Re: Dead


You shouldn't and you're not.

Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 03- 1-05 10:10 AM
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I'm a cynic's cynic, but especially so when it comes to political liberalization in the Middle East, which has nearly always followed the one step forward, two steps back pattern. I'll take a wait-and-see attitude on Egypt, Israel/Palestine, Libya, etc. We were told back in 1991 that Kuwait was going to give women the vote, and then got told that again and again through the years. Still hasn't happened, of course.

On the other hand, the Lebanese situation is indeed very good news, but I doubt it has much, if anything, to do with Iraq.

Posted by: apostropher | Link to this comment | 03- 1-05 10:13 AM
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Do any of you guys have a credible source on the 100,000 figure? I ask not as a challenge, but because I just haven't seen one. It strikes me as a very unrealistic figure, to be honest. However, that has to come with a caveat: I'm not sure that 100,000 would be any more convincing to me than 10,000 as part of a case against the war.

If I were going to oppose the war on pure casualty-count grounds, then I'm not sure I'd be able to set a threshold of "well, x dead Iraqis would be ok, but y wouldn't." If I'm going to support the war, then I have to accept that there will be casualties, and the only way I can justify even one is by concluding that the alternative would be worse.

In this case, I was opposed to the war at first for several reasons, besides the natural aversion to creating death and destruction:

1) I didn't believe even for a second that Republicans could be sincere about wanting to promote democracy in other countries for altruistic reasons, so I bought into some of the oil hype

2) I really didn't buy the argument about WMDs, and it pissed me off that they were trying to manipulate people with scare tactics

3) I believed that, even assuming the best of intentions and WMDs, we would probably end up making the situation worse

4) It seemed to fit a historical pattern of - yes, I'm sorry - imperialism in the Middle East.

Really, since the war, only two of those have changed: one, I believe that even if some elements of the Administration are going along with this for their own unsavory / selfish / evil reasons, there are other elements whose belief in democracy promotion is sincere and well thought-out. I just wish we had gotten a clear picture of those arguments prior to the war, rather than the lowest-common-denominator, "All WMDS, all the time" marketing blitz we got. In my opinion, that actually undermined the case.

The other change has been coming to believe that it would have been extremely difficult, no matter how bunglingly and incompetently we executed the war, to make the situation worse than it already was for the region as a whole. This is based on accepting, at least partially, the validity of the "neo-con" arguments about sources of terrorism and so forth. In other words, I think if we didn't do anything at all, September 11th would probably just be the beginning. Who knows, it might still be, but at least this way we did something other than stick our heads in the sand and watch as we slowly turned into Fortress America in the name of counter-terrorism.

Again, I still think the situation has been about as poorly-handled as it could have been, and that most of the reason for the poor handling has been a combination of hubris and conflicting motivations within the administration, as well as incompetence and ideological extremism at various levels (read: John Ashcroft, Alberto Gonzalez).

But all that being said, and whether we've killed 10,000 or 100,000 Iraqis to this point, I think the cost of failure really is too high. That does not at all mean that progress (however slow and incremental) toward democracy should erase the memory of the dead. The only difference in my mind is that the dead should be remembered as the price of freedom rather than as the victims of aggression. I agree with bitchphd: none of us is entitled to be "over" those deaths; we are collectively responsible for each one, even if only by the mere fact of paying taxes. I think we just have to hope and work to make sure that that responsibility comes with positive results.

Sorry, I'll get off my soapbox now.

Posted by: Walter Sobchak | Link to this comment | 03- 1-05 12:30 PM
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Do any of you guys have a credible source on the 100,000 figure?

The figure comes from a study published in the Lancet, as you probably know. It sounds high to me as well, and god knows the right-wingers went hoarse screaming bullshit," but Tim Lambert has been pretty convincing in defending the study.

Posted by: apostropher | Link to this comment | 03- 1-05 12:35 PM
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I'm with the Bitch on this one. Although how you managed to think "war" without thinking "civilian deaths" in the first place is odd to me.

Posted by: rob | Link to this comment | 03- 1-05 1:12 PM
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The sticky point about that study is that it's sort of caught between two worlds.

For or a study of this kind (that is, careful sampling then scaled up to the population) it is absolutely well done. There's simply no question about that.

