf War but a failure to come to the assistance of those who did rebel.

Following upon that there was the farce of the sanctions regime and its ineffeciveness.

To this must be added that the invasion of Iraq was most certainly not for humanitarian purposes. The pretext was because of the alleged possession of WMD, but there is very cogent evidence that the real purpose was to put the Ahmed Chalabi crowd in power, denationalise the oil industry and sell off participations to the US oil majors.

Indeed the Heritage Foundation had an extensive set of papers on its web site (since removed) setting out just how arbitration clauses in conracts could be used to make the deals practically irreversible in the event of any future change of regime and working out just how putting Iraqi oil into US corporate hands would bring huge profits. It is not generally appreciated that not only does Iraq have the 2nd biggest known reserves of petroleum, it is incredibly cheap to produce and extract with some of the lowest extraction and production costs in the world.

Further, it is not as if the invasion was particularly competently organised. There was excessive reliance on air power and an insufficiency of boots on the ground. One of the oldest rules of belligerent occupation is that the first duy is to maintain order, then one can set about creating law and institutions - generally from the bottom up. But no, the very same people who had so mismanaged matters under the Reagan Administration, returned with their disciples and worked on the assumption that the troops would be greeted as liberators rather like the US forces at the invasion of Normandy.

No. History is not going to look very kindly on the USA and UK or on the United Nations.

I suggest that to try and take comfort by assembling selective statistics to show that there have been "humanitarian benefits" from an illegal invasion is, to use a phrase quite recently in vogue "putting lipstick on a pig".

I accept that the title of Professor Posner's original post ended with a question mark - so perhaps he was putting up an aunt sally to be shot down, but it is to be hoped that with Professor Posner's expertise in the law of foreign relations - this will soon be followed by more realistic appraisal of US-Iraq relations 1950-2010 and how the US propensity for acting outside the constraints of international law so often leads to disaster for the objects of US attention.
11.25.2008 7:28am
Richard Aubrey (mail):
Shinseki was right only to the extent that his tactics were not tried and so can be assumed to have worked perfectly.
IOW. We have no idea.
The enemy has a vote, as the saying goes. Had we tried Shinseki's tactics, the Iraqi insurgency would have (had to) taken a different form in which a lot of really bad guys were working to give us a hard time. And fans of Rumsfeld's tactics would be saying, "See...."
11.25.2008 7:44am
Litigator-London:
Shinseki was right to the extent that his position better reflected the experience of previous occupation of Iraq.

As you are undoubtedly aware the UK had a League of Nations Mandate over Iraq from the end of WWI. Iraq was administered from the India Office- so much so that the Indian Rupee was the official currency of Iraq until 1928.
It might have been worth looking at the records in the India Office Library to see the sort of troop numbers required to keep control of Iraq. In 1918 the British had 410,000 troops in Iraq - the majority from the armies of British India. Some of the war graves at Basra were recently restored Commonwealt War Graves Commission-Basra Restorations.
11.25.2008 8:28am
Richard Aubrey (mail):
Lit.
Yeah, but Rumsfeld's idea that too many troops would cause occupation fever, or occupied fever, among the indigenous personnel fits right in with current mushy-headed thinking. Better to be liked than feared and all that, but if you reverse it, you have a hard time in current society.
Anyway, twice as many troops means twice the logistical requirements which increases the targets on lines of communication substantially requiring more LOC troops and security.
If I had been an insurgent commander under those circumstances, I might have decided that there was too much power to be messing with combat formations and instead go after the LOC exclusively. Two forces acting on me: One is my inability to do one thing and the other is the opportunity that another tactic offers.
The counterfactuals always presume that the enemy would continue to do whatever he did in the real world, or, worse, what would be more convenient for us. They never presume he'd react intelligently to the hypothetical genius of the plan that was never tried.
11.25.2008 10:24am
Crust (mail):
Tim Lambert who, unlike Posner, knows his stuff on his issue has replied to this post.
11.25.2008 10:37am
Crust (mail):
wfjag:
All of the studies can be questioned on GIGO grounds.
I certainly agree with you there. Doing surveys in areas racked by violence hardly constitutes optimal conditions. As you know, the two estimates you prefer, IBC and IFHS/NEJM have their own issues. In particular, Posner's choice, IBC, is almost certainly a significant underestimate because it only covers reported deaths (appearing in at least two newspapers and meeting some other filters). This is not specific to Iraq; this is a general phenomenon observed across war zones: passive surveillance underestimates violent deaths. Personally, I give most weight to the IFHS/NEJM and Lancet studies since these were supervised by professional epidemiologists and published in top, peer-reviewed medical journals.

