Lancet report redux

by Chris Bertram on October 11, 2006

According to a new report (pdf) in the Lancet on post-invasion mortality in Iraq:

We estimate that as of July, 2006, there have been 654 965 (392 979–942 636) excess Iraqi deaths as a consequence of the war, which corresponds to 2·5% of the population in the study area. Of post-invasion deaths, 601 027 (426 369–793 663) were due to violence, the most common cause being gunfire.

With a lower bound of 426,369 for violent deaths, maybe we won’t hear from Fred “This isn’t an estimate. It’s a dart board” Kaplan this time.

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{ 170 comments }

1

Jacob T. Levy 10.11.06 at 9:24 am

I understand why the confidence intervals work out this way, but it still looks odd to have a post-invasion lower bound that’s higher than the lower bound of (invasion + post-invasion).

2

Brendan 10.11.06 at 9:24 am

If you were being extremely catty, you would say this is a follow up article to the ‘Faking Da Fizzics’ post below. The question in this one is: to what extent can someone who is statistically illiterate like Kaplan offer a coherent meaningful critique of a statistical report in a scientific journal like the Lancet? (For once I’m not being pretentious here: I actually do have statistics qualifications and I do understand the article).

3

Ugh 10.11.06 at 9:28 am

Hmmm. That’s a lot of commas.

4

Brendan 10.11.06 at 9:40 am

Incidentally, another Lancet report that mysteriously dropped down the memory hole.

http://tinyurl.com/kjqs2.

Perhaps we should pass it to Fred Kaplan or Glenn Reynolds for further statistical analysis.

5

Steve LaBonne 10.11.06 at 9:50 am

“Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just, that his justice cannot sleep forever.”
-Thomas Jefferson

6

Ray 10.11.06 at 9:51 am

But hey – you can’t put a price* on democracy**! I’m sure it will all work out*** in the end****

*in other peoples’ lives

** the correct form of democracy, as guaranteed by a large military presence, obviously

*** for certain values of ‘working out’

**** I’ll be sure to get back to you with a date

7

engels 10.11.06 at 9:54 am

In other news, from a rare excursion to Harry’s Place I see there is currently no mention of this, but the lead post starts out with a reference to the “now largely discredited Stopper left”. I’d suggest that anyone who can throw out a little aside like that, as if it is a self-evident truth, appears to have taken up permanent residence in the Nuttersphere…

8

bi 10.11.06 at 10:03 am

A few things come to mind, as always:

- We must find a way to blame the 426,369+ deaths on Clinton.

- Whatever happened to national civility?

- Because Michael Moore is fat.

9

Marc Mulholland 10.11.06 at 10:16 am

I reckon Harry’s Place will have consulted the oracle and there found this curious message, ostensibly apropos nothing:

“I’m not talking about it. I’m even not-talking about it – although nearly everbody else is.’

‘Why aren’t you?’

‘So that people can creatively ascribe to me all sorts of fanciful notions on the basis of what I haven’t said.’”

10

bob mcmanus 10.11.06 at 10:17 am

So certainly Bush is moving up the rankings, tho he will have to attack Iran and NK to approach Mao, Stalin, or Hitler.

11

CJCJC 10.11.06 at 10:26 am

Not even then – to approach Mao or Stalin he’ll have kill some tens of millions of Americans…

12

chris y 10.11.06 at 10:32 am

Bob, he’s waaay short of Mao, Stalin or Hitler. He’s not even in shouting distance of Mussolini. For a start, it remains more likely than not that he’ll leave office in 2008 (if there’s still an office to leave).

He’s inched ahead of the Marquis of Salisbury, that’s all. And he should still be impeached.

13

Christmas 10.11.06 at 10:53 am

And he should still be impeached.

Impeached, hell. He should be sent to the Hague.

14

Christmas 10.11.06 at 10:56 am

Not even then – to approach Mao or Stalin he’ll have kill some tens of millions of Americans…

Why would this be the case? Is there a special value of extra-badness for extinguishing domestic human life as opposed to merely extinguishing foreign human life?

15

P O'Neill 10.11.06 at 11:12 am

Holding the William Buckley Chair as Professor of Statistics at the National Review, John Podhoretz tells us

I am not a demographer nor a statistician nor a medical person, but isn’t “cluster sampling” a means of extrapolating phenomena occurring in nature like disease patterns and the like? Surely deaths as a result of war and terror are not “natural” phenomena that can be measured through population extrapolation.

16

bob mcmanus 10.11.06 at 11:19 am

13:Word

17

BruceR 10.11.06 at 11:20 am

Obviously there is, Christmas, or we wouldn’t be in this mes, ostensibly protecting American lives by overseeing the death of tens of thousands of non-Americans.

18

neil 10.11.06 at 11:28 am

He’s got a ways to go before he reaches LBJ, even.

19

bi 10.11.06 at 11:29 am

P O’Neill: War isn’t a natural phenomenon? Then it must be a supernatural one.

20

P O'Neill 10.11.06 at 11:50 am

In fairness to the Corner, Iain Murray is actually trying to enlighten Podhoretz that cluster sampling is a legitimate stastistical methodology.

21

Daniel 10.11.06 at 12:27 pm

For what it’s worth, I’ve just sent emails to the two statisticians quoted in the New York Times article to ask them if they were quoted correctly. I’m pretty sure that Blendon has been badly misquoted and suspect that Berry has been at best taken out of context.

22

Brendan 10.11.06 at 12:46 pm

“For what it’s worth, I’ve just sent emails to the two statisticians quoted in the New York Times article to ask them if they were quoted correctly. I’m pretty sure that Blendon has been badly misquoted and suspect that Berry has been at best taken out of context.”

Yes, gosh, isn’t it funny, the way that this report is being reported….as opposed to the way, for example, the various reports about deaths in the Sudan (where the perpetrators were evil Muslim types with beards and scimitars (probably)) were?

On Radio 4, for example, I heard the commentator arguing that because it was ‘difficult’ to get accurate statistics from warzones (no shit, sherlock) then perhaps all (!) statistical estimates of deaths and suchlike from such places were dubious, and perhaps we will never know. Unless it’s the warzones of our enemies of course, in which case we must believe the statistics immediately, especially if they make ‘them’ look bad, and, therefore, ‘us’ look good.

We then cut to that great statistical mind of our time George Bush giving his views that the statistics were obviously wrong, cos, you know, yeah but no but yeah but, it’s too big and that, innit?

Presumably later questions were directed towards the President’s views on gravity waves, and recent critiques of string theory. We already know his profound views on natural selection. Still, teach the controversy, eh?

23

David Kane 10.11.06 at 12:53 pm

Although I should give up my CT addiction, I can’t help but compare the quality of open-minded debate in this thread to this one at LGF.

Crooked Timber: The Little Green Footballs of the academic left.

On a substantive point, do people like Daniel find it credible that 500 Iraqis a day are dying as a result of the war? That seems awfully high. Where were those 500 deaths yesterday and the day before? Where are the news articles about those deaths? Perhaps my leftist friends are correct and the corporate media is covering up for their Republican overlords, refusing to report on hundreds of Iraqi deaths every single day.

I need to reread my Chomsky.

For the record, I have contacted the lead author to request access to the underlying data. Honest researchers grant such access (baring non-disclosure agreements and the like). If the Lancet team refuses to grant such access, should we take their results seriously?

24

stuart 10.11.06 at 12:58 pm

Of course you realise that at some point in the future there would only be a single person left in Iraq, at that point a democracy is bound to work and there would be no more sectarian problems. Is this maybe the plan behind the scenes?

25

Brendan 10.11.06 at 1:23 pm

At the risk of getting into a pointless and stupid debate with David Kane (oh look it’s too late i’ve already done it), I would like to ask three questions.

1: Do you think it is in the slightest bit surprising, or curious, even, that you and your right wing friends haven’t seen fit to cast your cold statistical eyes over reports which fit your political preconceptions? For example, recent reports, using exactly the same methodology on fatalities in the Congo? Or the latest claims of genocide (of about 600,000 people…how inconvenient) in the Sudan?

2: You presumably believe that Saddam Hussein killed roughly 300,000 people. Do you think it is surprising that I don’t recall reading 300,000 obituaries of dead Iraqis during the time he was doing that? Or newpaper reports, listing the names of all these people? But “Where are the news articles about those deaths?”. Ergo they didn’t really happen, I suppose. After all, it’s all the news that’s fit to print!

3: George Bush, who presumably reads every article in the Lancet and just happened to pick this one at random to demonstrate his statistical acumen, also disagrees with the findings of this study. Do you find it a coincidence, or not, that both of you have happened to stumble upon the same approach to this complex issue? Did you both share a similar statistical approach to other papers and issues? Do you have any examples?

And another point: I would like to know the details of the other (presumably, many) papers that you have been so intrigued by that you have felt duty bound to write to the authors to request the raw data. After all, you are clearly fascinated by and extremely knowledegable of, statistics, and I would like to know which other ‘standard’ papers (the conclusions of which are accepted by almost every respected statistician) you have also felt you have a moral duty to question.

26

fifi 10.11.06 at 1:29 pm

He’s inched ahead of the Marquis of Salisbury, that’s all.

And Saddam.

27

engels 10.11.06 at 1:29 pm

If the Lancet team refuses to grant such access, should we take their results seriously?

And if they do, will you finally stop insinuating, without any evidence at all, that respected scientists, who happen to have come to conclusions you find inconvenient, are unprofessional or dishonest? BTW I hope you enclosed a stamped addressed envelope, although I’m sure the guy will reply by the return of post in any case: he’s obviously not going to have any more pressing demands on his time at the moment.

28

David Kane 10.11.06 at 1:31 pm

brendan writes:

I would like to know the details of the other (presumably, many) papers that you have been so intrigued by that you have felt duty bound to write to the authors to request the raw data.

Actually, I do this all the time in my professional work. Alas, because finance data like CRSP and Compustat generally requires a license, researchers just pass around specific codes requested and the like. Owen Lamont does a fine job of making his data public (although some links seem broken now).

For more on the importance of replication to progress in the social sciences, start here.

29

Seth Finkelstein 10.11.06 at 1:37 pm

David Kane: “On a substantive point, do people like Daniel find it credible that 500 Iraqis a day are dying as a result of the war? That seems awfully high.”

Over the whole country, in the midst of a civil war? Sure, that sounds very reasonable. Moreover, their estimate is actually validated by the lower Body Count estimate, because that one is sure to be way underreported.

So – your points have been addressed from two different directions:

1) Civil wars are bloody affairs
2) Correcting for underreporting, the Lancet estimate seems in the ballpark from the lower Body Count estimate.

