Sunday, August 07, 2005

Stick to the Point on Iraq

Today someone sent me this email (supposedly from a policeman) comparing the causalty rate in Iraq to the homicide rate in Washington, D.C.:


If you consider that there have been an average of 160,000 troops in the Iraq theater of operations during the last 22 months, that gives a firearm death rate of 60 per 100,000. The rate in Washington D.C. is 80.6 per 100,000. That means that you are 25% more likely to be shot and killed in our Nation's Capitol, which has some of the strictest gun control laws in the nation, than you are in Iraq.

Conclusion: We should immediately pull out of Washington, D.C.
Whoever made these calculations is quite wrong on some points and sloppy or misleading on others. Washington's homicide rate peaked around 80 per 100,000 residents in 1991 and was in the mid-forties or so from 1998-2003 before dropping a bit lower in 2004.

The killed-in-action rate in Iraq for US troops (with 1820 deaths as of this writing and assuming an average of 150,000 troops over 2.3 years) works out to 527 per 100,000 per year. Most of them were killed by bombs, not firearms, so perhaps the "firearm death rate" could be 60 per 100,000, but even if correct that's certainly a misleading way to describe things. A bigger problem is that it doesn't include the troops of other nations or Iraqi police and civilians. It also doesn't consider the problems inherent in comparing a small city with an entire country the size of California. The fighting and terrorist attacks in Iraq are concentrated in a few cities which are very dangerous while much of the country is relatively stable and prospering.

What we really should care about are the relative consequences of not having invaded (or withdrawing to soon), which are obviously in dispute. But there are two indisputable points which (I think) can clarify one's thinking on the war. First, we simply don't yet know the long-term consequences of the war (positive or negative). We may begin to see a clearer picture in five or ten years when the current players have passed from the scene, a bit more in 20-30 after their memoirs have been studied and digested, and will perhaps have the final word in 50-100 years. The late Stephen Ambrose wrote in the acknowledgments to Undaunted Courage that he decided to write the biography of Meriwether Lewis in 1993, despite a comprehensive work having been published in 1965 by Richard Dillon, because a significant amount of new research had come to light in the intervening 30 years. Think about that. The Lewis and Clark expedition has been one of the most studied episodes of early American history, especially when you contrast its scale with a major war. Yet after 170 years new information about the expedition was still being discovered! Another example: Yesterday marked 60 years since the bombing of Hiroshima. The full set of radio intercepts that formed the basis for Truman's assessment of Japanese military strength and political will, on which he based his decision to drop the bomb, was not released to the public until 1995 (the first, redacted version was made available in 1978). Various additional papers from the Joint Chiefs of Staff which shed light on the decision (and the alternative costs of invading Japan) continued to trickle out over the last decade.

That's why the left's early and frequent proclamations of failure in the Iraq war are foolishly irresponsible at best. Not only is there ample contrary evidence, but the outcome is under decision right now! And that brings me to my second point: Whether you originally believed that removing Saddam Hussein from power would help destroy militant Islam or not, Iraq is where the Islamists have chosen to fight! So who do you believe? Those on the left who have declared the rationale for the war fraudulent, the effort doomed to failure, and victory irrelevant to defeating militant Islam? Or the Islamists themselves who through their words and actions have declared reclamation of Iraq essential to their survival?

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