Thursday, January 10, 2008

American Responsibility for Civilian Casualties in Iraq

Writing in the context of the new World Health Organization estimate of Iraqis who died as a result of war-related violence in the first three years after the U.S. invasion, Matthew Yglesias asks a good question about civilian casualties: If you don't count them, how can you minimize them?

Further difficulties include the fact that many people have been displaced by the conflict and also I assume that some entire households have been wiped out. It remains noteworthy to me that while the US military insists that it takes measures to minimize the civilian death toll, it doesn't take any measures to quantify the civilian death toll, which makes it impossible to know what their measures accomplish. Step one in trying to increase blog traffic, for example, is to measure blog traffic.

TigerHawk, a war supporter, has an answer for those who think that 150,000 violent deaths in a discretionary war is too many:
The WHO report comes in the same week that the National Journal carpet-bombed the methodology of the now discredited Johns Hopkins study (apparently to some degree duplicated by the WHO).

Now, there will be those who say that the new estimate of 150,000 excess deaths is still too high a price for Iraqis to have paid for the removal of Saddam, even if it is 75% lower than the numbers used to bludgeon the Bush administration just before the 2006 mid-term elections. Big gun lefty blogger Hullabaloo had this to say:
But it remains 150,000 human lives, dead, senselessly, for an unnecessary war of choice. And that only goes up to June 2006, and the authors of the study admitted they were unable to reach certain areas that were "too violent."

Not to mention the 3,900-plus soldiers, including 9 in the last two days. And the numbers of wounded are incalculable.

All to remove a dictator who wasn't nearly as efficient at killing Iraqis.

Read that again, with feeling: "All to remove a dictator who wasn't nearly as efficient at killing Iraqis."

This, I think, reveals the vast gulf between supporters of the war and opponents. The Democrats believe that the United States is responsible for all excess deaths in Iraq following the 2003 invasion. After all, they reason, "but for" the American invasion these deaths would not have occurred. In this vision of the world, al Qaeda's inhuman car-bomb war and the sectarian fighting triggered by its attack on the Golden Mosque are predictable consequences of an American choice. The jihadis are not culpable for those deaths, because they would not have been moved to inflict them if the United States had not invaded in the first place. That is why, according to the left, all the excess deaths in Iraq are the fault of the United States war "to remove a dictator who wasn't nearly as efficient at killing Iraqis."

Apply that reasoning to other wars in history, and you can immediately see how fraudulent it is.

I think it's Tigerhawk's argument that's fraudulent. Take World War II as an example. It has been established many times over the last 60 years that Hitler was very much influenced in his decision to implement the Final Solution by the world's indifference to the fate of the Jews. Fighting a war against Germany did not in any way change that indifference -- and although Hitler and the Nazis committed the genocide, the indifference gave them the context in which they were able to do it.

Six million Jews were exterminated in World War II. Another way of saying that is that by May 1945, when the war in Europe ended, two-thirds of all the Jews who had existed in Europe before 1933 were dead -- one-third of the entire world Jewish population.

Clearly, World War II did not save those six million Jews from being murdered. But thousands of those Jews -- tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands -- could have been spared their horrible fates had the Allied countries -- most particularly Britain and the United States -- made any serious effort to save them. The truth is that the FDR administration deliberately ignored what was being done to the Jews, long after administration officials, including FDR himself, knew with 100 percent certainty exactly what that was.

"To kill the Jews," David S. Wyman wrote in The Abandonment of the Jews -- the definitive book on this subject -- "the Nazis were willing to weaken their capacity to fight the war. The United States and its allies, however,were willing to attempt almost nothing to save them."

The U.S. is responsible for the legitimacy of the wars it chooses to start, for the ways in which it chooses to fight them, and for the decisions it makes in the course of fighting them -- and that is true for any country that gets involved in war. As different as WWII and the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq are, that principle applies to both.

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