I now await a reply along the lines of “Oh, that explains it, it really is reasonable after all, thank you for demonstrating that”. I will not hold my breath.

30

Matt 10.11.06 at 1:42 pm

Also, David, I don’t think anyone here has called for the mass killing or deportation of anyone. That alone makes this very much unlike every LGF thread I’ve ever seen.

31

Brendan 10.11.06 at 1:43 pm

Gee, no really? People feel the need to replicate data and check sources? Who’d a thunk it. The problem is not the request for sources, the question is for what, and in what spirit? You say you do this all the time in your job. Fair enough. But your job is, presumably, nothing to do with calculating civilian deaths in Iraq. So why are you so interested in this data?

Also, how would you feel if some commentator requested your raw data, and then, before you had had a chance to reply, insinuated, on the basis of no evidence whatsoever (in a public forum, i.e. this one), knowing nothing about the subject, that the data may have been ‘massaged’ in some way?

Are you aware of how serious that accusation is in science? Of how people lose their jobs for faking, or ‘altering’ their data? And why do you feel you can throw out (or worse, insinuate it without quite having the nerve to say it) this accusation on the basis of, to repeat absolutely no evidence of any sort whatsoever?

32

franck 10.11.06 at 1:43 pm

Something doesn’t add up with the Saddam 300,000 dead figure. Is that excluding the casualties of the Iran-Iraq war? According to wikipedia, those added up to 1 million plus killed and wounded alone – 500,000 Iranian soldiers killed/wounded, 375,000 Iraqi soldiers killed/wounded and hundreds of thousands of civilians killed/wounded. After all, Saddam started that war, though the Iranians did prolong it after 1982.

One interesting aspect of the data (according to the NYT) is that for June 05 to June 06, about 70% of the deaths are not the responsibility of the coalition forces. That correlates with what we have been hearing from many other sources, that the civil war is in full swing, and that American forces are becoming bystanders in many cases.

33

P O'Neill 10.11.06 at 1:44 pm

There’s nothing mysterious about the supposed discrepancy between a 500 a day death estimate and media reports. The media reports cover Baghdad only, and rely heavily on the Baghdad morgue. But check out the Lancet article’s map on page 6. Baghdad is not even a highest mortality area by their calculation — but some of the heavily populated areas near it are. How many reporters are operating in Baqubah, Ramadi, Fallujah? I also don’t see what mystery access to their data will solve, since the issue is not their data calculations, but the validity of their sampling frame.

34

engels 10.11.06 at 1:47 pm

And David, as Brendan says, presumably the deaths caused by Saddam were a factor in your supporting the Iraq war (there being no “weapons of mass destruction”). Did you check these numbers by finding news reports for all of them? Have you got hold of the underlying data used for those estimates? Surely any honest and competent person opining on this issue would have done so… unless, of course, they are part of some evil conspiracy.

35

Donald Johnson 10.11.06 at 1:47 pm

David K, if you want to disbelieve this latest Lancet paper (I agree the number is stunningly large and I’m not sure what to make of it), you might as well just go on and accuse the authors or the survey team of fraud, because it doesn’t seem at all likely that bad statistical analysis will explain it. It’s simple–they questioned about 1800 families totalling around 12,000 people and found that there had been 300 post-invasion violent deaths. That’s the 2.5 percent death toll. The actual analysis is much more complicated, but that’ll do for a blog comment and anyway, that’s all I can manage. I’m not a statistician, but it seems extremely unlikely that they would find 300 deaths if the expected number from such a survey was only 30.

So if I were you, I’d fall back on accusations of fraud.

36

Cian 10.11.06 at 1:58 pm

Brendan, the report I heard on radio 4 (6.00 news I think), disaparagingly referred to it as an “academic survey”. You know, typical bloody ivory tower academics going into war zones and knocking on people’s doors.

I going to make a formal complaint about it to the BBC, and I recommend other people do as well.

37

Chris Bertram 10.11.06 at 2:05 pm

Btw, the “comment from GWB”:http://www.alternet.org/blogs/peek/42872/ on the report is utterly surreal:

bq. PRESIDENT BUSH: No, I don’t control it a credible report, neither does General Casey and neither do Iraqi officials. I do know that a lot of innocent people have died and it troubles me and grieves me. And I applaud the Iraqis for their courage in the face of violence. I am, you know, amazed that this is a society which so wants to be free that they’re willing to — you know, that there’s a level of violence that they tolerate.

38

nick s 10.11.06 at 2:12 pm

I suspected that David Kane was a hack, and now I know, I don’t have to worry any more. Or engage with his hackery, since he’s gone straight to the defamation or ‘lying Iraqi’ angle.

Daniel will doubtless have to file for a few days off, since he made himself something of an ever-present corrective to hackery on this topic. But the new study — and let’s call it the ‘Bloomberg School of Public Health study’, shall we, just to embrace the cognitive dissonance from the denialists? — backs up the earlier one’s numbers. Alas, that will allow 2004′s hacks more easily to dismiss it. But they are hacks, after all.

But I’ll toss in this little nugget for David: where are the underlying data for the Armenian mass killings? And why is Yad Vashem three million short in its list of names? I say this, holding my nose, only because the pig-headed denialists are heading rather rapidly into David Irving territory.

39

Rich B. 10.11.06 at 2:20 pm

In fairness to the Corner, Iain Murray is actually trying to enlighten Podhoretz that cluster sampling is a legitimate stastistical methodology.

In complete unfairness to the Corner, J-Pod has responded in a 3:02 post that considers the ramifications of people killed by “IUDs”.

While it is certainly a (repeated) typo, I like to think that he’s mixing up his pro-life ramblings with his pro-war ramblings.

40

Randolph Fritz 10.11.06 at 2:34 pm

“maybe we won’t hear from Fred ‘This isn’t an estimate. It’s a dart board’ Kaplan this time.”

Being a propagandist means never having to say, “I was wrong.”

BTW, the question is, is David Kane a *paid* hack.

41

Jim Harrison 10.11.06 at 2:35 pm

Time for the right wingers and liberal hawks to prepare yet another fall back position. The “at least it’s better now than under Saddam” bit is no longer operative and has to be crammed into garage along with the WMD excuse and the war on terror excuse.

42

P O'Neill 10.11.06 at 2:50 pm

I should have known that any good streak in the Corner couldn’t last. Now Murray is up to “it’s not as bad as the impact of AIDS on Botswana” which is both true and completely beside the point.

43

engels 10.11.06 at 2:50 pm

I have written to David Kane, asking him to send me photocopies of his birth certificate (in triplicate). This would establish beyond a doubt (once I check that it is not forged, of course) that he was too young to have been involved in the assassination of John F. Kennedy. I can see no reason why it shouldn’t be on my desk first thing tomorrow morning… if David Kane has nothing to hide… But if David Kane doesn’t provide me with these documents… what would this say about his honesty? His professional competence? His relationship with Lee Harvey Oswald? In the interests of “open-minded discussion” I suggest we spend the rest of the thread speculating groundlessly on this hypothetical…

44

BrendanH 10.11.06 at 3:22 pm

David Kane makes a big deal of data release, as if he expects the Lancet authors to weasel out of if. They released their data the last time (I analysed it and got a narrower confidence interval, using a simpler technique). There is no reason to suspect they won’t do the same this time.

45

CJCJC 10.11.06 at 3:30 pm

Surely the issue here, as in all the other similarly derived estimates cited, is the representativeness of the sample, circumstances under which the data were gathered, etc., rather than the data itself. So I’m not sure what Mr Kane is likely to find out.

It is slightly depressing, but I suppose inevitable, that the denialists automatically dismiss, while the ‘stoppers’ rush to compare them to David Irving (I don’t think holocaust estimates were made in quite this way, were they?) !

46

nick s 10.11.06 at 4:00 pm

(I don’t think holocaust estimates were made in quite this way, were they?)

Many Holocaust revisionists start with ‘that number’s too durned big’ and head towards arguments that hide their basis in gut sensibility. I don’t head lightly in that Godwinian direction, but I think that critiques that are basically ‘too durned big’ are dumb enough to deserve the comparison.

I’ve not rushed in that direction. I wouldn’t have done it in 2004, and I’m loathe to do it now. But cheap, selective uses of the ‘That seems awfully high’ response deserve to be slapped down. Come up with a substantive critique, or take an antacid for your gut.

47

David Kane 10.11.06 at 4:07 pm

brendanh writes:

David Kane makes a big deal of data release, as if he expects the Lancet authors to weasel out of if. They released their data the last time (I analysed it and got a narrower confidence interval, using a simpler technique).

This is not completely true. They released some of their data but only in summary form. (This was posted by Tim Lambert, but I can’t find the link now.) They refused to release the details. They also refused to supply enough information to replicate their results. AFAIK, no one was able to reproduce their results (although some got quite close).

It is perfectly reasonable to argue that replication is stupid and that all the journals with replication policies are ridiculous. Perhaps replication is just a waste of time. But, if you believe in replication, you should be upset that the Lancet authors (the first time around) refused to release the underlying data. Perhaps the second time will be different.

48

Brett Bellmore 10.11.06 at 4:08 pm

The other issue, in addition to whether the sampling is accurate and representative, is the matter of moral reasoning: Nobody is seriously claiming that the US itself, and through it’s agents, is killing a half million innocent Iraqis a year. Rather, the vast majority of those deaths, assuming the number is accurate, fall into two catagories:

Guilty Iraqis,

and,

Innocent people killed by the other side in this war.

Perfectly reasonable people can believe that the death of quilty Iraqis is plus, not a minus, and that the deaths caused by the other side belong on THEIR moral tab, not ours.

We went in and deposed a murderous dictator. The people who wanted to take his place didn’t HAVE to start a war to obstruct Iraqi democracy, and assert their own control. That was a choice THEY made, and the guilt of that choice lies with them, not us.

And they could kill a million of their fellow Iraqis, and that would only make THEM more guilty, not us. So this Lancet study, like the previous, does not prove our actions wrong, absent additional moral premises which are, to say the least, contraversial.

49

Francis 10.11.06 at 4:10 pm

guilty Iraqis?

And the tribunals adjudicating their guilt were held when?

50

Kevin Donoghue 10.11.06 at 4:10 pm

David Kane makes a big deal of data release, as if he expects the Lancet authors to weasel out of if. They released their data the last time….

In fairness to David Kane, he was the one who got Les Roberts to release the cluster-level data.

51

Richard 10.11.06 at 4:11 pm

I see this is being painted by LGF as an October surprise – a nefarious attempt by a British medical journal to influence US congressional elections.
Which makes me wonder:

1. how egotistical and egocentric do you have to be to assume that everything printed around the world is aimed at your own political infighting?