BTW, the IFHS/NEJM study is not as favorable to your point of view as you may think. If you extrapolate from the invasion to the present day from that study you get a number around 740,000 for total (not necessarily violent) excess deaths compared to a comparable pre-war period. Not as high a number as from the second Lancet survey or the ORB survey, but that would still constitute a damning indictment of Posner's view that the Iraq war was a "humanitarian success".
11.25.2008 11:00am
Crust (mail):
AntonK, I notice that one of the two Lancet skeptics you cited -- David Kane -- has weighed in on Posner's argument. In comments at Deltoid, Kane describes Lambert's post as "[e]xcellent". Needless to say, Lambert's post is trashing Posner's argument.
11.25.2008 12:20pm
Crust (mail):
Eric, thanks for noting Lambert's critique.
11.25.2008 3:27pm
wfjag:

If you extrapolate from the invasion to the present day from that study you get a number around 740,000 for total (not necessarily violent) excess deaths compared to a comparable pre-war period.

Dear Crust:
The problem with the extrapolation is that it assumes that the violence levels remained relatively constant. There does not appear to be much dispute that violence levels (and deaths) dropped sharply after "the surge" began. The Deltoid site you linked to doesn't indicate that it took this into account in any way. (This isn't a criticism. I'm not sure how it could be taken into account without making a lot of other assumptions that are questionable).

Also, that site, when extrapolating from the first Lancet report arrives at 470,000 excess deaths, and of those, 320,000 “violent deaths.” The broad range of “violent deaths” across 5 surveys (as extrapolated) from 160,000 to 1,200,000, and of “excess deaths” across 3 surveys (as extrapolated) from 470,000 to 1,300,000, makes me question whether any of the surveys or estimates are reliable enough to be relied on. It also makes me wonder if the results don't reflect the pre-survey opinions of the authors.

The first casualty of war is truth. That seems to apply equally to those who oppose and who support a war.
11.25.2008 3:40pm
Michael B (mail):
Using Lambert-styled rationales WWII might be difficult to justify.

An FYI, PJMedia is beginning a video series interviewing people like Micheal Yon and Michael Totten. (The link is merely introductory, a preview to that general series, though does contain a brief interview with Yon and Totten, with Austin Bay as well.)
11.25.2008 3:52pm
Crust (mail):
wfjag:
The problem with the extrapolation is that it assumes that the violence levels remained relatively constant.
That's not correct. The extrapolation is done based on percentage changes in Iraq Body Count numbers (i.e. reported deaths). It does assume that IBC has a constant level of underreporting (an assumption which is also questionable, but probably the least bad available).
The broad range of “violent deaths” across 5 surveys (as extrapolated) from 160,000 to 1,200,000, and of “excess deaths” across 3 surveys (as extrapolated) from 470,000 to 1,300,000, makes me question whether any of the surveys or estimates are reliable enough to be relied on. It also makes me wonder if the results don't reflect the pre-survey opinions of the authors.
There's a huge dispersion in the numbers as you say. They may reflect the pre-survey opinions of the authors (sort of as, shockingly, Fox News polls tend to be more favorable to Republicans than Daily Kos polls). Or maybe not. Collecting survey data in dangerous areas is a genuinely very difficult task. There are significant methodological differences between the studies, but they're not (at least not in any obvious way) ideologically driven.
11.25.2008 4:14pm
Crust (mail):
wfjag:
There does not appear to be much dispute that violence levels (and deaths) dropped sharply after "the surge" began.
Agreed. Looking at the poll numbers in Iraq, it's interesting to see that it's now basically an even split on whether the invasion was a good thing (50% say no, 49% say yes), when all previous polls showed a wider margin against the invasion. This change presumably reflects the success of the surge (and associated changes in tactics). (Not sure whether this poll includes the 6% or so of Iraqis who are refugees in other countries, who would surely overwhelmingly answer no.)
11.25.2008 4:24pm
Mahan Atma (mail):
"The first casualty of war is truth. That seems to apply equally to those who oppose and who support a war."


