One of the more persistent mischaracterizations we hear from the Right side of our little virtual world is how each passing month in Iraq brings incredible progress. Since it's been that way since April of 2003, if you believed their rhetoric you'd imagine Baghdad was paved in Elgin marble, and the streets were filled with cool bars and record stores, and hot and cold-running oil fountains.
In that spirit we have this report
by "All Things Conservative," linked approvingly with a grunt by the Insta-Hack
and elsewhere on the Right. The author, Bill Crawford, picks and chooses from a Brookings Institution report
on Iraq to make the assessment that "things are improving." As we all know, there are lies, damned lies, and statistics. And this condensation of a 50-page report to a few bullet points is a great example of that axiom.
For example, more US soldiers died in April than in the previous six, and May is trending on a par with April. The wounded numbers have been ticking up since January. Out of that data we get this:
The number of U.S. military wounded has declined significantly from a high of 1,397 in November 2004 to 430 in April of this year.
This is what this guy does with every statistic, picking the highest possible month (no matter how long ago it happened, or what current trends reflect) and relating the current statistics to that. It's an obvious statistical trick, and it's meaningless. Here are other examples:
Iraqi military casualties were 201 in April of 2006, after peaking at 304 in July of 2005. (April was the highest month, by a small margin, since last October)
From May 2003 and April 2006, between 1,000 and 3,000 anti-Iraqi forces have been killed each month. (the note admits this is a rough estimate, and the number of estimated insurgents, in a later chart, never changes; typical "winning wars through body counts" logic we've seen since Vietnam)
The number of foreign terrorists fighting in Iraq was estimated at between 300 and 500 in January 2004. That number increased in April of this year, to between 700 and 2,000. (That's been the same estimated number since September 2005)
Actionable tips from Iraqis have increased every month this year. In January, 4,025 tips were received; February, 4,235; and March, 4,578. (the month before his arbitrary cutoff was 4,700)
Crude oil production reached 2.14 million barrels a day (MBD) in April of this year. It had dropped to 0.3 MBD in May of 2003. (it was up to 2.1 million by November 2003, and hasn't moved an inch)
Revenues from oil export have only slightly increased from pre-war levels of $0.2 billion, to $0.62 billion in April. (actually, it decreased dramatically in April, from over 2 billion to 0.62. Actually it's alarming)
The unemployment rate in June of 2003 was 50-60%, and in April of this year it had dropped to 25-40%. (hasn't changed since January 2005, and I'm supposed to be thrilled that the country has ONLY 40% unemployment?)
Meanwhile not one quality-of-life statistic is at the stated goal level, or at its pre-war level, from what I see. Nevertheless, the facts have been spun into a "Glory be to Iraq" cheerleading post.
Crawford also pulls out two selective stats from a January 2006 poll (right after the election, for which there is still no government, and before the bombing of the Golden Dome in Samarra, mind you) to "prove" that Iraqis think the country is headed in the right direction. No mention of the 87% of Iraqis that support a timeline for a US withdrawal, or that 47% support attacks on US forces. Or that the "right direction/wrong direction" numbers are almost as low as at any time in the entire occupation (and this was before the rise in sectarian strife).
And, the report indicates that there are still 75 daily insurgent attacks, almost a car bomb a day, gas lines are still an hour long, there are practically no Iraqi doctors in the country, and the Per Capita GDP (USD) for 2005 is $1,051 (that's a POSITIVE stat to Crawford). And this is three years into the war.
I should also add that there are no statistics in Crawford's glowing study reflecting the real problem these days in Iraq, which is sectarian strife between Sunni and Shiite civilians. There was a report today that 1,100 executions occurred in Baghdad alone
in April. Executions of this type don't even turn up in the Brookings study, as far as I can gather. But this statistic from page 16 is significant:
January 2004 2 per day in Baghdad
December 2004 10 per day in Baghdad
December 2005 Up to 30 per day nationwide
March 2006 30-40 per day nationwide
And the note beside it says that "The numbers on this table may be lower than the actual number of kidnappings as the Iraqi
Police suggests that kidnappings are widely underreported."
But my favorite parts of this dishonest post are in the comments. This exchange gives you the same answer Bill Crawford would give me if confronted by these inconvenient facts:
Wow, only 22 car bombs last month. That's less than 1 per day!
Posted by: ab | May 10, 2006 at 02:48 PM
Thanks for the comment ab. Perhaps you didn't notice that I said "progress" was being made, not that Iraq had achieved some state of perfection.
Posted by: Bill Crawford | May 10, 2006 at 03:03 PM
Hey, nobody's perfect! Democracy's messy! Three years goes by in the blink of an eye!
This gives you a good idea of the mentality of the Bush defenders, who simply can't tramsmit bad information:
In other news, 150 Americans dies on the highways today, their scattered remains littering the streets, the lives of their loved ones shattered.
Wished the media would report the daily automobile death count like they do Iraq - would be a lot less traffic.
Posted by: NoDonkey | May 10, 2006 at 03:12 PM
Well said, "NoDonkey." Shucks, 43 THOUSAND (yeah, you read right) people die each year on our highways and approximately 3 MILLION are injured in some way, shape, or form. Approximately 60 percent of these folks are of military age (16-44).
Don't even get me started on firearms incidents or easily preventable home accidents:
Therefore, dangerous as Iraq may be, our troops have a statistically better chance of dying a pointless death in an auto accident or alcohol-related firearms incident, on any given Saturday night.
Posted by: Mark Jaeger | May 10, 2006 at 04:54 PM
There are ten times as many people in the United States as there are in Iraq. This is from the Brit Hume school
of ludicrous comparisons. The notion that soldiers are in as much danger in Iraq as they would be on our nation's roads is offensive and asinine.
And here's something from the Buck Turgidson "I'm not saying we wouldn't get our hair mussed" school:
Some other numbers to consider:
Under Saddam, an average of at least 83,000 people per year were murdered by the state (conservatively). The war and three years of occupation together have cost less than 50,000 lives by most estimates, while delivering a measure of freedom and democracy virtually unknown in the Mideast.
By that measure, the war has saved over 200,000 lives while freeing 25 million.
Posted by: TallDave | May 10, 2006 at 05:47 PM
The US government estimates a total of 300,000 murders
over 25 years of despotic rule. That's horrible, and it hasn't materially changed. Even using the 50,000 number over 3 years, you end up with 400,000 total deaths over the same span.
It's tiresome to have to continue to refute this crap. This spin is sadly predictable, but that doesn't mean we should ignore it. These zombie lies that everything is peachy keen in Iraq is obviously proven false by the reports and images coming out of the country. Americans aren't stupid. However, if we take our eye off the ball and let these go unquestioned we risk this ludicrous distortions from making their way into the conventional narrative. That should not be allowed.