2. how did George convince Kim to help him out by blowing up one of his bombs in October? I thought they weren’t on speaking terms. Maybe he felt sorry for George, what with him having a homo prevert in his ranks and all.

Finally, given that the official US position since the invasion began has been “we don’t count Iraqi corpses,” what’s the basis for their intuition regarding civilian body count? Why is this an issue anyway, when the dead aren’t Americans? If it was OK to make the statement that dead Iraqis don’t count in 2003, why is it inappropriate to note that again in 2006?

52

soru 10.11.06 at 4:16 pm

If the new study correctly shows that deaths were 5 times higher than other counting methods, does that mean that the standard death totals for every other war before ~1990 were off by about the same factor?

In other words, did the Iran-Iraq war have a net excess mortality of 5 million, not 1 million?

53

Brett Bellmore 10.11.06 at 4:22 pm

“And the tribunals adjudicating their guilt were held when?”

I said “guilty” Iraqis, not “convicted” Iraqis.

54

Barry 10.11.06 at 4:31 pm

Brett: “And they could kill a million of their fellow Iraqis, and that would only make THEM more guilty, not us. So this Lancet study, like the previous, does not prove our actions wrong, absent additional moral premises which are, to say the least, contraversial.”

Brett, by both the Geneva Conventions and common decency, the occupying power is responsible for public safety. Many opponents of the war (left, right, centrist) pointed out that the Bush ‘plan’ was to wish for the best, while lying like crazy.

Bush, his administration, and all of you war supporters were *warned* repeatedly, that this was likely, unless strong measures were taken.

Bush, his administration, and all of you war supporters have repeatedly told us to go f*ck ourselves, both metaphorically and literally.

It’s your guilt.

55

Kevin Donoghue 10.11.06 at 4:36 pm

“They released some of their data but only in summary form. (This was posted by Tim Lambert, but I can’t find the link now.) They refused to release the details.”

The link:

http://timlambert.org/2005/12/lancet-study/

Discussion of what can be done with the data re-started at the end of this thread.

David Kane wanted more detail, drilling down to the level of towns. That’s not a reasonable demand. If some of the towns are small, revealing that they are in the sample might breach undertakings given to the respondents.

56

Patrick Banks 10.11.06 at 4:37 pm

So Brett,

Do you think gross incompetence is more excusable than malice?

57

engels 10.11.06 at 4:40 pm

I suppose, Brett, if I locked you in a room full of cannibals, you wouldn’t blame me in the least when they subsequently ate you for dinner. You’d just put it all their tab, right?

58

nick s 10.11.06 at 4:51 pm

Perfectly reasonable people can believe that the death of quilty Iraqis is plus, not a minus, and that the deaths caused by the other side belong on THEIR moral tab, not ours.

Well, you can, Brett. But that’s distinct from your own premise. If you want to say ‘the only good Iraqi’s a dead Iraqi’, then at least be up front about it.

So this Lancet study, like the previous, does not prove our actions wrong, absent additional moral premises which are, to say the least, contraversial.

That’s barely palatable in cases of ‘sins of omission’, such as Rwanda or Darfur; for Iraq, where the US bears legal and actual responsibility for the post-invasion conditions, that’s just lofty nose-in-the-air bullshit. I’m sure it makes you sleep more soundly at night, but it doesn’t make over half a million Iraqis less dead.

59

Jim Harrison 10.11.06 at 4:52 pm

The responses of Bush’s last ditch supporters reinforce my belief that the only way to restore some vestige of honor to America is a comprehensive prosecution of those responsible for the war. Bush needs to leave office not merely in disgrace, but in leg irons. There has to be a price for killing a half a million people.

60

Christopher M 10.11.06 at 5:04 pm

Perfectly reasonable people can believe that the death of quilty Iraqis is plus, not a minus, and that the deaths caused by the other side belong on THEIR moral tab, not ours.

I really don’t see what’s perfectly reasonable about thinking such a bizarre thing. By this logic, if I noticed that my neighbor’s door was unlocked and decided to help him out by sticking a large sign up on his door saying “THIS DOOR IS UNLOCKED AND NO ONE IS HOME!,” then it wouldn’t be my fault at all when his house got burglarized & all his valuables stolen. What?! I was just trying to help! The larcenies caused by the burglars belong on THEIR moral tab, not mine!

Moral responsibilities do not sum to 100%. The burglars are 100% responsible for stealing (barring mitigating circumstances), and I am 100% responsible for being a blithering idiot who created the opportunity for them to do it.

61

Uncle Kvetch 10.11.06 at 5:09 pm

Brett, by both the Geneva Conventions and common decency, the occupying power is responsible for public safety.

Yes; it seems obvious, and yet how easy it is for the likes of Brett to arrogate to themselves credit for the good (“We toppled a brutal dictator!”) while washing their hands of the bad.

Maybe this will help. I’ve attempted to get an answer from the war supporters on this several times now…might as well try again:

I assume the position of Chief of Police of a large city. My first act in this position is to fire 75% of the force. This is only the first of many moves that prove my staggering incompetence, which results in a crime wave in which thousands of innocent people are brutally killed, both in the streets and in their homes.

By Brett’s logic, I bear no responsibility whatsoever for those deaths, because I didn’t commit the crimes…the criminals did!

This must be that personal responsibility thing I’m always hearing conservatives going on about.

62

Brendan 10.11.06 at 5:09 pm

“They also refused to supply enough information to replicate their results”.

This quote is very very very very very stupid. I simply cannot be bothered pointing out why. Just think about what sort of place Iraq is at present, who is likely to have died, and why they might have been killed. And then think about the word ‘replicate’ (which Kane obviously means to mean ‘replicate precisely’ i.e. the same study with the same people). And then why the authors of the study might have a problem releasing this data.

(Note: if he doesn’t mean ‘replicate precisely’ then of course the study could be replicated. Hey Dave man, why don’t you do it! That’s right, just go from door to door round Baghdad and Fallujah asking the Iraqis how many people have been killed. I’ll pay for your taxi to the airport).

Incidentally, Soru, DK, you others: how do you all feel about the implication of Bush’s remark (quoted above by Chris Bertram) that the Iraqi people are actually voluntarily undergoing this violence, and that (again, implied) they believe it is a price worth paying to be ‘free’?

63

Matt 10.11.06 at 5:11 pm

It’s not really any use trying to argue with Brett. He’s impervious to reason and argument.

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David Kane 10.11.06 at 5:14 pm

David Kane wanted more detail, drilling down to the level of towns. That’s not a reasonable demand. If some of the towns are small, revealing that they are in the sample might breach undertakings given to the respondents.

I wanted more detail because that is the best way to check for fraud in a survey. For example, what if one team of questioners always reported higher death counts then the other, in every singe town that they both visited? That would suggest that one team is reporting too high or the other too low. Something is certainly wrong. But without access to the data at that level (which, as far as I can determine, the peer reviewers did not have), you can’t know if everything is OK.

Roberts, in personal communication, claimed that the IRB filed on the study precluded him from providing better data to outsiders. He then refused to provide a copy of the IRB to me or to tell me how I could get one myself. Perhaps he was busy with his Congressional campaign. (It has been on my list to contact Johns Hopkins directly but I have not done so yet.)

Again, I am not accusing Roberts et al of fraud. I am accusing them of preventing other researchers from replicating and confirming their results. Without checking the data, it is hard for you (or the Lancet reviewers) to be sure of any conclusions the article draws.

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engels 10.11.06 at 5:15 pm

BTW Brett, even thought of moving to Iraq? Taxes are low, guns are plentiful, government is, ahem, “small” and there’s certainly no nanny state. What’s not to like?

66

Matt 10.11.06 at 5:43 pm

Could Brett take his mail-order bride there, though?

67

David Kane 10.11.06 at 5:49 pm

brendan seems confused on the meaning of replicate in the context of an academic paper. Here is one definition.

The replication standard holds that sufficient information exists with which to understand, evaluate, and build upon a prior work if a third party can replicate the results without any additional information from the author.

When I claim that no one has replicated the results of either Lancet study and that the Lancet authors have refused to make replication possible, this is what I mean.

68

soru 10.11.06 at 6:00 pm

that the Iraqi people are actually voluntarily undergoing this violence, and that (again, implied) they believe it is a price worth paying to be ‘free’?

You might think it incredible, but statistical surveys at least as good as the Lancet one do seem to show that that is the case.

If that doesn’t match your intuition, I guess either the statistics or your gut feeling is wrong.

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Brett Bellmore 10.11.06 at 6:08 pm

How interesting; I never knew that under the Geneva conventions, we had an obligation, not to fight the insurgency, but instead instantly prevail over them, and that we were legally to blame for anybody they killed due to that failure to instantly win. You learn something new every day…

“If you want to say ‘the only good Iraqi’s a dead Iraqi’, then at least be up front about it.”

If I actually meant to say something like that, rest assured I would. How about, “The only good insurgent battling to reestablish tyranny is a dead insurgent!”? Seems a bit closer to what I actually said.

70

Uncle Kvetch 10.11.06 at 6:11 pm

I never knew that under the Geneva conventions, we had an obligation, not to fight the insurgency, but instead instantly prevail over them

That would be the insurgency that didn’t exist until we invaded the country, right? I see your point: how in God’s name could we be considered responsible for that?

and that we were legally to blame for anybody they killed due to that failure to instantly win

Legally, maybe. Morally, definitely. Not a distinction I’m going to waste time going into with you, Brett.

71

Uncle Kvetch 10.11.06 at 6:13 pm

You might think it incredible, but statistical surveys at least as good as the Lancet one do seem to show that that is the case.

BAGHDAD, Iraq – A strong majority of Iraqis want U.S.-led military forces to immediately withdraw from the country, saying their swift departure would make Iraq more secure and decrease sectarian violence, according to new polls by the State Department and independent researchers.

In Baghdad, for example, nearly three-quarters of residents polled said they would feel safer if U.S. and other foreign forces left Iraq, with 65 percent of those asked favoring an immediate pullout, according to polling results obtained by the Washington Post.

Another new poll, scheduled to be released today by the Program on International Policy Attitudes at the University of Maryland, found that 71 percent of Iraqis questioned want the Iraqi government to ask foreign forces to depart within a year. By large margins, though, Iraqis believed that the U.S. government would refuse the request, with 77 percent of those polled saying the United States intends to keep permanent military bases in the country.”

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engels 10.11.06 at 6:28 pm

So, Brett, to repeat, if things in Iraq are so darn peachy, except for those demonic Iraqis who are “guilty” of the capital offence of taking up arms against an invading foreign army, why don’t you move there? I’m not joking about the government: by all accounts it’s a libertarian utopia.