Unfortunately, the Dept. of Defense and the Bush Administration have explicitly made it a goal to distort and hide the truth about this war. They've made their intentions to spread propaganda and lies quite clear. (Go ahead ask me for some examples.)

Seems to me that merits a presumption against them.
11.25.2008 5:21pm
Michael B (mail):
Mahan Atma, I'm asking. So ...

Btw, using Lambert's approach, pulling out of Vietnam was a humanitarian disaster as well. I look forward to his argument in that mode. Some numbers follow:

One million “boat people,” 125,000 to 250,000 of which died at sea (some estimates are higher); approximately 50,000 Vietnamese executed by Uncle Ho and his henchmen during his “land reform” of the early to mid-50’s; for context, there's Uncle Ho’s service to Stalin and Mao during his ideological formative and maturing period (though he’s still portrayed as a simple, humble “nationalist” by the Left and the MSM); 65,000 or more summarily executed in the immediate wake of April 1975; 250,000 varioiusly killed in Stalinist styled gulags and Maoist styled “reeducation” camps; 300,000 to 500,000 starved to death in the wake of ‘75; 400,000 to 500,000 South Vietnamese civilians killed by the North during the 1955 to 1975 period.

Numbers cited are all attributable to documented sources:

+ Mark Moyar's Triumph Forsaken

+ Robert F Turner's Vietnamese Communism: Origins/Development

+ Lewis Sorley's A Better War

+ Al Santoli's To Bear any Burdan

+ Michael Lind's Vietnam, the Necessary War
11.25.2008 5:46pm
wfjag:

Unfortunately, the Dept. of Defense and the Bush Administration have explicitly made it a goal to distort and hide the truth about this war.

You mean, Mahan Atma, because they believed Pres. Clinton when he said Saddam had WMDs? Sandy Berger and Madeline Albright said the same thing. I guess you're right - one should always assume that elected and appointed Democrats are not telling the truth.
11.25.2008 6:14pm
Mahan Atma (mail):
"You mean, Mahan Atma, because they believed Pres. Clinton when he said Saddam had WMDs?"


Clinton and Albright were wrong too, and I've never supported either of them. So this is a non sequitur.
11.25.2008 6:20pm
Mahan Atma (mail):
As for examples: Ask and you shall receive.

Here's Exhibit A: Behind TV Analysts, Pentagon’s Hidden Hand
11.25.2008 6:23pm
Mahan Atma (mail):
Exhibit B

U.S. Military Covertly Pays to Run Stories in Iraqi Press


As part of an information offensive in Iraq, the U.S. military is secretly paying Iraqi newspapers to publish stories written by American troops in an effort to burnish the image of the U.S. mission in Iraq.

The articles, written by U.S. military “information operations” troops, are translated into Arabic and placed in Baghdad newspapers with the help of a defense contractor, according to U.S. military officials and documents obtained by the Los Angeles Times.

Many of the articles are presented in the Iraqi press as unbiased news accounts written and reported by independent journalists. The stories trumpet the work of U.S. and Iraqi troops, denounce insurgents and tout U.S.-led efforts to rebuild the country.

Though the articles are basically factual, they present only one side of events and omit information that might reflect poorly on the U.S. or Iraqi governments, officials said. Records and interviews indicate that the U.S. has paid Iraqi newspapers to run dozens of such articles, with headlines such as “Iraqis Insist on Living Despite Terrorism,” since the effort began this year.

11.25.2008 6:44pm
Mahan Atma (mail):
Exhibit C

Pentagon describes Iraq propaganda plan

WASHINGTON - Military officials in Baghdad for the first time Friday described a Pentagon program that pays to plant stories in the Iraqi media, an effort the top U.S. military commander said was part of an effort to "get the truth out" there.

The U.S. officials in Iraq said articles had been offered and published in Iraqi newspapers "as a function of buying advertising and opinion/editorial space, as is customary in Iraq."

The idea has been criticized in the United States, and John Warner, the Republican chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, went to the Pentagon Friday for an explanation. President Bush's spokesman said the White House was "very concerned."

Lt. Col. Barry Johnson, a military spokesman in Iraq, said that third parties - which would include the Washington-based Lincoln Group - were used to market the stories to reduce the risk to the publishers.

"If any part of our process does not have our full confidence, we will examine that activity and take appropriate action," he said in a statement. "If any contractor is failing to perform as we have intended, we will take appropriate action.

He also defended the program as critical to the war effort.

