McCain Checks into Cloud Cuckooland
116 Iraqis Killed in Day of Carnage
Senator John McCain has contracted Rumsfeld’s Disease. This malady consists of a combination of bad temper, misuse of language to obfuscate reality, and a Panglossian optimism in the face of stubborn, sanguinary facts on the ground.
McCain, for instance, hailed that deployment of Iraqi brigades “at or above 75% of their programmed strength”! Put another way, a quarter of the Iraqi troops ordered to Baghdad technically speaking went AWOL instead! If a quarter of all US troops ordered to Iraq fled to Canada or refused to leave their home base, that would be a catastrophe. But McCain manages to deploy weasel words to make this incredible statistic seem a positive thing. Moreover, even his basic facts may be wrong. Last I knew, one of the Iraqi brigades ordered to Baghdad only came at half strength.
McCain alleged that only about 500 civilians were killed in political violence in Baghdad in February, down from December’s toll.
But McCain is wrong to look only at Baghdad. Here is what I wrote on March 1:
An Iraqi official leaked government figures on Iraqi civilians killed in January and February, and tried to spin the US press by saying that there had been a significant drop in such casualties.
But this official reported deaths for 1-31 January and compared them for the toll 1-27 February. Uh, the per day total isn’t that different, it is just that February is a short month and the figures were given through the day before it ended!
1990 divided by 31 is 64 per day.
1646 divided by 27 is 61 per day.
While human life is precious and a drop of 3 a day is welcome, I wouldn’t call that drop significant.
That is, the Iraqi government statistics for deaths in February were not 500 but 1646. And, as I pointed out, the decline in daily deaths is so far small. In addition, it would not actually be good news that 500 innocent civilians were slaughtered in Baghdad alone in February. Baghdad is a fourth of Iraq by population– that would be a monthly death rate of about 2000, some 24,000 a year (the Lancet study published last fall found that deaths from violence occur at a similar rate throughout the country). All the real numbers are much worse than the above discussion implies, since passive information- gathering is notoriously unreliable.
McCain ignores the incredible violence against Shiite pilgrims during Ashura, in which hundreds were massacred, mostly outside Baghdad. That is, concentrating on Baghdad is a fallacy. The indications are that the guerrillas are compensating for the higher cost of their operations in Baghdad by shifting some their activities to other cities, such as Baquba and Tal Afar. But they have by no means given up the fight in Baghdad itself, as anyone who followed violence there could tell you.
Then there is this sad exchange on CNN between Wolf Blitzer and McCain:
[Blitzer Clip]: Everything we hear if you leave the so-called Green Zone, the international zone, and you go outside of that secure area, relatively speaking, you’re in trouble if you’re an American.
[McCAIN CLIP]: That’s where you ought to catch up on things, Wolf. General Petraeus goes out there almost every day in an unarmed humvee. I think you oughta catch up. You are giving the old line of three months ago. I understand it. We certainly don’t get it through the filter of some of the media. But I know for a fact that much of the success we’re experiencing, including the ability of Americans in many parts. Not all, we have a long, long way to go. We’ve only got two of the five brigades here to go into some neighborhoods in Baghdad in a secure fashion.
So then Wolf Blitzer asked Michael Ware, the intrepid CNN correspondent who is actually in Baghdad, about this comment. Ware replied:
WARE: Well, I’d certainly like to bring Sen. McCain up to speed if he ever gives me the opportunity. And if I have any difficulty hearing you right now Wolf, that’s because of the helicopters circling overhead and the gun battle that is blazing away just a few blocks down the road. Is Baghdad any safer? Sectarian violence, one particular type of violence, is down. But none of the American generals here on the ground have anything like Sen. McCain’s confidence. I mean, Sen. McCain’s credibility now on Iraq, which has been so solid to this point, is now being left out hanging to dry. To suggest that there’s any neighborhood in this city where an American can walk freely is beyond ludicrous. I’d love Sen. McCain to tell me where that neighborhood is and he and I can go for a stroll.
And to think that Gen. David Petraeus travels this city in an unarmed humvee? I mean, in the hour since Sen. McCain’s said this, I’ve spoken to military sources and there was laughter down the line. I mean, certainly the general travels in a humvee. There’s multiple humvees around it, heavily armed. There’s attack helicopters, predator drones, sniper teams, all sorts of layers of protection. So, no, Sen. McCain is way off base on this one.
Remember when, in summer of 2003, Donald Rumsfeld asserted that there was no guerrilla war in Iraq? Remember when he implied that the violence there was no worse than a little race riot in Benton Harbor, Michigan? McCain increasingly sounds like that.
McCain has fallen ill with Rumsfeld’s Disease in part because he is losing in the polls because the public doesn’t like his gung ho stance on Iraq. If only, he thinks, he could convince the public that actually things are turning around there.
And in part he has succumbed to it because of frustration with his colleagues in the Senate, who just voted to get US troops out of Iraq by March 31, 2008. McCain thinks things have improved so much that his colleagues are basing their decisions on old information.
The greatest fallacy of all is in McCain’s assumption that short-term changes in the Baghdad security environment, produced by deploying an extra US division there, can necessarily be translated into long-term gains. It is much more likely that guerrillas are just lying low and will come right back out when the Americans draw back down (the US can’t keep an extra division in Iraq forever.)
McCain is typical of the hawks of his generation, which lost the Vietnam War. For many of them, a war on Iraq promised vindication and restoration of pride. It had all the delights of a Rambo movie, but the advantage of being real. The problem is that in both cases, Vietnam and Iraq, the US fought local nationalisms dressed up in universal ideologies (Communism, Islamism & Baathism). It is a losing proposition, for the most part. Local nationalisms mostly win out these days.
On Tuesday, AP reports that two massive truck bombings ripped through a market in the northern Turkmen city of Tal Afar, killing 63 persons and wounding dozens.
Al-Hayat, writing in Arabic, estimated the death toll from political violence in Iraq on Tuesday at 116. Truck bombers killed 17 and wound 32 in the Sunni Arab city of Ramadi north of Baghdad.