73

nick s 10.11.06 at 6:45 pm

How about, “The only good insurgent battling to reestablish tyranny is a dead insurgent!”? Seems a bit closer to what I actually said.

I’ll qualify myself: the set of ‘excess dead Iraqis’, qua Bellmore, is divided into ‘glad they’re dead’ and ‘don’t really give a fuck that they’re dead’.

One wonders why glibertarians get such bad press.

74

vkri 10.11.06 at 6:58 pm

David Kane,
Do you read the newspapers everyday? I mean ones like the NYT and Washington Post? They have articles tucked away in their websites like this:

“110 Bodies Found in Baghdad in 24 Hours”, link:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/10/10/AR2006101000156.html

Or this:
“http://www.antiwar.com/updates/?articleid=9830″
:”196 Killed, 45 Injured in Tuesday Iraq Violence”
Or This:
http://www.antiwar.com/updates/?articleid=9821
” Monday: 73 Iraqis, 3 US Marines, US Soldier Killed; 18 Iraqis Kidnapped”

Note that most of the reports are from *Baghdad* alone. Do you think that if 500 deaths a day in *all* of Iraq are too much, 110 deaths are too much in Baghdad too? Or maybe the reporters from Reuters and the Washington Post are liars too.

At least have the decency to admit that, just possibly, there is a tiny chance that the Lancet studies may actually be reasonable estimates; instead of implying fraud at the drop of a hat. It is chaps like you who were the cheerleaders for this completely pointless and bungled war.

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Russell L. Carter 10.11.06 at 7:07 pm

I think I have to sort of stick up for David Kane here. Even though every personal opinion he’s stated appears to be yummy wingnuttery, I think he’s right that you ought to be able to take the raw sample data and reproduce the final results. Note the context, the team has now jumped twice through the hoops of getting the same methodology published in the Lancet and the reviewers are presumably hypersensitive to any flaws, which if glossed over would reflect negatively on their reputations. So I think it quite reasonable that the raw data (personal info redacted) be made available.

Also, Brett Bellmore is fat.

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Brownie 10.11.06 at 8:12 pm

uncle kvetch,

How do your citations disprove soru’s point that “statistical surveys at least as good as the Lancet one do seem to show that that [Iraqis believe the price they are paying is worth it]“?

If I’m not mistaken, soru would have been thinking of the numerous polls where the “was it worth it?” question was put and Iraqis answered in the affirmative. See here for a synopsis. There has been at least one BBC World poll since then in which Iraqis answer the same way. As per JW, I’m not aware of a single poll where a majority of Iraqis conclude “it wasn’t worth it”.

For statistics fetishists with an unhealthy interest in the Iraq war, this really ought to be food for thought, no?

77

joejoejoe 10.11.06 at 8:14 pm

I found this on the website of Senator Sam Brownback of Kansas, ‘Hope for Africa’s Forgotten’ a report from a fact-finding trip to Congo:

_”The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), formerly Zaire, has been riddled by war, rebel violence, and humanitarian crisis for several years. It is in a place that has seen death and disease of great proportions. In one of the deadliest conflicts since the end of World War II, an estimated 4 million people have lost their lives and many have fled as refugees. Statistics show that 98% of deaths were from non-combatant related problems, like hunger and disease. This situation has been called the “forgotten tsunami” by humanitarian workers on the ground. With as many as 1,000 people dying per day, a tsunamisized tragedy is happening every few months.”_

The methodology for this report on Congo is identical to the methodology in Iraq. Both studies were conducted by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health

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Brownie 10.11.06 at 8:21 pm

vkri,

The report of “100 bodies found in Baghdad” made it to the press preceisely becasue of its exceptional nature and not because such finds are a daily occurrence.

The original study published in October 2004 went with 100,000 excess deaths as the confidence interval mid-point. This was for the period Mar 2003 – Sep 2004. The new study has revised upwards the figure for this period to 112,000. This means that for the 22 month period Oct 2004 to Jul 2006, the study finds 543,000 excess deaths (655,000 – 112,000). This breaks down to an average of 822 excess deaths every day for the 670 or so days between Oct 2004 and July 2006. Given we’re talking an average of 822, this means that >1,000 daily excess deaths must be commonplace.

Even allowing for the fact that most bodies don’t make it to the morgue/hospital, if death at these levels were occurring on anything like a daily basis, it’s inconceivable that the Iraqi and western media would be missing 90% of it. Yes, foreign journalists don’t spend much time outside of the green-zone, but that didn’t mean we were denied hourly updates about the battle for Falluja. If, for instance, 100 people died in Mosul on any given day, I’d expect the local news media organisations at least – including those cited by Iraqbodycount – to maybe mention it.

Note, I’m in no way commenting directly on the methodology and statistical rigour employed compiling this new report, just passing comment on the direct implications of the figures assuming they are accurate.

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Clayton 10.11.06 at 8:23 pm

Yeah, JJJ, but one’s about Congo and the other’s about Iraq. Maybe numbers don’t work everywhere.

80

Barry 10.11.06 at 8:55 pm

Brett: “How interesting; I never knew that under the Geneva conventions, we had an obligation, not to fight the insurgency, but instead instantly prevail over them, and that we were legally to blame for anybody they killed due to that failure to instantly win. You learn something new every day…”

Brett, stop lying, stop putting words in my mouth. An obligation to handle something like you gave a flying f*ck whether you succeeded or not is not an obligation to succeed instantly.

81

Barry 10.11.06 at 9:08 pm

Brownie: “…it’s inconceivable that the Iraqi and western media would be missing 90% of it.”

Directly contradicted by the very next sentence:

” Yes, foreign journalists don’t spend much time outside of the green-zone,”

And journalists have reported that even Iraqi journalist are very, very restricted in their reporting. Presumably, the most dangerous areas are the ones in which reporting is the most difficult and dangerous.

” but that didn’t mean we were denied hourly updates about the battle for Falluja.”

I don’t recall *any* updates on the total deaths from Falluja, coming from the Pentagon.

” If, for instance, 100 people died in Mosul on any given day, I’d expect the local news media organisations at least – including those cited by Iraqbodycount – to maybe mention it.”

As has been pointed out, for Baghdad, at least, there’ve been many, many, many, *many* reports of mass killings. And those are the ones which, presumably, weren’t done well. Considering that the Interior Ministry (i.e., police) is run by Shiite militias, they’d have to be lazy or careless not to be doing a fair amount of killing, with competant body disposal. Trucks+bulldozers+empty desert = lots of bodies buried, not to be found for years.

And when finding a half-dozen bodies, in the capital, is barely newsworthy, individual killings become background noise.

In addition to that, both Lancet studies didn’t just cover violent deaths, but deaths from all causes. When the hospitals are stipped of supplies, you don’t dare go there in many cases, the water, electrical and sewage systems are trashed, the flow of goods is disrupted, life gets really, really rough.

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engels 10.11.06 at 9:32 pm

This must be that personal responsibility thing I’m always hearing conservatives going on about.

Speaking of which, but otherwise off-topic, I just came across this wonderful quote from a White House press conference about the North Korea nuclear test.

Q …when you have a President who draws a red line three years ago and says, we will not tolerate nuclear weapons, and now you have a country that just tested a nuclear weapon — you don’t think it’s fair to ask for some accountability as to what happened, or that there were mistakes made?

MR. SNOW: David, the accountability lies in North Korea, not in Washington.

Truman used to have a sign on his desk which said “The buck stops here.” Bush, presumably, has one which says “Don’t look at me!”

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nick s 10.11.06 at 9:57 pm

Even allowing for the fact that most bodies don’t make it to the morgue/hospital, if death at these levels were occurring on anything like a daily basis, it’s inconceivable that the Iraqi and western media would be missing 90% of it.

I do not think that word means what you think it means. Iraqis certainly conceive of it.

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robert 10.11.06 at 10:26 pm

I don’t think David Kane is a hack at all. He got at least some of the data released from the first Lancet piece and, using the definition he posted above (i.e., “sufficient information exists with which to understand, evaluate, and build upon a prior work if a third party can replicate the results without any additional information from the author”) I believe there is clearly sufficient information to understand and evaluate the first article, and there is arguably sufficient information to build upon it. We disagree on this latter point.

David, did you ever put together an R package on Iraq?

85

Tom T. 10.11.06 at 11:09 pm

I know I’m coming along late in this thread, but I hope I can slip in a question. I don’t mean this to sound snarky; I’m seriously asking.

Pre-war, if memory serves, there were reports from UNICEF that the sanctions regime had caused 500,000 excess deaths in Iraq. So is the excess-deaths figure in the Lancet report on top of that extra half-million from the sanctions, or over and above a pre-sanctions rate?

86

John Emerson 10.11.06 at 11:13 pm

Brett Bellmore, no Sebastian Holsclaw. David Kane is new to me. It’s a quiet day in Lake Wobegon.

What is the maximum level of deaths that would make the war OK? 30,000 is OK with Bush, and 600,000 seems too high for everyone.

As a compromise, let’s commission a survey to raise the death estimate to the highest OK level, in order to produce a report which is somewhat plausible but which doesn’t make everyone feel awful.

My suggestion is 150,000 would be about right.

87

John Quiggin 10.11.06 at 11:54 pm

Tom T, the death rate dropped markedly after the introduction of Oil For Food. I think you’ll find the baseline for comparison in the Lancet study was in this period.

But thinking about the current war, sanctions, the last Gulf War and the Iran-Iraq war, the cumulative death and destruction has been horrendous. Iraq is one of a handful of countries that is drastically worse off than it was thirty years ago.

88

Daniel 10.12.06 at 1:12 am

I never knew that under the Geneva conventions, we had an obligation, not to fight the insurgency, but instead instantly prevail over them

The Geneva Conventions are not going to help you much here Brett, since what they actually say is that aggression is the original war crime, from which all other war crimes flow.

TomT: Those figures of 500,000 deaths were established to be untrue (by Richard Garfield, one of the co-authors of the current study). And as John says, the fatalities had reduced markedly under oil-for-food.

I was correct in my supposition in #21 above, by the way.

89

Brendan 10.12.06 at 2:08 am

Well David, if you really feel that the Lancet studies (plural) haven’t been replicated, then why don’t you go out there and replicate them? After all, since Iraq isn’t really that violent (and you have evidence for that idea on the basis that surveys that show high levels of violence seem (to you) ‘awfully high’…what more proof do you need?) then you shouldn’t have any problems should you?

