Disproportionate response

Q. How many people died in the 9/11 attacks?
A. 2,974.

Q. How many American military personnel have died in the war on Iraq?
A. 4,000 — a milestone reached on Sunday.

Q. How many Iraqis have died as a result of the war?
A. That’s a hotly-contested statistic. But here’s one answer:

A team of American and Iraqi epidemiologists estimates that 655,000 more people have died in Iraq since coalition forces arrived in March 2003 than would have died if the invasion had not occurred.

That was the calculation as of October 2006 — seventeen months ago.

9/11 was used as a pretext for the war on Iraq. Can you say “disproportionate response“, children?


6 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Random
    Mar 25, 2008 @ 11:54:45

    “Q. How many American military personnel have died in the war on Iraq?
    A. 4,000 — a milestone reached on Sunday.”

    Plus 175 British and 133 from other coalition countries. It really does irritiate me somewhat to see these casualties ignored as part of some sort of attempt to show that the US is isolated in Iraq (not saying that’s what you’re doing here, but it’s something I see way too often on anti-war blogs).

    “Q. How many Iraqis have died as a result of the war?
    A. That’s a hotly-contested statistic. But here’s one answer:”

    An answer that’s almost certainly wildly out of line. The Iraq Body Count figure (which tries to identify and count every single death instead of relying on indirect statistical methods) is currently at 90,000 – which I would have thought was quite sufficiently unpleasant a figure not to need exaggerating. The idea that the methods used by IBC are missing 5 out of 6 deaths is somewhat improbable.

    “9/11 was used as a pretext for the war on Iraq. Can you say “disproportionate response“, children?”

    I’d be grateful if you could point to an actual pre-war speech or policy statement by somebody like Bush or Blair that actually used this as a serious pretext. I seem to remember that at the time most of the arguing was about WMDs. (Yes, I know. But it’s worth remembering that at the time absolutely everybody – including people bitterly opposed to the war like France and the UN – accepted that Saddam either had WMDs or was very close to getting them. I have my own theory as to why this is which you’re welcome to hear if you want, but it’s somewhat off topic here.)

    Speaking purely personally, my support for the war had nothing to do with 9/11 and little enough with WMDs, and a great deal to do with overthrowing the sort of tyrant who launches unprovoked wars of aggression on his neighbours and inflicts genocide on unpopular ethnic minorities. I really did think that history had taught us that no good came from tolerating such people.


  2. Stephen
    Mar 25, 2008 @ 13:30:41

    • Random:
    I did not intend to slight other countries who have also lost soldiers in Iraq. Canada stayed out of Iraq, but we’ve lost dozens of soldiers in Afghanistan, so I’m aware that Americans aren’t the only ones dying in the war on terror.

    I used the 4,000 figure because it’s in the news right now. But you make a good point: if the media was attending to coalition personnel, instead of just American personnel, obviously we arrived at 4,000 deaths sooner. It’s sad that the American media are taking note of only the American deaths. My apologies for doing the same thing here.

    As for the Iraqi death toll — I noted that the figure is hotly contested. However, I used that specific quote for a reason. It doesn’t just refer to people who took a bullet through the head or whatever. It is an epidemiological study, which means it is considering other sorts of deaths — indirect consequences of the war. Presumably including such matters as the spread of disease due to corpses rotting in the streets or the water supply.

    It may be that 655,000 deaths is a wild exaggeration. On the other hand, any method that counts only the direct casualties of war is a wild underestimation.

    But let’s use your figure, 90,000: that’s big enough to lead to my conclusion about a disproportionate response.

    Was 9/11 the pretext for the war on Iraq? Surely you’re aware that the Bush Administration’s first response to 9/11 was to salivate at the prospect of invading Iraq? You should read Woodward on this point. It took cooler heads to point out that Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda were in Afghanistan, not Iraq. So the Bush Administration went into Afghanistan first, but moved on with imprudent haste to get to their preferred target. Canadian soldiers are dying as one consequence of that shameful decision.

    Absolutely, 9/11 was the pretext for the Iraq war. Without 9/11, there would have been no public appetite for the Iraq adventure. I doubt that Prime Minister Blair could have obtained support for the war, either, if 9/11 wasn’t the backdrop.

    I really did think that history had taught us that no good came from tolerating such people [as Saddam].

    But we do tolerate them, at all times. For example, people have been dying in Darfur at a horrific rate, and we’re tolerating that right now. Maybe that’s a bad thing — it would certainly be nice if the international community could intervene in Darfur to stop the carnage.

    But then you have to ask: who’s going to stop the carnage, by what means, and what happens next (after the carnage has been stopped)? Dropping bombs and firing bullets isn’t necessarily a good way to effect a change for the better.