"The information battlespace in Iraq is contested at all times and is filled with misinformation and propaganda by an enemy intent on discrediting the Iraqi government and the coalition, and who are taking every opportunity to instill fear and intimidate the Iraqi people," his statement said.

Leaving a Pentagon meeting with Defense Department officials in Washington, Warner, R-Va., said the program was a serious problem.
11.25.2008 6:54pm
Michael B (mail):
"Though the articles are basically factual, they present only one side of events and omit information that might reflect poorly on the U.S. or Iraqi governments, officials said."

Officials? One sided? Unlike the NYT and other pseudo-news orgs? Puhleez. And I love the "Though the articles are basically factual ..." lead.

If that's the type of propaganda you have to offer as representing lies - and you're offering that up without noting the propaganda on the other side of events that it's intended to counter - then you're offering up a very thin gruel indeed. Same with the Guantanamo subject - for example, there is an entire subject matter that needs to be probed, not a one-sided and self-blinded analysis.

Otherwise, it's nothing more than "useful fool" material. Indicative excerpt from the linked piece:

"That many dangerous enemies lurk in Guantánamo's cells has often been a secondary concern, if a concern at all. Thus, when President-elect Obama spoke of regaining "America's moral stature in the world," he was endorsing the widespread perception of Guantánamo as an American sin that originated in the Bush administration's overreaction to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

"This perception, however, was always skewed. The new administration will soon discover from its review of the Guantánamo files what motivated its predecessor: The scope of the terrorist threat was far greater than anyone knew on September 11, 2001. But for the Bush administration's efforts, many more Americans surely would have perished."

Requiring some type of pristine or idealized behavior from one side while requiring no standards at all from the other side is reflective of an all too common agitprop and rhetoric. In sum, you've offered an example of propaganda that is "basically factual" and another that is one-sided and incurious from other perspectives.
11.25.2008 7:10pm
Mahan Atma (mail):
Michael B:

"If that's the type of propaganda you have to offer as representing lies - and you're offering that up without noting the propaganda on the other side of events that it's intended to counter - then you're offering up a very thin gruel indeed."


Did you actually read the NYT piece? It's full of documentary evidence and verbatim quotes from the military folks themselves:

“It was them saying, ‘We need to stick our hands up your back and move your mouth for you,’ ” Robert S. Bevelacqua, a retired Green Beret and former Fox News analyst, said.


*********

“Night and day,” Mr. Allard said, “I felt we’d been hosed.”


*********
“Oh, you have no idea,” Mr. Allard said, describing the effect. “You’re back. They listen to you. They listen to what you say on TV.” It was, he said, “psyops on steroids”


*********

One trip participant, General Nash of ABC, said some briefings were so clearly “artificial” that he joked to another group member that they were on “the George Romney memorial trip to Iraq,” a reference to Mr. Romney’s infamous claim that American officials had “brainwashed” him into supporting the Vietnam War during a tour there in 1965, while he was governor of Michigan.


********

Another analyst, Robert L. Maginnis, a retired Army lieutenant colonel who works in the Pentagon for a military contractor, attended the same briefing and recalled feeling “very disappointed” after being shown satellite photographs purporting to show bunkers associated with a hidden weapons program. Mr. Maginnis said he concluded that the analysts were being “manipulated” to convey a false sense of certainty about the evidence of the weapons. Yet he and Mr. Bevelacqua and the other analysts who attended the briefing did not share any misgivings with the American public.


*********

On Tuesday, April 18, some 17 analysts assembled at the Pentagon with Mr. Rumsfeld and General Pace, then the chairman of the Joint Chiefs.

A transcript of that session, never before disclosed, shows a shared determination to marginalize war critics and revive public support for the war.

“I’m an old intel guy,” said one analyst. (The transcript omits speakers’ names.) “And I can sum all of this up, unfortunately, with one word. That is Psyops. Now most people may hear that and they think, ‘Oh my God, they’re trying to brainwash.’

“What are you, some kind of a nut?” Mr. Rumsfeld cut in, drawing laughter. “You don’t believe in the Constitution?”


************

But if Mr. Rumsfeld found the session instructive, at least one participant, General Nash, the ABC analyst, was repulsed.