I, for one, am deeply missing the clear thought and rapier sharp intellect of Oliver Kamm here, who at least went on record as stating that it didn’t matter how many Iraqis died (i.e. to him…it presumably matters to them), and it didn’t matter what the Iraqis felt about anything….he personally would decide whether the war was worth it, and that once he had decided (and you will be surprised to hear that he actually has decided the war was worth it, so that’s that problem sorted) no evidence of any sort would change his mind. It’s such a clearer and more coherent position than hearing non statisticians babbling on about confidence intervals, or non pollsters prattling on about opinion poll data.

90

abb1 10.12.06 at 2:24 am

The report of “100 bodies found in Baghdad” made it to the press preceisely becasue of its exceptional nature and not because such finds are a daily occurrence.

Of course it’s a daily occurrence. 2,660 Iraq civilians killed in September:

BAGHDAD, Iraq – More than 2,660 Iraqi civilians were killed in Baghdad in September, according to new Health Ministry figures…

That’s just civilians; add soldiers, policemen and militia members and you’ll have over 100 people killed in Baghdad on an average day in September. Add those who’d only been injured and died later, add non-violent excess deaths and you’ll probably have well over 200 excess deaths per day – just in Baghdad. And then there is the whole Sunni triangle, and Basra, and Mosul, Kirkuk, all those regularly bombed small towns along the Syrian border, etc.

91

Brendan 10.12.06 at 2:31 am

Abb1 what’s wrong with you? Don’t you know that the BBC and all the rest of the big media are run by the Communists? There’s lots of good news out there: it’s just that the media are afraid to cover it! The news story you quote was probably made up by Hizbollah, who, as everyone knows, were responsible for fooling the world into seeing a historic Israeli victory in Lebanon look like a defeat. As Nick Cohen never fails to remind us, it’s just like the ’30s, you know.

92

Steven Poole 10.12.06 at 2:50 am

One interesting aspect of the data (according to the NYT) is that for June 05 to June 06, about 70% of the deaths are not the responsibility of the coalition forces. That correlates with what we have been hearing from many other sources, that the civil war is in full swing, and that American forces are becoming bystanders in many cases.

Yes, for June 05-June 06, “only” 26% of violent deaths are attributed to the “coalition”. Still, by my quite possibly bogus calculation based on Table 4 (165/300 for proportion of reported June 05-June 06 deaths to total post-invasion x 0.26 for proportion killed by “coalition” x 601,027 for proportion of estimated total of violent deaths), this implies that the “coalition” killed 85,947 people in that period. Not too shabby for a bunch of “bystanders”.

93

dave heasman 10.12.06 at 4:19 am

“As per JW, I’m not aware of a single poll where a majority of Iraqis conclude “it wasn’t worth it”.”

That would be live Iraqis, I assume. The dead ones, if pollable, might have a different opinion. This isn’t frivolous – they’re only polling people who’ve had a better-than-average outcome from the invasion. How statistically-valid is that?

94

Brownie 10.12.06 at 10:28 am

The dead ones, if pollable, might have a different opinion. This isn’t frivolous…

Oh, I rather think it is. The live Iraqis polled are the mother and fathers, brother and sisters and sons and daughter of the dead. The wretched souls scratching together an existence in the midst of a “civil war”. And they say it is worth it.

Still, what would they know?

95

Barry 10.12.06 at 10:30 am

Well, since a majority of Iraqis support attacks on US troops, it’s not like they’ll be throwing rice and flowers anytime soon….

96

engels 10.12.06 at 10:41 am

Brownie – If 98% of people in the UK decided it would be “worth it” to kill the other 2%, would that make it okay for the British army to go on and do it?

97

dave heasman 10.12.06 at 10:41 am

“The live Iraqis polled are the mother and fathers, brother and sisters and sons and daughter of the dead. The wretched souls scratching together an existence in the midst of a “civil war”. And they say it is worth it.

Still, what would they know?”

Some are, some aren’t. But they’re alive, and so they’re people who’ve, so far, had a better-than-average outcome. Very few people really mean “I wish I’d died instead”, though it’s often said.

98

Daniel 10.12.06 at 10:48 am

Since “Unknown” makes up about half the violent deaths, one cannot go from the datum that 30% of deaths were attributable to the coalition to the assumption that 70% were not.

99

soru 10.12.06 at 11:08 am

If 98% of people in the UK decided it would be “worth it” to kill the other 2%, would that make it okay for the British army to go on and do it

Nice rhetorical trick. Assume the ridiculous, and show that it leads to a ridiculous conclusion.

What circumstances can you imagine that would cause the British public to favour, by such a heavy margin, killing their own mothers, sons and friends?

Perhaps an infectious zombie plague?

100

David Kane 10.12.06 at 11:30 am

robert asks, “David, did you ever put together an R package on Iraq?” No, but one of my summer interns (Kyle Campbell) did. You can download it here. After installing it, you can see the raw data, a cleaned up version and some nice graphics. Also, try:

> library(“lancet”)
> vignette(“deathrateanalysis”)

Again, it is nothing fancy, but I (and Kyle!) hope that someone finds it useful. Thanks to robert and russell for the kind words.

I like to think that my insistence on access to the underlying data is something that scientists of all partisan affiliations can agree on. I, for one, do not think that scientists who withhold their raw data (modulo privacy issues) on controversial topics should, as a rule of thumb, be believed.

101

nick s 10.12.06 at 11:37 am

I apologise to David Kane: I was much too hasty to deploy the flamethrower, and I agree that the dataset should be released.

102

engels 10.12.06 at 11:42 am

Soru – I’m pleased you admit that Brownie’s assumption was “ridiculous” and you can see that it leads to “a ridiculous conclusion”. But this kind of reasoning is called “logic”, not “rhetoric”.

As I know you have trouble with this logic thing, I’ll throw in another pointer for free. Every single Iraqi civilian who has been killed in this war, and who would be alive today if it hadn’t been for this unnecessary and evil war, had a right to life. It was wrong for him to die and the US and UK governments are culpable in his death. The fact that a majority of living Iraqis might claim that his death was a “price worth paying” (if this is even true) would not change any of this. It would not mean it was morally permissable for him to die, or that the US and UK governments are not culpable.

103

stuart 10.12.06 at 11:52 am

Nice rhetorical trick. Assume the ridiculous, and show that it leads to a ridiculous conclusion.

What circumstances can you imagine that would cause the British public to favour, by such a heavy margin, killing their own mothers, sons and friends?

Perhaps an infectious zombie plague?

I imagine you could say, blame all a countries economic woes on an identifiable fraction of the community and use propaganda to turn people against them. Pretty soon you might have a lot of people well behind such a vote and willing to smash all the windows of the 2% and be supportive of the government policy of interning and then executing them all.

Hmm this rings a bell, maybe the simpsons have done it before?

104

Uncle Kvetch 10.12.06 at 11:59 am

Soru, Brownie, I’ll concede the point that as of February of this year, a majority of Iraqis polled felt that the invasion was “worth it.”

Now then. According to the same pollsters, as of last month, an overwhelming majority of the Iraqis want our (US/UK) troops out of their country within a year, if not sooner. Am I right in presuming that you’ll join with me, and them, in calling on our respective governments to bring this about? We all want what’s best for the Iraqis, don’t we? Or do we presume to know better than they do what’s good for them?

105

Uncle Kvetch 10.12.06 at 12:00 pm

Source for that poll here.

106

soru 10.12.06 at 12:22 pm

Soru – I’m pleased you admit that Brownie’s assumption was “ridiculous” and you can see that it leads to “a ridiculous conclusion”. But this kind of reasoning is called “logic”, not “rhetoric”.

You don’t think the idea of 98% of the british population supporting auto-genocide is just a little bit silly?

An argument of the form ‘Ridiculous facts + premise => ridiculous conclusion’ is not a logically valid way of disproving a premise. Sillyness in, sillyness out.


Every single Iraqi civilian who has been killed in this war, and who would be alive today if it hadn’t been for this unnecessary and evil war, had a right to life.
.

And did those who would have died under Saddam have that inalienable right? Is it plausible Saddam would not have killed a single person?

By what authority do you claim the right to revoke the right to life of that single person?

Note: this is known as a reductio ad absurdum. It starts with your premise, adds known facts, and shows that your premise leads to a ridiculous conclusion. The intent is to show that your premise is ridiculous.

I think you’ll find doing things that way round is logically valid.

107

soru 10.12.06 at 12:31 pm

Uncle K:
‘as of February of this year’, … ‘as of September’

If you check the full poll result here, you will find they asked the same question again in September this year, with similar results:

Q10. Thinking about any hardships you might have suffered since the US- Britain invasion, do you personally think that ousting Saddam Hussein was worth it or not?

Worth it: 61%

And yes, I definitely do think it would be a good thing if US forces were able to successfully withdraw from Iraq.

Anyone here disagree?

108

Uncle Kvetch 10.12.06 at 12:34 pm

I definitely do think it would be a good thing if US forces were able to successfully withdraw from Iraq.

That wasn’t the question. The US is “able” to withdraw immediately, if it so chooses. Should it withdraw, in accordance with the wishes of the Iraqi people, or should it ignore those wishes?

109

engels 10.12.06 at 12:44 pm

Soru – If someone appears to be relying on a general claim about morality, it’s legitimate to test this claim by applying it to particular cases, whether real or imaginary. If you won’t consider hypotheticals, Stuart provided a real historical example of a majority deciding that it was “okay” to kill a minority. I think you’ll agree that they were not morally justified in doing so. Hopefully on consideration you will see that Brownie’s implied claim, that the fact that an (extremely narrow) majority of surviving Iraqis might say that they are in favour of the original invasion might make it morally permissable, is false.

Yes, of course I think that the Iraqis who were killed under Saddam’s regime had a right to life and it was wrong for Saddam to kill them, or to allow them to die. But I can not think why you imagine this fact provides any excuse for the US and UK, who have been responsible for the deaths of 600 000 Iraqis who would not have died under Saddam’s regime.

110

Brendan 10.12.06 at 1:00 pm

“Q10. Thinking about any hardships you might have suffered since the US- Britain invasion, do you personally think that ousting Saddam Hussein was worth it or not?”

That question has always pissed me off, in that it is blatantly loaded. The first clause and the second do not have anything to do with each other. A comparison would make this clear.

Imagine asking, in, say, 1952 (or even better, 1966), someone in Czechoslovakia: “Thinking about what has happened since, do you think the war to oust Hitler from your country (and overthrow Nazi-ism) was worth it?”

Of course they are going to say yes. And yes, I’m not afraid to say that if I was an Iraqi even if my house had been bombed, even if my brother was in Abu Ghraib being tortured and/or murdered by the Americans I would still say it was ‘worth it’ because what the question is really asking, of course, is, ‘are you glad Saddam is gone’? And and the answer is, of course, yes.