    Obviously Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld thought they could take Saddam out in a few weeks and Iraqi citizens would automatically be better off. That has turned out to be a fantasy — hence we’re five years into the war, and counting.

    And the bodies are piling up at a ferocious rate.


  3. Bill
    Mar 26, 2008 @ 00:25:26

    I mostly agree with Stephen but tend to Agree with Random on 2 points 1. that WMD was the prime motivation in invading Iraq, but being in Afghanistan thanks to 9/11 made the job easier. and; 2.Yes we do tolerate Sadam types, but should we? That said who should be the police? I do not think the US should be, I’m more for the UN as the international policing body, and before anyone points out how impotent the UN is maybe it wouldn’t be if the powers involved participated democratically in the process. If we expect our nations to be democratic, then why don’t we expect them to behave democratically on a global scale? The only power the UN has is the collective will of its member states, that is its teeth. In refusing to abide by the collective will then the US has removed most of the UN’s teeth. The result is like being snarled at by a rabbit, and then the US is the first to claim the UN is impotent. Hmmmm


  4. Stephen
    Mar 26, 2008 @ 17:15:31

    I don’t presume to know why the Bush Administration was so determined to invade Iraq. WMD? — I think that’s part of the story, but it definitely isn’t the whole explanation. It isn’t possible to know what Bush’s motivations were, because we’ve been given so many divergent answers to the question — throw everything at this question, something is bound to stick — and I don’t think any of the answers revealed Bush’s real agenda.

    What I said was, 9/11 was the pretext for invading Iraq. And I stand by that statement:

    At 2:40 p.m. that day [9/11], with dust and smoke filling the operations center [in the Pentagon] as he was trying to figure out what had happened, Rumsfeld raised with his staff the possibility of going after Iraq as a response to the terrorist attacks, according to an aide’s notes. … The notes show that Rumsfeld had mused about whether to “hit S.H. @ same time—not only UBL” …. The next day in the inner circle of Bush’s war cabinet, Rumsfeld asked if the terrorist attacks did not present an “opportunity” to launch against Iraq.

    Four days later in an exhaustive debate at Camp David, none of the president’s top advisers recommended attacking Iraq as a first step in the terrorism war—not even Vice President Cheney, who probably read where Bush was headed and said, “If we go after Saddam Hussein, we lose our rightful place as good guy.” Cheney, however, voiced deep concerns about Saddam and said he would not rule out going after him at some point. …

    The only strong advocate for attacking Iraq at that point was Wolfowitz, who thought war in Afghanistan would be dicey and uncertain. … In contrast, Iraq was a brittle, oppressive regime that might break easily with an opposition yearning to topple Saddam. He estimated that there was a 10 to 50 percent chance Saddam was involved in the 9/11 attacks—an odd conclusion that reflected deep suspicion but no real evidence.

    The next afternoon, Sunday, September 16, Bush told Rice that the first target of the war on terrorism was going to be Afghanistan. “We won’t do Iraq now,” the president said, “we’re putting Iraq off. But eventually we’ll have to return to that question.”

    — Bob Woodward, Plan of Attack, chapter 2.


  5. John
    Mar 27, 2008 @ 19:30:06

    Stephen & Bill,

    Please don’t take Random’s ridiculous comments about the Lancet study seriously. It’s unfortunate that the popular impression is that its findings are hotly contested. They are not. Or, if they are, it’s in much the same way Darwin’s findings are hotly contested: by a marginal group of people willing to deny or twist reliable evidence.

    The fact is, that as an epidemiological study, the Lancet piece is far more reliable – largely for the reason you mention, Stephen, that it is fully inclusive. The IBC count, on the other hand, is a laughable comparison because the Iraq Body Count is not an estimate of the total number of deaths. It just counts the number reported in the media.

    No one who understands the methodology involved in the Lancet study still seriously questions its findings. It has its problems, but as a wide range their figures are reliably accurate, and you shouldn’t listen to trolls like Random who claim otherwise.


  6. Stephen
    Mar 28, 2008 @ 07:05:12

    Thanks for the comment, John. I don’t regard Ransom as a troll; he’s a long-time commenter here. Even though Random and I come from opposite poles on the political spectrum, one of my core values is to promote dialogue among people with different starting points. And, in my experience, Random is fair-minded (or at least as fair-minded as any of us achieve — perfect objectivity being an elusive ideal).

    As for your substantive point: I appreciate your description of the respective merits of the Lancet and IBC studies. Promoting dialogue includes a process of weighing competing arguments. And I agree with you that the Lancet study should be taken seriously — not dismissed as Random seems to do ("somewhat improbable", to quote his exact words).


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