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« It sure looks like President Obama | Main | Major Andrew Olmsted from the grave: It sucks to be dead in Iraq »

January 04, 2008



I wholeheartedly agree that there is a perception gap that is a total misread regarding the conduct of the war. If history is to serve as precedent then this war has been fought very well on our side of the lines. Sure it has been messy but usually wars of consequence are a large order of magnitude worse with far bigger blunders and far bigger set backs.

I think one reason for this, beyond the obvious pervasive illiteracy in military history, is lack of realistic expectations. At the start of the war I thought we might lose as many as 6000 US soldiers killed by hostile fire in the 1st five years; I believed this to be a worse case scenario, but well within the realm of possibility. Since those were my expectations I have not been shocked with the 3189 hostile fire casualties we have suffered to this point. The actual casualties are about where I have thought they would be. What? were peoples expectations going in and were they even close to being realistic?

It has been my hope and expectation that we would see US and Iraqi casualties decline over time. From that perspective 2006 and 2007 have been a big disappointment. However the last 3 months of 2007 have come as a pleasant surprise and if this trending holds or plateaus at current levels than we are in for a huge improvement in 2008.

My hope is that by March 2013 Iraq will be a free and prosperous country that is a staunch ally in war on terror. I've read the opinions of many that think this hope of mine is utter nonsense. I think once again my expectations will prove to be realistic.

jj mollo

The National Journal website has just posted an extensive analysis of the Johns Hopkins/Lancet Iraq Mortality studies and the damage done by this work. It's called "Data Bomb". Among other points, there's a series of statistical questions regarding the huge mortality estimates. Here's an excerpt:

...Suspicious cluster. Lafta's team reported 24 car bomb deaths in early July, as well as one nonviolent death, in "Cluster 33" in Baghdad. The authors do not say where the cluster was, but the only major car bomb in the city during that period, according to Iraq Body Count's database, was in Sadr City. It was detonated in a marketplace on July 1, likely by Al Qaeda, and killed at least 60 people, according to press reports.

The authors should not have included the July data in their report because the survey was scheduled to end on June 30, according to Debarati Guha-Sapir, director of the World Health Organization's Collaborating Center for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters at the University of Louvain in Belgium. Because of the study's methodology, those 24 deaths ultimately added 48,000 to the national death toll and tripled the authors' estimate for total car bomb deaths to 76,000. That figure is 15 times the 5,046 car bomb killings that Iraq Body Count recorded up to August 2006.

According to a data table reviewed by Spagat and Kane, the team recorded the violent deaths as taking place in early July and did not explain why they failed to see death certificates for any of the 24 victims. The surveyors did remember, however, to ask for the death certificate of the one person who had died peacefully in that cluster.

The Cluster 33 data is curious for other reasons as well. The 24 Iraqis who died violently were neatly divided among 18 houses -- 12 houses reported one death, and six houses reported two deaths, according to the authors' data. This means, Spagat said, that the survey team found a line of 40 households that neatly shared almost half of the deaths suffered when a marketplace bomb exploded among a crowd of people drawn from throughout the broader neighborhood. ...

I published my own evaluation of the earlier Iraq Mortality study a year ago. I'm gratified to see some overlap with this new National Journal analysis, which, by the way, is evidently the result of a lot of hard work.

I think the cost of this war has been dramatically overestimated in the press, and the cost of non-intervention has been dramatically underestimated. Herb Denenberg discusses the particular issue of persecuted Christians in The Bulletin.

jj mollo

We have developed entire new weapon systems with the sole purpose of reducing collateral damage. To me it seems like a stunning example of the humanitarian impulse that suffuses the American ethos. An example is the concrete bomb, here discussed in Mother Jones with almost complete obtuseness. The Left frequently starts with an axiom that American war planners are by definition evil. Therefore, it requires a little non-Euclidian thinking to explain the purpose of these weapons to their satisfaction.

Frank Warner

JJ, on the point about developing weapons that avoid killing civilians:

I've often said the liberation of Iraq should have been done sooner than 2003, but I also believe that because we had yet to develop some of the weapons that largely confine their explosive power to military targets, 1991 probably would have been too early.

Some have argued that, as soon as our Coalition liberated Kuwait in 1991, we should have turned around and immediately captured Baghdad. But that action might have made what really happened in Iraq look like a picnic. Our weapons were relatively crude and low-tech in pre-Internet 1991.

That said, the best year to liberate Iraq probably was 1999, a year after Clinton signed the Iraq Liberation Act. The attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, made suicide bombing too respectable among Middle Eastern lowlifes. That meant that any U.S.-led military action in that region was bound to see a zealous, semi-suicidal response.

Before 2001, I'm convinced, the response to the ouster of Saddam would have been much more subdued and conventional.

jj mollo

We should never have ended Gulf War I with Saddam in power. We should never have allowed the Shia rebellions to fail. Hindsight is easy, but many people were outraged at the time when we let Saddam off the hook. It cost so much to mount that war effort that to back off so quickly was almost a betrayal of the country. It was callous pragmatism. It was squeamishness at the brutality of war, a war that Saddam had forced on us. It was certainly a betrayal of any liberal concept of the supposed "New World Order". No one considers the brutality of peace. We should at least have driven the Republican Guard into extinction.

Frank Warner

Well, JJ, you're right. If a tyrant does something that draws us into a war, the tyrant should know he will lose his job when he loses the war.

My earlier observations were on the best way to avoid civilian casualties.

Considering the short memories of the world, and what Saddam did to "his" people in the next few years, I have to amend my point. Yes, it would have been better to remove Saddam in 1991.

jj mollo

Wow, Frank. That was almost too easy. I'll treasure this moment.

To extend the point: the most important function of a war for the US is to convince people that it's not a good idea to provoke us -- and to prevent or delay the next war. It may be primitive, but I like what the Marines say, "No better friend ... no worse enemy." I don't think we did a good job at preventing war during the Gulf War. We did send the message that we will fight when borders are violated, which is a good thing, but we didn't treat the actual disease.

Frank Warner

Yep. Allowing a conditional surrender rewards aggression. Too soon, everyone forgets the conditions.

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