To assume any differently would be to assume that the Hungarians or Czechs were ‘happy’ under Stalinism just because they were glad they had been liberated from Hitler (and make no mistake, they were glad, and they greeted the invading Russian army with far more enthusiasm and joy than the Iraqis ever greeted the British or Americans).

The question is not vapid questions about whether x or y was ‘worth it’. The only question that would have mattered in ’52 (or ’66) would have been ‘And are you happy about being under Russian occupation? Do you want Russian troops to leave your country?’ And that would have been very obvious at the time. Any other way of looking at the issue would have been seen as Soviet propaganda, and rightly so.

It’s equally obvious now, to those who have eyes to see.

111

abb1 10.12.06 at 1:06 pm

Doesn’t 61% of “worth it” seem incredibly low? Presumably all 100% of Kurds are included into this 61%, so, it appears to be only a minority of the Arabs who feel this way.

112

Brendan 10.12.06 at 1:09 pm

Incidentally, it seems to me that David Kane is getting an easy ride here. Let’s taste some more of his wisdom.

The central problem with the Lancet study was that it was conducted by people who, before the war started, were against the war, people who felt that the war was likely to increase civilian casualities and who, therefore, had a expectation/desire (unconscious or otherwise) to find the result that they found.” (emphasis added).

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soru 10.12.06 at 1:14 pm

Abb1: The detailed figures are:

Kurd… 81
Shia Arab… 75
Sunni Arab… 11

Feel free to do the math to see if that gives an Arab majority, for whatever value you see that as being.

114

soru 10.12.06 at 1:29 pm

If you won’t consider hypotheticals, Stuart provided a real historical example of a majority deciding that it was “okay” to kill a minority.

You say that’s a ‘real’ example. It’s strange, I was not aware of any survey in 1945 that asked the germans ‘taking account of all the hardship you have been through, the rubble of Berlin currently around you, was everything worth it to kill the Jews’?

In fact, I think such a thing would be ridiculous.

Another example: ‘assume an inherently evil and dangerous race, say vampires, existed. Killing them would be necessary, necessary killing is not evil, therefor genocide is good’.

A ridiculous assumption leading to a ridiculous conclusion does not invalidate the stuff in the middle.

115

engels 10.12.06 at 1:35 pm

Soru – What’s your point? That majority decisions can not possibly be immoral? Do you know any history at all?

116

abb1 10.12.06 at 1:58 pm

Soru,
Feel free to do the math to see if that gives an Arab majority, for whatever value you see that as being.

There is definitely a value, because the Kurds haven’t lived in Saddam’s Iraq since 1991 and there hardly was any invasion, occupation or much invasion-realted casualties in the Kurdish area.

From their point of view, the Americans invaded a dangerous and hostile neighboring country, which is a completely different story.

Your numbers still give me 55% of “worth it” among the Arabs, assuming 70% of the Arabs are the Shia. Not an overwhelming majority. Also, I’m surprised that only 81% of the Kurds feel this way.

117

Brendan 10.12.06 at 2:31 pm

Soru, according to Harrys Place, “400,000″ people have died in the Sudan. But you know that number doesnt seem believable to me. Moreover, they claim ‘a million are waiting to die”. Again, I just don’t believe that. I’m not going to provide any evidence, or argue, or anything like that, that number just ‘feels wrong’.

Could you be a good chap and mosey on over there, and inform them that their evidence is dubious or indeed worthless without looking at the raw data (cf David Kane) or indeed tell them that apparently trivial statistical assumptions might mean that their data is meaningless. Perhaps 40,000 Sudanese have died, or 40, or 4. Who really knows?

http://hurryupharry.bloghouse.net/archives/2006/09/12/what_to_do_about_darfur.php

In any case, I think it would be good for the cause of science if they were to retract this estimate, and proclaim that no one really knows anything, and that, therefore, since we don’t know anything, we can’t really be responsible for anything, can we?

118

Uncle Kvetch 10.12.06 at 3:09 pm

Soru, am I going to get a response to my question…a real one, this time?

119

engels 10.12.06 at 3:13 pm

Following on from what abb1 said, and taking up a rather inflammatory example, is it not a bit like Egypt invading Israel and the Palestinian territories, in order to force a regime change into a binational state, precipitating a bloody civil war with huge death tolls among Jews and Arabs and with the majority of Palestinian Arabs having supported this while the majority of Israeli Jews opposed it? Could such an invasion and subsequent civil war be justified to the Jewish dead, and even the Arab dead, on the grounds that a majority of Palestinian Arabs thought it was “worth the price”?

120

soru 10.12.06 at 3:50 pm

Should it withdraw, in accordance with the wishes of the Iraqi people, or should it ignore those wishes?

My non-expert judgement is that the current best strategic plan is to make an attempt to withdraw.

Not ‘cut and run’ at any cost, but a recognition that if we get all the troops out and the elected government is still in place, that counts as a win.

Sadly, I don’t remotely trust Bush to do that. It would be a good thing if there was at least as much focus on the stragic fuck-up Bush is currently making as there was on his mistakes of 4 years ago.

121

Brownie 10.12.06 at 3:51 pm

This is desperate stuff. In none of the polls cited were Iraqis asked “are you glad Saddam is gone?”. The questions are always contextualized. Take this:

1) As you know the United States, Britain and some allies removed the government of Saddam Hussein in Iraq in 2003. Do you think that this was the right decision or a mistake?

Unless you believe Iraqis are unaware that the decision taken was, er, to have a war, you can’t justifiably claim that the response is simply a function of how much Iraqis hated Saddam, and not a rather more nuanced assessment of whether the cost of war was worth the removal of the erstwhile tyrant.

Brendan, if Iraqis in 2003 have spent the previous 20 years living like Czechs in 1966, I’ll bet your mortgage they’ll be on the streets demanding the return of Saddam.

If you really don’t care what Iraqis think of your opposition to the war they supported, just have the balls to admit it.

122

Brownie 10.12.06 at 3:52 pm

That should read “Iraqis in 2023″…

123

engels 10.12.06 at 3:59 pm

If you really don’t care what Iraqis think of your opposition to the war they supported, just have the balls to admit it.

Brownie – I do care what they think about the war. I just believe that just over half of them are wrong, and just under half of them are right.

(NB. This is assuming the validity of your poll, for which, I must point out, I have never yet seen any underlying data!)

124

engels 10.12.06 at 4:38 pm

And while you’re here, allow me to call bullshit on this

The live Iraqis polled are the mother and fathers, brother and sisters and sons and daughter of the dead. The wretched souls scratching together an existence in the midst of a “civil war”. And they say it is worth it.

It does seem more likely on the face of it that the “wretched souls” who lost family members in this war would be among the 10 million Iraqis who voted “No”.

125

Brownie 10.12.06 at 4:44 pm

“Just over half”?

61% is the lowest figure I have seen in repsonse to this question and similar.

Either way, as a supporter of the war – and a critic of many aspects of the way it has been prosecuted – I can’t deny that I take some strength from the fact that a majority of Iraqis have consistently shared my support. Or more accurately, I share theirs.

126

roy belmont 10.12.06 at 4:46 pm

Saddam was bad. This is so universally agreed on it only gets debated in places like Iraq, and other dark corners of the Muslim world, if at all.
The fallback corollary for war supporters is that anything that got rid of Saddam is perforce good – “worth it”.
That’s one of those logic things, where the first part seems to be connected to the second, but isn’t.
Also if you don’t think anything that got rid of Saddam is a good thing, you want him to have remained in power. Since it was agreed beforehand that Saddam being in power was a bad thing, you are bad as well.
“We went in and deposed a murderous dictator.”
Which, while true, is pretty darned (morally) inconsistent of “us” considering how many murderous dictatorial lowlifes “we” have propped up, trained, maintained, protected, and, when things at home got too hot for them, sheltered here in the land of the free.
The real danger now is not the continuing deadly spiral of fragmenting Iraqi society, as awful as that is and promises to be – it’s the shell-game misdirection of putting it all on Bush, the sin-eater, and driving him out into the wilderness.
So that the heinousness of what was done in and to Iraq can be a “mission accomplished” – without the diminishing of power the consequent shame of being responsible for those immoral and illegal acts would bring.
Who benefits from Iraq as it is now, anyone?
Not the US, obviously not the Iraqis, certainly not Hezbollah.
Who has enough power to manipulate the American people into supporting an invasion that has done nothing but profound damage to America?
It seems almost a second-stage delusion to see it as all and only incompetence and short-sightedness on the part of some hyphy Republicans .
Jim Harrison says “There has to be a price for killing a half a million people.”
And of course there is, inevitably, because there’s a price for everything. It’s a question of who pays it, in the end.
Given the levels of deceit and intrigue at work it may be just a tad specious to fasten all that punitive cathartic fire on the hapless little men currently bearing public responsibility for what’s occurred.

127

engels 10.12.06 at 4:50 pm

61% includes the Kurds. It does not include the 600 000 Iraqis who – thanks to the disastrous war which still enjoys your utterly shameless support – are now dead, and therefore can not express an opinion. Were they able do so, one might rationally expect them to register a rather emphatic “No”.

128

Brownie 10.12.06 at 4:51 pm

It does seem more likely on the face of it that the “wretched souls” who lost family members in this war would be among the 10 million Iraqis who voted “No”.

Who needs polls and peer-reviewed studies when CT has its very own Mystic Meg.

I wonder how many of the 500,000 who marched against war in February 2003 knew they did so against the wishes of the majority of Iraqis? And what can we learn about the motives of those who did know, but who marched anyway?

129

Uncle Kvetch 10.12.06 at 4:52 pm

I can’t deny that I take some strength from the fact that a majority of Iraqis have consistently shared my support. Or more accurately, I share theirs.

I’ll ask you the same question I asked Soru, then, Brownie: Do you share their desire to see US and UK troops out of their country within a year?

130

Brownie 10.12.06 at 4:54 pm

61% includes the Kurds.

A hierarchy of Iraqis, eh?

Yuck!

131

engels 10.12.06 at 4:54 pm

Who needs polls and peer-reviewed studies when CT has its very own Mystic Meg.

Brownie, if you ever want to make it into the Girl Guides, you’re going to have to come up with more intelligent arguments than that.

132

Uncle Kvetch 10.12.06 at 4:58 pm

A follow-up to my earlier question to Brownie: Does your solidarity with the Iraqi people extend to agreeing with the 61% of them who feel that attacks on US troops in Iraq are justified?

