Wednesday, October 11, 2006

More on the Lancet Study

Here are a few reactions from the liberal blogosphere on the study purporting to show that around 655,000 Iraqis have died since the invasion. First, Hilzoy on the timing of the study's release:
Third, about the idea that the timing of this is politically motivated: that in no way impugns the accuracy if the study. Moreover, if I had done a study like this, I would want to get it out before the election too. Information like this, if valid, is exactly the sort of information that people should have in order to make an informed decision about who to vote for. If anyone wants to show that the study's conclusions are false, they should do so. But saying that the fact that it was released now shows that they aren't valid is just wrong.

In other words, so what if they've got an axe to grind? They're right, and we should know this before we go votes the bozos who enabled the invasion back into office. I agree.

Here's Glenn Greenwald on why these numbers are driving the right crazy:
I've never perceived Bush followers as being shy about admitting that the wars they cheer on cause lots of civilian deaths. Usually, they wave away those sorts of concerns with inspiring and cleansing phrases like "birth pangs" and tell you that while it's really too bad that so many civilians have to die, it's all really worth it...

Yet here, they seem to be a in veritable panic, screaming with their hands over their ears that this study is all just fabricated lies from Bush-hating ideologues. It seems emotionally important to them to deny the study's conclusions and the only explanation as to why that would be -- at least the only explanation I can see -- lies in the sheer numbers. The phrase "600,000 excess deaths" packs a pretty big wallop. Even the most morally monstrous person would not want the responsibility of having advocated a war that resulted in the deaths of that many human beings (or at least would not want to be perceived as has having that responsibility). And thus, even though they have nowhere near the information, knowledge or expertise they would need to deny the conclusions of this study, they are doing so vigorously, even hysterically.

And here's Juan Cole on what those numbers mean to him:
I once warned that a precipitate US withdrawal could result in a million dead a la Cambodia or Afghanistan. Little did I know that the conditions created by the US invasion and occupation have all along been driving toward that number anyway!

...folks, this is a major civil war, with something close to 200,000 dying every year.

I reversed the order of Prof. Cole's comments to make an observation of my own. To me, it is simply no longer possible to argue that Iraq is not in a civil war. It is true that whether or not a state of civil war exists cannot be determined solely by the number of people dying in the war. But if you look at the conditions of violence and anarchy which prevail in Iraq today, and then calculate that 200,000 people on average have died each year as a result of those conditions, it's impossible to argue that Iraq is not mired in a civil war. The war in Bosnia was certainly a civil war, and around 200,000 people died in that conflict total. The genocide in Rwanda was certainly a civil war, and possibly a million died in that conflict. El Salvador suffered through what was inarguably a civil war for 12 years, and "only" 75,000 people died. The number dead in a conflict is only one element in making the determination as to whether a state of civil war exists, but there is a point at which the numbers push the conflict into a defined civil war, and that point has been reached in Iraq. If anything, that point was probably reached sometime in 2005 or 2004.

More importantly, these numbers require anyone who has even any marginal support for our continued presence in Iraq to question that assumption. I have, for the longest time now, been unwilling to say that it was time for us to begin considering how to leave Iraq. I never, not once, in any form or fashion, supported the initial invasion of Iraq. I never believed the Bush administration when it came to ridiculously over-hyped claims of Saddam's WMDs, and I never trusted that the invasion could be as simple and as painless as they promised. But once the invasion was over, and we had a broken country on our hands, I knew that because of how and why we had invaded, we had a duty to stay and do whatever it took to build the country back up. I have continued to believe that, even as the Bush administration has ineptly handled the occupation, even as the violence has increased, even as our soldiers and Iraqis have continued to die. I have continued to believe in it all this time because I was not yet willing to admit that we had reached a point where there was nothing more we could do for the country. I thought, at the very least, the presence of our soldiers would place some sort of "cap" on the violence, that they could help hold the violence down while the country rebuilds itself. But it has become clear to me very recently that as our soldiers continue to battle both insurgents and militias, they are simply overstretched and incapable of acting as a check on the violence any longer. Quite simply, there is too much violence, too many killings, too many bombings, too many private armies running around torturing and killing their enemies, for the mere 140,000 soldiers we've asked to police an entire country. I thought that perhaps there was still some chance, some finger left to plug in the dike, that would keep the dam from bursting and from Iraq descending into chaos. But the fact of the matter is the dam has already burst. 655,000 dead is so far beyond even the worst of what I thought was happening in Iraq, that it is simply impossible for me to believe that our soldiers are acting as any effective check on the violence at all; nor have they been for some time apparently.

I will tell you what our options are now. We as Americans can admit to our collective responsibility for what we've done to Iraq, we can ask our politicians to re-institute the draft, or we can volunteer en masse, and we can put 500,000 or more soldiers under arms and send them to Iraq with the intent to quell the insurgents and the militias with as much force as possible. This will almost certainly mean years more for hard fighting, and years, if not a decade or more, of occupation after that. This is the maximum effort that we can put forth, and it is our last option for ending the chaos in Iraq.

Our only other choice is to withdraw. Those who are still against withdrawal have many powerful arguments. Yes, Iraq will become a haven for Al-Qaeda and Al-Qaeda-like terrorists (for as long as the Shiite permit them to exist at least.) Yes, chaos in Iraq will produce hundreds of thousands-if not millions-of refugees. Yes, the creation of a vacuum of power will invite regional players to intervene either to protect their interests, or out of sympathy with ethnic groups to which they have ties, or to expand their own power and influence. Yes, it is entirely possible the civil war will worsen and the butcher's bill may be unlike anything we can so far imagine. Yes, leaving Iraq will demonstrate clearly to the world our failures both morally, politically, militarily and strategically, and will bring even more shame on our already discredited and distrusted nation.

But these arguments are only effective if you can also argue that our continued presence is doing the Iraqis some good, and it is very, very difficult to argue that such is the case.

Quite simply, the numbers from this study stunned me personally, and have forced me to re-evaluate what I thought I knew about Iraq, and led me to the conclusions I detail above. I cannot understand how they cannot do the same to anyone who supported the war initially, or supports our presence in Iraq now. It is clear to me that we are at a turning point, and it is time for us as a nation to decide how to proceed with this increasingly failing occupation. To refuse to admit reality, to argue that we must "stay the course" is not only willfully ignorant but immoral and irresponsible, as it will lead to the deaths of more of our soldiers (and the deaths of Iraqis killed by our soldiers) for no clear purpose except an unwillingness to admit that something else must be done.

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