I walked away from that session having total disrespect for my fellow commentators, with perhaps one or two exceptions,” he said.
11.25.2008 7:47pm
Mahan Atma (mail):
BTW, Michael B:

"and you're offering that up without noting the propaganda on the other side of events that it's intended to counter"


Is there a government somewhere in the United States that is spreading "propaganda on the other side"? If not, how do you justify the govt use of U.S. television networks to spread propaganda?
11.25.2008 7:57pm
traveler496:
Michael B,

I never thought I'd find it necessary to say this: I don't want leaders who systematically lie to me in order to counter what they believe to be the lies of others. I don't want leaders whose primary interest in learning the truth is often to determine the plausible scope of their next deception. I don't want leaders, for crying out loud, who are facile w/ terms such as "information battlespace." Do I really need to say why?

In the name of our national "defense" the current administration has needlessly squandered many lives while very likely, on net, making the world a more dangerous place for people in general and for Americans in particular.

But that's not all, and possibly not even the worst: For in prosecuting its War on Terror, the administration's disrespect for truth and certain other niceties of civilization - disrespect that we as a people have facilitated by tolerating - has actually made this country somewhat less worth defending.
11.25.2008 9:44pm
John Moore (www):

Is there a government somewhere in the United States that is spreading "propaganda on the other side"? If not, how do you justify the govt use of U.S. television networks to spread propaganda?


Propaganda and other information warfare is a reasonable part of any battle plan.

That you would require a "government" to be producing the propaganda the US counters is indicative of the weakness of your reasoning.

Al Jazeera, to name one simple example, is strongly anti-American and put out all sorts of anti-American propaganda. It was also widely watched and believed by people who too often had no other information source.
11.25.2008 10:21pm
Mahan Atma (mail):
"Propaganda and other information warfare is a reasonable part of any battle plan."


We're talking about the government spreading propaganda in the U.S., aimed at U.S. citizens. Not only is it unreasonable, it's illegal.

"That you would require a "government" to be producing the propaganda the US counters is indicative of the weakness of your reasoning."


No, it isn't, because private parties in the U.S. generally have the right to "spread propaganda", and nobody is arguing that it should be prohibited. But when a government uses tax dollars to do it, that is a problem.
11.25.2008 11:23pm
traveler496:
Oh - thanks to Eric Posner whose second update points to a Tim Lambert posting which disagrees w/ Eric's original posting.
11.25.2008 11:46pm
Michael B (mail):
traveler496, you haven't formed an argument, you're merely asserting, declaring, declaiming, presuming and harrumphing, and harrumphing, and harrumphing. You obviously feel very righteous about it all, but you haven't so much as stated a single fact, much less an argument.
11.26.2008 12:09am
Michael B (mail):
Mahan Atma,

You're missing my emphasis entirely and likewise are eliding a great deal of information.

In terms of Guantanamo, yes, I read half-way into it, but I also view it within an overall set of priorities, hence the link I provided, which highlights critical factors that you've simply elided, hence:

"... The new administration will soon discover from its review of the Guantánamo files what motivated its predecessor: The scope of the terrorist threat was far greater than anyone knew on September 11, 2001. But for the Bush administration's efforts, many more Americans surely would have perished.

"This conclusion is based on a careful review of the thousands of pages of documents released from Guantánamo, as well as other publicly available evidence. ... This unclassified cache includes both the government's allegations against each detainee and summarized transcripts of the detainees' testimony. Although the documents were released in response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request filed by the Associated Press, the intelligence contained in the files was largely ignored by the mainstream press for more than two years. Thus, the New York Times reported only the day before the recent presidential election that the files contain "sobering intelligence claims against many of the remaining detainees.""

You didn't respond to those concerns in the least. Iow, you're announcing this as if some egregioius injustice has been committed against a set of U.S. citizens and additionally a coordinated propaganda offensive has been committed against those innocents. Little could be further from the truth.

As to: "Is there a government somewhere in the United States that is spreading "propaganda on the other side"? If not, how do you justify the govt use of U.S. television networks to spread propaganda?" the answer is yes and no.

Not a "government" as such, but the propaganda/"news" media that is the NYT and the AP (in the above example specifically), that only belatedly reports on the detainees in a full sense, previously providing only partial, thus slanted reports. Hence - post-election - nothing beyond very generic and tentative statements coming from camp Obama when it comes to Guantanamo.