133

engels 10.12.06 at 5:03 pm

I’d be very interested to know Brownie’s answer to #132.

134

Brownie 10.12.06 at 5:06 pm

uncle,

I share the desire to aim for that, yes. However, if I were an Iraqi, I would reserve the right to review my position in a year to see how the ground lies, just as I don’t deny the possibility that in years come – and especially if things continue as they are – a majority of Iraqis change their minds about the “worth it” question.

If you ask me what I would like to see happen in a year’s time, my answer will at least in part be based on my estimation of how things will look in a year’s time. If I turn out to have been way off, it doesn’t invalidate my initial response, but neither does it mean I am precluded from reassessing my position. I take it you accept that at least some of those agitating for a withdrawal within a year may do so because they are optimistic about the security situation a year hence? I also take it that you wouldn’t refuse such people the right to take a different view when/if they turn out to have been overly-optimistic?

135

Uncle Kvetch 10.12.06 at 5:18 pm

I take it you accept that at least some of those agitating for a withdrawal within a year may do so because they are optimistic about the security situation a year hence?

“At least some,” sure. But not many. The poll indicates that a large majority–78%–believes that the presence of US troops incites more violence than it prevents. Which suggests to me that the thinking is much less “Things could be better in a year” than “Things can’t get better as long as the foreign troops are here.”

So how about that second question: Do you share the majority of Iraqis’ support for attacks on US troops?

136

Brownie 10.12.06 at 5:21 pm

A follow-up to my earlier question to Brownie: Does your solidarity with the Iraqi people extend to agreeing with the 61% of them who feel that attacks on US troops in Iraq are justified?

No.

Now explain what this changes and how?

137

engels 10.12.06 at 5:22 pm

A hierarchy of Iraqis, eh?

Yuck!

And by the way, Brownie, I certainly do not believe that Iraqis should be placed in a hierarchy, or should not have equal rights, as I suspect you know full well. This is the Harry’s Place style of argument where you deliberate interpret what your interlocutors are saying in the least charitable way you can, in order to make groundless and offensive charges of racism, fascism and so on. I’d suggest you not try it here, as it will only make you look silly.

138

David Kane 10.12.06 at 5:25 pm

I am glad that brendan feels like I am getting an “easy ride” here. In any event, I stand by the passage he quoted but note that it was about the 2004 Lancet paper, not the current one. I thought (and think) that the political attitudes of the authors (and Lancet editors) tainted those results. I was especially suspicious of the Falluja data and of the fact that the 95% confidence interval barely excluded 0. (Recall this CT thread.)

But that opinion was about the 2004 paper. The 2006 paper is much stronger and the reported effect is much larger. It is almost surely true that all reasonable changes in the statistical methodology would still yield a large estimate for excess mortality.

However, I am always suspicious and distrustful of scientists (left, right or center) who refuse to release their underlying data and/or answer reasonable questions about the methodology employed. Unreplicated results are, IMHO, not valuable because a lack of replication indicates either error or uselessness.

139

Brownie 10.12.06 at 5:29 pm

“At least some,” sure. But not many. The poll indicates that a large majority—78%—believes that the presence of US troops incites more violence than it prevents.

Er, yes, but if in 18 months – 6 months after a withdrawal – that is shown to have been wildly inaccurate, it is again not inconceivable that the same Iraqis would then call for the return of troops in some form or another.

The point is that responses to the “within a year” question are all based on personal assessments of what the situation will be like in year’s time, whether good or bad, and what would ensue in the months immediately after.

I would hope this isn’t controversial?

Can I ask, what do you hope to achieve by asking me every question in every poll ever conducted in Iraq?

140

engels 10.12.06 at 5:32 pm

I am always suspicious and distrustful of scientists (left, right or center) who refuse to release their underlying data and/or answer reasonable questions about the methodology employed.

David Kane is getting an easy ride, because the authors of the 2006 study have not refused such a request, and until they do he really should forbear from making conditional attacks on their integrity as researchers.

Brownie – You appear to believe that the (alleged) fact that a (narrow) majority of Iraqis are in favour of the original war means that it was morally permitted. People, including me, have already given multiple arguments why this view is false, most of which you have not seriously addressed. But if you really believe this, do you also think that the fact that a similar majority approves of attacks on coalition forces means that such attacks are morally permissable? If not, why not?

141

Brendan 10.12.06 at 5:32 pm

“If you really don’t care what Iraqis think of your opposition to the war they supported, just have the balls to admit it.”

Ok find me the opinion poll which would ask something which I would regard as a fair question (given that, as is obvious, though not to the ‘decents’, the occupation and the invasion are two sides of the same coin): “As you are aware, in 2003, the US and the UK invaded your country. Do you approve of this invasion, and the subsequent occupation?”

Followed up by “President Bush has gone on record as saying you will remain occupied until 2010 at least. Do you approve of this continued occupation? Other Americans have said that you will remain occupied for perhaps decades. Do you approve of this decades long occupation, or not?”

This might seem biased to you, or not. But the key point for me is that I never saw a ‘liberation’ from Saddam Hussein and to pose the question in those terms is automatically biased. I saw an invasion and occupation, and that is the question they should be being asked about (to be fair, they sometimes are, and invariably express moving and desperate plea for autonomy, freedom and independence (from the Americans) which the decents manage not to hear). Even talk of a ‘war’ is biased (let alone a ‘liberation’ or ‘intervention’). The key point is not that there was a ‘war’ but that there was an invasion and occupation. An unprovoked invasion in which the US and the UK were the aggressors. Pose a question along those lines to the Iraqis, and come back to me with your wildly pro-American response: if you get any.

Your point about Czechoslovakia is vapid incidentally, although one fashionable with your right wing friends (who you disapprove of…in public). The key problem for the Czechs, and the Hungarians, and the Poles etc, was not so much that they were oppressed by ‘communism’: it was because they were being occupied by the Russian army: in other words, the Hungarian ’56 rebellion, and the ’68 Czech one (etc.) were anti-imperialist revolts. Therefore the comparison should not be with life under Saddam, but with life now. Under occupation.Just like the Czechs were. And the Hungarians (although this is grossly unfair to the Russians, whose occupations were infinitely less brutal and incompetent than the Americans’).

142

Brownie 10.12.06 at 5:36 pm

engels,

Thanks for the advice.

If you did not mean to imply that views of Kurds on the war are any less valid than the views Sunnis or Shia, then what point were you making? We’re all aware that Kurds are more sympathetic to the west generally, but unless you mean this necessarily erodes their status as Iraqis, your “61% includes the Kurds” comment is utterly irrelevant.

This is the Harry’s Place style of argument…

Thank you very much.

143

Steven Poole 10.12.06 at 5:37 pm

I wonder how many of the 500,000 who marched against war in February 2003 knew they did so against the wishes of the majority of Iraqis?

Where is the February 2003 poll of Iraqis, please?

144

soru 10.12.06 at 5:43 pm

The key point is not that there was a ‘war’ but that there was an invasion and occupation. An unprovoked invasion in which the US and the UK were the aggressors

And if they still answered that question in a way you didn’t agree with, how else would you reword it?

145

Uncle Kvetch 10.12.06 at 5:46 pm

Can I ask, what do you hope to achieve by asking me every question in every poll ever conducted in Iraq?

Pretty simple, really–it was just a matter of confirming what I suspected. When the views of 50+% of the Iraqi people happen to coincide with your own, you draw great “strength” from this and see it as a vindication of your opinions, full stop. When they don’t, you either dismiss the views of said majority outright (#136), or introduce all manner of qualifiers and hypotheticals (#134, #139), as in:

it is again not inconceivable that the same Iraqis would then call for the return of troops in some form or another

It is also not inconceivable that a 400-foot tall statue of George W. Bush will be erected in Firdos Square by the end of 2007. I fail to see your point.

146

Brownie 10.12.06 at 5:46 pm

Brendan,

I’ll ask my friends at Mori to see if I can get them to frame a question in the only way you will accept.

although one fashionable with your right wing friends (who you disapprove of…in public).

Good giref! I don’t need to come here to get smeared, you know? I can get this at HP.

147

engels 10.12.06 at 5:58 pm

No Brownie, I know its hard to believe, but my point was not that the Kurds views are “less valid” or that I want to “erode their status” as Iraqis. It was that since the Kurdish areas of Iraq are not affected by the conflict to anything like the same extent as the rest of the country their judgment of whether it was a “price worth paying” is primarily one of onlookers rather than victims. But as nothing turns on it, I will gladly withdraw this point in the hope will you stop being such a sanctimonious prick.

Assuming your poll is accurate, the 61% figure can at least be reduced by 2% to reflect those Iraqi citizens who were unable take part in your poll on account of their being dead, but owing to this fact might reasonably be assumed not to be satisfied with the occupation. At any rate, it is indeed a narrow majority, so I think my original comment stands, despite your quibbling.

148

Brownie 10.12.06 at 6:06 pm

When the views of 50+% of the Iraqi people happen to coincide with your own, you draw great “strength” from this and see it as a vindication of your opinions, full stop.

I’ve highlighted your obvious falsehood. I even allowed for the fact that the majority Iraqi response to the “worth it” question could reverse over time.

“Vindication”? “Full stop”? I think you need to rein it in a bit. In fact I know you do.

Further, you appear to be suffering under the delusion that my agreement with most Iraqis on one point compels agreement on all. This is nonsense, which is why I never called you out on the fact that you share the majority Iraqi view on withdrawal but not on the “worth it” question. Nor must you.

I do happen to think that the fact successive polls show majority Iraqi support for the war is relevant and I do genuinely wonder at how widely known this is. I have personal experience of friends who vehemently opposed military action in 2003 who subsequently completed a volte-face upon learning the majority Iraqi view, although this is far from typical I admit.

You appear to believe that the (alleged) fact that a (narrow) majority of Iraqis are in favour of the original war means that it was morally permitted.

Well then appearances really can be deceptive, can’t they? I’ve neither said nor implied such a thing. My primary motivation for raising this issue is that I never cease to be amazed at how few opponents of the war are aware of it.

This evening’s discussion has done little to disabuse me of this belief.

149

Brownie 10.12.06 at 6:22 pm

No Brownie, I know its hard to believe, but my point was not that the Kurds views are “less valid” or that I want to “erode their status” as Iraqis. It was that since the Kurdish areas of Iraq are not affected by the conflict to anything like the same extent as the rest of the country their judgment of whether it was a “price worth paying” is primarily one of onlookers rather than victims.

To paraphrase Stephen Fry, so fucking what? The fact that not all of Iraq has been turned into a killing field just happens to be the reality. The views of those living in more peaceable areas remain as valid as those living in the Sunni triangle.