However, this kind of methodology is typically used to measure things for which we don't care very much about the "real" number, and are instead quite content with simply knowing the statistical range of possibilities.

So the methodology is sound as far as it goes, but it doesn't quite "feel" right when applied in this instance. And this is of course why the newspaper felt the need to declare "100,000 killed" as a nice round and definitive sounding number.*

That's a shame, because the number became the story rather than the more general, and difficult to argue with, point: that civilian casualties in Iraq are not some "negligible" number like 26 or 112.

*Another problem with the reporting, but not the study, was that they did not report "people who were killed", but rather "excess deaths", which could include people who were indirectly killed by the war (e.g. malnutrition, crime, etc), and not only those who had a bomb or a bullet land on them.

Posted by: rufus | Link to this comment | 03- 1-05 1:16 PM
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"I'm not sure I'd be able to set a threshold of 'well, x dead Iraqis would be ok, but y wouldn't.'"

Ooh! Ooh! I am! I am!!

X = 0

Y = 1

This is why there is a significant fraction of people (not 40%, but maybe in the high teens) that held out hope that this war would never start: we are now at the point where, retrospectively, we can talk about a number of deaths that maybe in the high five digits as not too many. Otherwise intelligent and reasonable people are acting as if there is some substantive difference between exterminating the population of Fond du Lac, WI (42,000) and exterminating the population of Elkhart, IN (52,000). The fact is, there is no difference, especially when you consider that the vast majority of deaths in either place would have been suffered by people who wouldn't care one way or the other if you even noticed them. But people whose opinions of the rights of man and government I normally respect are willing to enter this debate, when some among us would have had you never have to enter it at all. It just feels dirty to have to read it.

Posted by: diddy | Link to this comment | 03- 1-05 1:29 PM
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Anyone want to take the bait?

Posted by: FL | Link to this comment | 03- 1-05 1:39 PM
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I'm not sure I'd be able to set a threshold of 'well, x dead Iraqis would be ok, but y wouldn't.'

Hey, I was just discussing the sorites chez Yglesias.

I don't think there's anything absurd about saying, "If we can do this military action with few civilian casulaties, it's OK. If not, not." Kosovo, for instance. Because I thought it was necessary to stop the killing of Kosovars, I supported that. But if I had thought the war would end up killing the whole population of Serbia, I wouldn't have supported it. (Fortunately it didn't.)

I opposed this war, though, basically because I think war does always involve civilian casualties, and often a lot of them, and you need a really really good reason to start a war. And "things are really fucked up in the Middle East, let's tear shit up" doesn't really count. We could maybe have tried putting pressure on Egypt and Palestine to democratize before starting the war.

Posted by: Matt Weiner | Link to this comment | 03- 1-05 1:47 PM
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FL, were you talking to me? I wrote that before I saw your post.

Posted by: Matt Weiner | Link to this comment | 03- 1-05 1:48 PM
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Above the fray, Fontana, above the fray!

Posted by: baa | Link to this comment | 03- 1-05 1:57 PM
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No, Matt, it wasn't pointed your way. I was reacting to diddy's proposed solution x=0, y=1.

Posted by: FL | Link to this comment | 03- 1-05 2:09 PM
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Well, that is one way to solve the sorites, too. I should go back to school and write my dissertation about that. (No offense, diddy.)

Posted by: Matt Weiner | Link to this comment | 03- 1-05 2:11 PM
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I'll bite!

I'm with and against diddy. "It is a good thing that war is terrible, else we should enjoy it too much." (that's close enough) I'm all for keeping the threshold for "terribleness" in war low, so, put the threshold for that at y = 1.

But, just because war is terrible doesn't mean it's not more terrible to not wage war. But there is a definant good in staying with thinking of war this way. I don't believe the pre-war buildup involved a lot of thinking of war as terrible, and, on the side of hawks, there still seems to be a concerted effort to keep from thinking of war as terrible.

(Hardt & Negri inspired digression) I would really like for all parties to agree,"The Iraq War is Terrible," and then to proceed to arguing whether or not it is worth the cost. That concession from the hawks would extend some common ground to us doves, and we would feel like the lines of communication were open. Not making this concession smells of intellectual dishonesty and fairly shuts of dialectic.