A substantial part of your argument seems to be that private orgs (the NYT, etc.) have the right to publish bullshit. I don't disagree with that, and private citizens have the right to note the fact that it is bullshit.
11.26.2008 12:20am
Mahan Atma (mail):
"A substantial part of your argument seems to be that private orgs (the NYT, etc.) have the right to publish bullshit. I don't disagree with that, and private citizens have the right to note the fact that it is bullshit."


Can you point to a single materially-false statement in the article I linked to?
11.26.2008 12:26am
Mahan Atma (mail):
BTW, I read the Weekly Standard piece. I didn't respond to it because it isn't even remotely relevant to my argument. It's a total non sequitur.
11.26.2008 12:31am
Michael B (mail):
Also, here's another example of some one-sided propaganda, this time by way of military.com, not the NYT:

"In the city of Shewan, approximately 250 insurgents ambushed 30 Marines and paid a heavy price for it.

"Shewan has historically been a safe haven for insurgents, who used to plan and stage attacks against Coalition Forces in the Bala Baluk district."

[...]

"During the battle, the designated marksman single handedly thwarted a company-sized enemy RPG and machinegun ambush by reportedly killing 20 enemy fighters with his devastatingly accurate precision fire. He selflessly exposed himself time and again to intense enemy fire during a critical point in the eight-hour battle for Shewan in order to kill any enemy combatants who attempted to engage or maneuver on the Marines in the kill zone. What made his actions even more impressive was the fact that he didn’t miss any shots, despite the enemies’ rounds impacting within a foot of his fighting position.

"“I was in my own little world,” the young corporal said. “I wasn’t even aware of a lot of the rounds impacting near my position, because I was concentrating so hard on making sure my rounds were on target.”"

Iow, by your definition of "propaganda," that's merely a one-sided account. Military.com is failing to report on the enemy's - the bad guys' - point of view. Boo hoo.

If the only thing you can offer in terms of propaganda serving as lies theme is the tepid stuff you've offered to this point, it amounts to virtually nothing at all beyond a one-sided, "useful fool" perspective.

Some additional one-sided propaganda:

Empire

Empire II

Afghanistan

All of it, "propaganda" and all of it "one-sided." So what? I applaud it. It too is a part of the truth, it too is a part of the power dynamics, it too is a part of the broader strategy that is being pursued.
11.26.2008 12:31am
Michael B (mail):
The WS piece is entirely germane to the larger concern, the broader perspective that's entirely relevant. That's precisely why it was taken note of.

"Can you point to a single materially-false statement in the article I linked to?"

I was referring to your prior statement:

"... private parties in the U.S. generally have the right to "spread propaganda", and nobody is arguing that it should be prohibited."

You're right, no one is arguing that the NYT, et al. don't have the right to publish bullshit. Instead, I more simply indicated we have the right to call them on it and take note of the fact that it too, private or otherwise, is propaganda in your sense of the term.

If you don't care to address those points, that's up to you, but in that event we're talking past one another. More significantly, the notion the information in the Weekly Standard piece is "not remotely relevant" or is a non sequitur is patently risible.

(Do you even know what a non sequitur is? The Weekly Standard piece wasn't provided as a conclusion, it was provided to take note of broader and more critical realities, it was provided for purposes of taking note of that entirely relevant context and set of facts.)

I wasn't applauding anything, I was placing it within a broader framework and therein noting its importance and unimportance in relative terms, relative to the material facts reflected in Guantanamo detainees.
11.26.2008 12:54am
Mahan Atma (mail):
"You're right, no one is arguing that the NYT, et al. don't have the right to publish bullshit. Instead, I more simply indicated we have the right to call them on it and take note of the fact that it too, private or otherwise, is propaganda in your sense of the term."


I suppose you can call it bullshit all you want, but if you cannot actually point to a single falsehood in the article, your claim doesn't carry much weight, does it?

Tell me, the article quotes generals verbatim. Are you claiming the quotes were falsified?

The article also relies on documentary evidence, like emails, memos, and transcripts. Are you claiming the documents were falsified?
11.26.2008 1:16am
John Moore (www):
@Mahan Atma
We're talking about the government spreading propaganda in the U.S., aimed at U.S. citizens. Not only is it unreasonable, it's illegal.


Nonsense on stilts. It does it all the time, on any number of subjects, from both the congressional and the executive branch.