Or should I draw your attention to the fact that the 61% who support attacks on US troops includes the Sunnis and Shia?

At any rate, it is indeed a narrow majority, so I think my original comment stands, despite your quibbling.

Firstly, I’d regard a 61/39 split as something other than a “narrow majority” (it’s traditional to count only those polled). Secondly – as stated previously – the 61% majority is the lowest such figure I have seen in response to this question and similar. See my BBC link which shows an Iraqi majority of 74%.

Including the Kurds, admittedly.

150

engels 10.12.06 at 6:25 pm

I’ve neither said nor implied such a thing. My primary motivation for raising this issue is that I never cease to be amazed at how few opponents of the war are aware of it.

So Brownie, now that you’ve completed your social research exercise into the opinions of opponents of the war, perhaps you can resist raising any more issues which you admit are irrelevant to the topic of this thread, and to the question of whether the war was justified, and answer a question which actually has some bearing on these issues:

Knowing what we know now, that 600 000 Iraqis have died as a result of this war, who would have been alive under Saddam’s regime, would you not agree that the claim that the war was justified for humanitarian reasons now appears to you to be horribly mistaken and that it has, on the contrary, been a moral calamity of horrific proportions, whose supporters should be thorougly ashamed of their bad judgment, and whose prosecutors should be indicted on war crimes charges?

151

soru 10.12.06 at 6:34 pm

What’s your point? That majority decisions can not possibly be immoral?

I would say any discussion of this kind of thing should be split up into two points:

1. a change
2. a cost

The change can be judged bad, for example killing off the jews of Germany, or good, for example removing saddam. Which is which is always a personal subjective judgement, although hopefully not that controversial for those particular examples.

The cost can be large, small, zero or negative. The cost is an (in principle) objectively knowable number, here the excess death figure.

Sometimes those two things are such that it’s obvious what is right or wrong. A change you like that pays for itself, or a change you don’t approve of, whether or not it is cheap.

Other times, it is not so simple. Who can say whether a particular desirable change is worth a particular non-zero cost?

The only reasonable answer seems to me to be to ask those paying it.

Maybe you have a different suggestion for settling such issues?

152

Brownie 10.12.06 at 6:41 pm

So Brownie, now that you’ve completed your social research exercise into the opinions of opponents of the war, perhaps you can resist raising any more issues which you admit are irrelevant to the topic of this thread, and to the question of whether the war was justified

You can’t help yourself, can you?

I don’t admit the views of Iraqis on the war are irrelevant either generally, or specifically on this thread (given the way the thread has developed). Neither do I admit they are irrelevant to the question of whether the war was justified. The poll findings are very far from the final word on this or any other matter, but that doesn’t render them irrelevant either.

Please try harder to stop misrepresenting my position.

Knowing what we know now, that 600 000 Iraqis have died as a result of this war, who would have been alive under Saddam’s regime, would you not agree that the claim that the war was justified for humanitarian reasons now appears to you to be horribly mistaken and that it has, on the contrary, been a moral calamity of horrific proportions, whose supporters should be thorougly ashamed of their bad judgment, and whose prosecutors should be indicted on war crimes charges?

Christ, you like asking questions, don’t you?

The trite answer is that I reject the premise of the question. The serious answer is that I question my decision to support the war every day and, although I didn’t need a Lancet paper to get me here, just the possibility that Iraqis could have died in such numbers is hugely significant; more so than anything else.

I wonder if this surprises you and if it does, I wonder why this should be so?

153

engels 10.12.06 at 7:31 pm

The poll findings are very far from the final word on this or any other matter, but that doesn’t render them irrelevant either. (Brownie)

Of course not: they’re relevant when you agree with them, they’re irrelevant when you don’t.

The serious answer is that I question my decision to support the war every day…

And yet despite overwhelming evidence that it has been a catastrophe in almost every conceivable way, you will not admit that your decision was mistaken. I wish I could say that that surprises me.

[On the question of when it might be permissable to sacrifice large numbers of Iraqi lives for the sake of deposing Saddam] The only reasonable answer seems to me to be to ask those paying it. (Soru)

The 600 000 who payed the highest price were not asked though, were they? This is a very important point: it is very widely accepted that the fact that a majority of people in a country wants to do something does not necessarily make it legitimate. In our liberal democracies the democratic power of the majority is constrained by the rights of individuals. No matter how many people in Germany wanted to murder the German Jews it would not have been legitimate for them to do so. By the same token, the fact that a majority of Iraqis may feel that the deaths of a minority of Iraqis would be a ‘price worth paying’ for deposing Saddam would not give them the right to make this ‘trade-off’. People are individuals and noone has the right to violate their rights in order to achieve his own ends. This is the “liberal” part of living in a liberal democracy.

154

Brownie 10.12.06 at 7:40 pm

Of course not: they’re relevant when you agree with them, they’re irrelevant when you don’t.

You’re doing it again. Which poll results did I claim were “irrelevant”?

I’ll ask you again. Please stop misrepresenting me.

155

engels 10.12.06 at 8:52 pm

I’ll ask you again. Please stop misrepresenting me.

Ok, Brownie, I’ll let you put an end to all this scandalous misrepresentation. Do you think that the poll Uncle Kvetch mentioned, which says that 61% of Iraqis support attacks on coalition troops, is as relevant to your thinking on these issues as the one you have been banging on about, which shows that the same percentage support the original invasion?

If so, why do you not deign to discuss the first, when you have been banging on about the second for 80 odd comments, and why has it not, apparently, swayed you towards supporting the insurgency in the same way that the first poll has swayed you towards supporting the war?

If not, then your latest quibble must be merely that I accused you of deeming opinion polls “irelevant” when the findings do not suit your argument, when I should have strictly said “less relevant”. That would be tedious even by your standards and it would not touch my point: that your interest in Iraqi public opinion appears to be largely opportunistic and motivated by a desire to find vindication for your preestablished opinions.

156

engels 10.12.06 at 8:58 pm

BTW what any of these polls have to do with Chris’ post beats the hell out of me…

157

Brendan 10.13.06 at 2:34 am

‘And if they still answered that question in a way you didn’t agree with, how else would you reword it?’

No, if the Iraqis claimed that they were happy with the ‘illegal’ (Koffi Annan) invasion and occupation, that they said they loved every minute of it, that they wanted the invaders to stay for simply decades and decades and decades, that they thought the occupier’s behaviour was all great…if they said all that, I would admit defeat.

158

dave heasman 10.13.06 at 4:41 am

“I wonder how many of the 500,000 who marched against war in February 2003 knew they did so against the wishes of the majority of Iraqis?”

I was one of the one-and-a-quarter-million, and I have friends in the military, one of whom came home wounded. I’m sorry, but I was more anxious about British servicemens’ fates, knowing that your government had consistently undersupplied them and was busy undermining their morale by merging regiments.

159

soru 10.13.06 at 7:17 am

People are individuals and noone has the right to violate their rights in order to achieve his own ends. This is the “liberal” part of living in a liberal democracy..

I hate to break it to you, but Saddam’s Iraq was not a liberal democracy.

This is getting to Kagan’s point from Paradise and Power – people who expect the whole world to operate by the principles and procedures appropriate to a 21C civilian legal system are not engaging with the world as it is, or as it is likely to become any time soon.

160

engels 10.13.06 at 7:58 am

Shorter Soru: The idea that it is wrong to sacrifice the lives of 600 000 people for the sake of some ‘greater good’ is a legal nicety which has no place in the real world. Forget it, Jack, it’s Chinatown!

161

Brownie 10.13.06 at 9:06 am

engels, you’re not even trying now, are you?

162

engels 10.13.06 at 9:35 am

Brownie – If you want to address any of the points I have made to you, feel free. Whining about people “misrepresenting” you (#154), and then refusing to answer their questions about what your argument is (#155), is not an argument. Making completely content free posts, like your last one (#161), is not an argument. Ignoring all the points other people make, and the topic of the thread (#76 ff.), is not an argument.

Alternatively, you could just go back to posting on Harry’s Place, where you all appear to get by just fine without worrying at all about this “argument” thing, and which would probably be a better outcome for all concerned then your continuuing your efforts to lower the quality of the debate here.

163

soru 10.13.06 at 10:16 am

Does a post like #160 represent a particularly good example of a sincere attempt to understand someone else’s postion?

Why do you find it so hard to make your case in a way that doesn’t depend on ludicrous distortion of the other point of view?

164

engels 10.13.06 at 10:24 am

Like most people in this world, Soru, I am unable to work out what the fuck your position is supposed to be. So it is a bit difficult for me to engage in “ludicrous” attempts to “distort” it.

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engels 10.13.06 at 10:47 am

Also, Soru, if you can not find anything better to say than to parrot Brownie’s ad homimem accusations, that I am being dishonest by repeatedly “misrepresenting” and “distorting” what you and he think, without giving any reasons, and despite that fact that neither of you have provided a halfway coherent account of what you think your argument is, then I am not interested in arguing with you any further.

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soru 10.13.06 at 11:33 am

Which of the words or concepts in post #151 are beyond you?

I hate it when people throw round the phrase ‘cognitive dissonance’, but you do seem to be having a rather large amount of trouble grasping some pretty elementary ideas and arguments, and that does seem to be causing some hostility.

I suggest you try to think about these things again when you have calmed down.

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engels 10.13.06 at 11:57 am

Soru, I came here for an argument, not an amateur psychiatric diagnosis. Your last post, like the one before it, contains nothing of substance and is also unnecessarily rude.

In so far as there is anything worth replying to in your #151 I have addressed it several times now. You can not justify the deaths of a minority of a population by appealing to a majority decision. That is a basic liberal principle, not a nicety of 21st century legal process.

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engels 10.13.06 at 12:03 pm

And I hope that can be the last thing I say on this. I don’t think any reasonable person would think there has been anything of substance in either your or Brownie’s comments, for at least the last ten posts or so.

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soru 10.13.06 at 2:39 pm

You can not justify the deaths of a minority of a population by appealing to a majority decision. That is a basic liberal principle, not a nicety of 21st century legal process.

If your views were a majority, ‘liberal democracy’ and ‘legal process’ would be concepts only specialist historians would be familiar with.

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roy belmont 10.13.06 at 6:45 pm

Soru et al.’s position would seem to be that Saddam was so terrible, so provably heinous, that the virtual destruction of Iraq entire and the subsequent decimation of the Iraqi people, while regrettable, is certainly justified, since it became a necessary consequence of the task of removing him.
This does have the unfortunate result of making them look as though they’re defending the devastation of a country and its people in the name of its liberation – which is absurd, of course.
Possibly there is another explanation.

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