Posted by: Michael | Link to this comment | 03- 1-05 2:45 PM
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Michael, that's a really good point, and one that I should have included on my list above. The hawks have, from the very beginning, minimized or outright dismissed the civilian casualties in the war. The behavior of the right-wing bloggers and talk radio shills in this regard has been particularly disgusting.

Posted by: Walter Sobchak | Link to this comment | 03- 1-05 3:22 PM
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Oh, and diddy, as for the threshold thing, what I meant was that I wouldn't change my mind about whether to support a war based on whether I thought x or y casualties would result. Here's how I look at it:

y > x > 0

We know that in any war, some number of casualties greater than 0 will result. So if my decision-making process is based on an unwillingness to accept any casualties, then I can't support any war. However, once I accept that some number of casualties is acceptable given the cost of inaction, then I can't reject a war purely because there will be casualties.

What I was trying to say above is that it would be very difficult for me to come up with some specific number above which the number of casualties would be unacceptable, because it's all relative to the expected outcome of the war. So, to dramatically oversimplify things:

Sw = Sign(Bw - (Cw - Ci))


Sw = Support for war, either positive or negative

Bw = Benefit of war (meaning the value of a positive outcome, not profit)

Cw = Cost of war

Ci = Cost of inaction

This is, of course, imprecise, because Bw and Ci are extremely hard to quantify (and in some cases would be interchangeable if no real benefit beyond survival accrues to the winner of the war), and even Cw is only partially quantifiable. The point is, based on this rough equation, I can say that I would have supported World War II had I been alive at the time, primarily because the cost of inaction was so great that it cancelled out the cost of the war. When the idea of the Iraq war was first presented, my perceived Ci value was extremely low, my Cw was extremely high, and my Bw, while high, was skewed in favor of a small group (e.g. Halliburton and wealthy Republicans). In other words, I thought that we didn't need to act, that the cost of acting was too high, and that the benefits of success would go to the wrong people.

Again, this is a hugely oversimplified model of everything that was going on in my head, but the point is, I think it's more realistic than just saying that any number of casualties above 0 is unacceptable, because Cw is not the only factor in the equation.

Posted by: Walter Sobchak | Link to this comment | 03- 1-05 3:42 PM
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Best blog post I've read in a long time. The cost matters. It weighs on me every day. Abu Grahib made all of us responsible for torture. The invasion of Iraq made all of us responsible for killing of innocents. (And, clearly, the killing of terrorists as well which still bothers my Catholic soul). This invasion was not justifiable no matter the colateral benefits or the colateral damage.

I supported the first Gulf War, and thought it was the right decision until I actually understood the toll. I mean the toll over years. We aren't done counting the cost in Iraq. We still don't know all the forms that it will take.

Posted by: benton | Link to this comment | 03- 1-05 7:11 PM
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Commenters might be interested in Prof. Juan Cole's latest HNN article:

A Brief History of Lebanon Dispels the Illusion that President Bush Is Driving Events There.

Posted by: rob | Link to this comment | 03- 2-05 7:48 AM
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Hi. Just wandered in. Nice blog.

I supported the war for similar reasons to yours, and have been very ambivalent about it.

Even if the 100,000 casualty figure is true, remember this:

1) @1.5 million dead from Saddam's rule.

2) 20,000 (low estimate) to 90,000 (UNICEF estimate) children killed *every year* from the sanctions.

When we think about the fact that those sanctions weren't going anywhere anytime soon, the calculus kind of changes, doesn't it?

Posted by: Zachary Braverman | Link to this comment | 03- 4-05 10:00 AM
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The "casualty" number is an excess mortality number*, and your other numbers are crap.

*Casualty: death from direct consequences of hostile action. Excess mortality: death from any cause above a pre-war benchmark.

Posted by: ogmb | Link to this comment | 03- 4-05 9:03 PM
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i am going to college to learn pc repair but i am getting stuck on how dos works and about irq`s and converting hexidecimal numbers to binary.

can anyone help me??????????????? thanx......

Posted by: trevor simmons | Link to this comment | 05-16-05 6:56 AM
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