The Washington post is aiding and abetting a crime against the truth by paying any attention whatsoever to the Johns Hopkins study and its magic 100,000 number which has now become 655,000. This was originally a rough attempt to find a rough number. There were so many flaws in the original work, published in The Lancet, that the estimate had to be characterized as a SWAG. The effort, however, was forgivable in that everyone knew that the circumstances were difficult. Don’t forget that the original estimate was not 100,000 but rather a spread, a confidence interval, from 8,000 to god-knows-what. There was considerable nudging, if not fudging, to get that bottom number over zero, into the realm of dubious significance. Use of a point estimate of 98,000, quickly rounded off to 100,000 in the public’s mind, was statistically unjustified and politically inflammatory. Why do it?
Forgiveness is no longer an issue because sanity is. There are, they say, or at least as Gilbert Burnham says, shall we round off again, two-thirds of a million dead people in Iraq who would not have died if the US had stayed at home. Yeah, we been busy. My question is, compared to what? The concept of excess deaths implies that we know what would have happened. We had an unstable situation that could have gone any direction. Who knows what Saddam would have done and who knows what someone else might have done to Iraq if we hadn’t acted?
My second question is, who’s to blame? We went into Iraq as a strategic move to change trajectory of Islamic radicalism. We went in as a preemptive move to forestall progressive deterioration in the political environment of the Middle East. We went in, among the many other reasons, for the charitable purpose of restoring a semblance of civilized life to a beleaguered people. Despite our motives, people have died and suffered. I don’t know the numbers, and neither does Gilbert Burnham, no matter how he might posture.
Many people have died at American hands because they have taken arms against us. Is that our fault? Yes, you might say, because they are defending their country. I’ll give you this, some of them were motivated by patriotism and were killed by our soldiers. Some of them were Baathists with blood on their hands. Can I subtract those? Some of them were Sunni ethnic supremacists who took joy in slaughtering Shiite police recruits. Do we need to take the blame for those deaths? Both sides? Many Iraqis were killed by simple criminals, released by Saddam for the explicit purpose of inducing chaos in a post-Saddam Iraq. If a man threatens to kill his family rather than face charges, what should the police do about it? Are they culpable if the man carries out his threat?
Some of these postulated "excess" deaths are attributed to public health issues. How do the researchers know what the health status of Iraq would be after four and a half years? What would be, for instance, the health status of the Marsh Arabs as Saddam continued for four years to drain and poison the swamps? People are dying for lack of electricity, for lack of drugs, for lack of gasoline. Americans have tried to bring these things to the Iraqi people but have been repeatedly thwarted by violent fanatics who wish the people to have nothing that Americans provide. Should we accept the blame for such deaths?
What does Gilbert Burnham counsel us to do? What does he think will happen in Iraq if we leave? Will he count the bloodbath that follows against us as well?
I agree with Burnham that we are culpable. We have caused many of these deaths. The fault is ours. Inaction was our sin. We are to blame for not acting much, much sooner. It would have been a lot easier to suppress all these evils if we had done it in 1992 instead of 2002.
10/11/2006 9:58 PM