Good grief, do you think they only put out factual information?
11.26.2008 1:32am
Mahan Atma (mail):
11.26.2008 1:40am
Mahan Atma (mail):
BTW, Moore - there's a difference between the government:

(1) putting out information (factual or otherwise); and

(2) doing so while deliberately hiding the fact that it comes from the government.
11.26.2008 1:57am
Richard Aubrey (mail):
Mahan.
Yeah, there's a difference. So what?
Information is information. It's true or false.
Hiding its origin means what, exactly?
If it's hidden,that means some other source has to be ginned up. And eventually we discover whether that other source is trustworthy.
11.26.2008 8:22am
Mahan Atma (mail):
Aubrey,

You're not a lawyer I take it.

There's a concept called "impeachment", whereby you cast doubt on the credibility of a witness's statement. One way to do it is by uncovering the witness's motives to lie. But that requires you to know something about who the witness is and what their motives are.

Obviously if the jury is oblivious to the witness's motives, that will make it a lot harder for them to tell if the witness is lying.
11.26.2008 10:53am
John Moore (www):
@mahan atma

So what do you do about unattributed leaks from the government? They happen all the time. Those who dislike the current Bush administration use them against it - which is also usually a form of propaganda since the leakers normally have a hidden agenda.
11.26.2008 12:01pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
Mahan. No, thank God. My mother, when I was fixing to enlist, wanted me to go to med school, divinity school, dental school, anything that would keep me out of combat. But she never said anything about law school. Had her standards, I guess.

Motives to lie are all very well, but anybody who says anything has a motive. You don't need to do any kind of research to figure that out.

The point is that, eventually, the source's information will prove to be at odds with reality and the source will therefore be discounted. Saves shysters arguing over whether the source had motivation to lie. Why, come to think about it, wouldn't somebody lie about somebody else's motives to lie? You know, by talking about a benefit which might accrue and calling that the motive.
Like "no war for oil".

Much more efficient to judge the source's information against how it shakes out and decide whether or not to bother listening to them in the future (See NYT, ex)
11.26.2008 12:04pm
LM (mail):

Richard Aubrey:

Mahan.
Yeah, there's a difference. So what?
Information is information. It's true or false.


Mahan Atma:

There's a concept called "impeachment", whereby you cast doubt on the credibility of a witness's statement. One way to do it is by uncovering the witness's motives to lie. But that requires you to know something about who the witness is and what their motives are.

Also, when transparency is clouded you get shills and sock puppets, creating the illusion of broader constituencies.


John Moore:

So what do you do about unattributed leaks from the government? They happen all the time. Those who dislike the current Bush administration use them against it - which is also usually a form of propaganda since the leakers normally have a hidden agenda.

Anonymous reports are less credible than attributed reports for that very reason. It's why reporters push so hard to get their sources on the record. They accept anonymity only when the source insists on it.
11.26.2008 3:53pm
Michael B (mail):
"I suppose you can call it bullshit all you want, but if you cannot actually point to a single falsehood in the article, your claim doesn't carry much weight, does it?"

I was referring to aspects noted in the Weekly Standard piece. That's the piece I linked to at the beginning of the comment you excerpted and it's the piece I had already excerpted from two or three times, e.g., here.
11.26.2008 4:22pm
Mahan Atma (mail):
Michael B,

Once again, I don't see the relevance of the Weekly Standard piece.

First of all, the WS piece is about Guantanamo. The NYT piece about government propaganda was focused on the Iraq War, not Guantanamo. Furthermore, you the link you posted doesn't actually prove much. So the Associated Press filed a FOIA request, and the NY Times did a piece on it some time later. So what?

Now, has the NYT ever published bias pieces before? Yes, absolutely. (See, e.g., Judith Miller.) Every major news org has problems with objectivity. But:

(1) That does not lead to the automatic conclusion that everything published by the NYT must be bullshit or propaganda. Above, I referred to a piece by completely different reporters and editors. And the piece I'm referring to is very well-documented. If you have any evidence of bias, bullshit, or propaganda in that article, let's see it. Apparently, you don't.

(2) There is a big difference between propaganda by the government, and propaganda by the media (I'm not even sure "propaganda" is the right word for the latter). The former is illegal. And at least when the NYT puts out a biased piece, you know it's coming from the NYT, and you know who the reporters and editors are.
11.26.2008 5:13pm
Mahan Atma (mail):
BTW, I find it highly ironic that you point to a piece in the Weekly Standard to support your argument about media propaganda.
11.26.2008 5:15pm
Michael B (mail):
You're on an endless, solipsistic loop. We've already gone over that ground. Again, if you don't see the relevance, we're merely talking past one another. I was much more simply noting in what sense I was referring to the NYT.
11.26.2008 6:15pm
Mahan Atma (mail):
Well how about if you spell out the relevance as you see it, instead of requiring me to guess at your argument?
11.26.2008 6:57pm
Michael B (mail):
Spoken by someone who provides a link to an eleven or twelve page NYT article, without indicating his own argument or primary concerns. Hold yourself to the standards you'd require of others and after that I'd be more willing to follow your example. (And Guantanamo is in fact mentioned at least three or four times in that NYT piece.)

For example, when I provided the link to the WS piece, I excerpted and highlighted some information two or three times (***), but you've already merely sniffed at one of the concerns I took note of - so, again, we're merely talking past one another.

*** E.g., the fact the AP and the NYT (likely other outlets as well), for two years after acquiring critical, pivotal information via the freedom of information act, held onto it without reporting it until the day prior to the recent election. That's merely one interesting factor, and it's revealing of an agenda, a propaganda agenda, one designed to disfavor the Pres. and favor Obama. That you merely sniff at that is yet another indication that you're full-bore into a solipsistic mode.
11.26.2008 8:03pm
Mahan Atma (mail):
"Spoken by someone who provides a link to an eleven or twelve page NYT article, without indicating his own argument or primary concerns."


I posted the articles as evidence of this claim, made above:

"Unfortunately, the Dept. of Defense and the Bush Administration have explicitly made it a goal to distort and hide the truth about this war."


People asked for examples, so I gave them.

As for your article, it says the AP got the info in a FOIA request. How does that prove that the NYT sat on it?
11.26.2008 8:20pm
jukeboxgrad (mail):
michael:

the fact the AP and the NYT (likely other outlets as well), for two years after acquiring critical, pivotal information via the freedom of information act, held onto it without reporting it until the day prior to the recent election


As usual, it's pretty hard to tell what you're trying to say. But you seem to be saying that because NYT allegedly did something you don't like, that gives you justification to ignore the facts presented in the article Mahan cited.

Really? That kind of evasiveness is pretty transparent. As someone once said:

That you opt for (quite literally) nothing more than an ad hominem type dismissiveness in lieu of taking up the evidence, facts and arguments presented is suggestive that you wouldn't take anything more seriously that didn't already conform to your own political inclinations.


Of course, that 'someone' was you.
11.26.2008 9:04pm
Michael B (mail):
Yes, you posted the link, and nothing more - and then repeatedly cited the article time and again. Like I said, hold yourself to your own standards or don't require them of someone else.

As to the WS piece, again:

"... The new administration will soon discover from its review of the Guantánamo files what motivated its predecessor: The scope of the terrorist threat was far greater than anyone knew on September 11, 2001. But for the Bush administration's efforts, many more Americans surely would have perished.

"This conclusion is based on a careful review of the thousands of pages of documents released from Guantánamo, as well as other publicly available evidence. ... This unclassified cache includes both the government's allegations against each detainee and summarized transcripts of the detainees' testimony. Although the documents were released in response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request filed by the Associated Press, the intelligence contained in the files was largely ignored by the mainstream press for more than two years. Thus, the New York Times reported only the day before the recent presidential election that the files contain "sobering intelligence claims against many of the remaining detainees.""

Corroborating, there's also this, excerpt:

"Some top legal advisors and supporters of Barack Obama, whose name detainees chanted on election night, are now rethinking the President-elect’s absolutist campaign position on shutting the center down and flooding our mainland courts with every last enemy combatant designee. ...

"... Believe it or not, the Obama crowd is now contemplating a preventive detention law and an alternative judicial system for the most sensitive national security cases involving the most highly classified information. Information that has no place being aired in the civilian courts for public consumption.

"Listen to relentless Bush critic David Cole, who told the New York Times last week: “You can’t be a purist and say there’s never any circumstance in which a democratic society can preventively detain someone.” Added Ben Wittes of the Brookings Institution: “I’m afraid of people getting released in the name of human rights and doing terrible things.”

"Moreover, Obama transition team members have suggested to the Wall Street Journal that despite his campaign season CIA-bashing, “Obama may decide he wants to keep the road open in certain cases for the CIA to use techniques not approved by the military, but with much greater oversight.”"
11.26.2008 9:55pm

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