Mea culpa! Mea maxima ahhhstickitupyerjacksie …

by Daniel on January 11, 2008

Apparently I am on “mea culpa watch” from Tyler Cowen, Picture me at present pursing my lips and flapping my wrist in the international signal for “ooh! Get her!”. I have looked at the NEJM study, had a look at some of the online discussion of it, and I think that few of my friends and few of my enemies will be disappointed to learn that my response is not so much “mea culpa” as “pogue mahone”. In particular, see below the fold for a list of apologies not forthcoming, additional castigation, and new heretics who need to be squelched.

Right, kicking off with the abuse of the current study. Currently castigating …

Anyone headlining the 150,000 violent deaths figure as if it were the total.

No. That’s not what the study said. Anyone who is trying to claim “The Lancetissses said 650,000 but the true figure was only 150,000 OMGLOL!” or similar, is misrepresenting what the study says. This study found a big increase in the death rate in Iraq as a result of the invasion. They didn’t carry out an excess deaths calculation, but the change in the death rate is of the order of a doubling, which on the basis of their estimate of the pre-war death rate would indicate 400,000 excess deaths as an order of magnitude calculation.

There is a related mistake that people are also making at the moment, which is to try and talk down the Lancet total by claiming that “the apples to apples comparison” is between the Lancet’s estimate of excess deaths as a result of violence (of the order 600k) and the NEJM estimate of total deaths from violence (of the order 150k). This is a mistake, because it’s ignoring the fact that the NEJM study found a big increase in the non-violent death rate which isn’t in the Lancet study, and the question of the potential misclassification of deaths as violent or non-violent depending on who’s asking is a known issue – I seem to remember saying a few times in 2006 that the breakdowns by cause couldn’t bear the interpretative weight that people were putting on them. Lancet 1 got roughly the same balance between nonviolent and violent deaths as the NEJM/IFHS, but Lancet 2 didn’t and Lancet 2 is the only one that checked death certificates. It is hardly difficult to see why, given the atmosphere of fear of death squads in a lot of Iraq, people might want to pretend that a relative died of natural causes when he didn’t.

So, to make this comparison is to implicitly cherry-pick the lower increase in the violent death rate from the NEJM study, and the lower increase in the non-violent death rate from the Lancet study, giving a number that I would call “the Greengrocer’s 150k” (so called because it appears to be the result of trying to put apples to oranges, picking cherries and ending up with a lemon).

Anyone making bold assertions of the superiority of the NEJM study based on sample size

The NEJM does have a much bigger sample size than either Lancet study (9345 households in 1086 clusters versus 1849 households in 50 clusters). But the randomness of the selection was seriously compromised – 11% of the clusters were too dangerous to travel to, and they have their data filled in by extrapolation from the Iraq Body Count website.

This matters, of course, because if we’re thinking as Bayesians, the weighting we should put on the new study relative to the existing ones is inversely proportional to the uncertainty of the estimate. And the uncertainty of the current estimate is dependent on an assumption about how much inaccuracy this extrapolation introduced into the recipe. The authors write, fairly enough, that “Uncertainty in the missing cluster-adjustment factors was difficult to quantify, since we assumed that the excess risk of mortality in missing clusters in Baghdad and Anbar was normally distributed, with standard deviations of 0.2 and 0.1, respectively”, but if you plugged higher numbers into this guess, it would blow out the confidence intervals quite materially. Anbar is the real question mark here – it is a very big contributor to the death rate estimates in the Lancet studies, and it was one of the least well-covered areas in Iraq in terms of the media reports that IBC relies on.

Finally, this study and Lancet 2 cover the same time period (from the invasion to July 2006), but the fieldwork for the NEJM one was carried out later, and over a longer period of time. This means that more households disintegrated, more Iraqis left the country, and therefore the potential for undercount grew – and it grew quite sharply during this period as it was the absolute peak for violent death at the time. The survey notes that this lack of a stable population could quite seriously undermine the underreporting correction that they tried to make.

All these things are mentioned in the NEJM paper, by the way – I’m not Milloying about it here. Kieran is correct to say that this lower estimate shifts our central estimate of the excess deaths caused by the invasion. But there are plenty of people who seem to be suggesting that the correct response is to chuck Burnham et al away and latch onto this as the new definitive number, which is crap Bayesianism in the first place and doubly incorrect given the points made above.

Now onto the “apologies specifically not forthcoming” section …

Anyone who had a go at the first Lancet study and who is now pretending to be retrospectively vindicated by this one, despite the fact that the violent death rates measured in both are the same

Well I mean really. By the way, the link Tyler gives in his “mea culpa” post is to my very first post on the Lancet study, so he appears to be (perhaps accidentally) putting himself in this camp – either he hasn’t checked whether the NEJM study compared its estimate to Burnham et al (2006) or Roberts et al (2004), or he hasn’t read my blog post properly. I’d add that to have been sceptical of Lancet 1 (when it was the high number) but not to have a word of criticism for this study (now that it isn’t the high number) goes really badly for the old credibility.

Fred Kaplan and anyone else who reproduced the “dartboard” argument or “Kaplan’s Fallacy”

These two were idiotic at the time and since they were idiotic based on the maths, they were idiotic a priori and no empirical evidence at all could make them less idiotic. Even if Iraq had never been invaded, a Platonist would say that these arguments would still have existed in abstract space as hypothetical elements of the Form Of The Stupid.

Anyone who opined wisely on the existence of comprehensive central repositories of death certificates in Iraq

By the way, I don’t recall any fawning apologies coming my way on this subject; most of the people who made the asinine argument that L2 must have been flawed because of mythical Iraqi government statistics based on this mythical and wholly nonexistent centrally collated repository didn’t even post a correction. I suppose the idea is that any slightly ambiguous data point or small flaw immediately discredits a commentator on the Left, while no amount of disconfirming evidence ever merits so much as an apologetic harrumph from a commentator on the Right (cf, Moore, Michael; Kristol, William).

Anyone who made evidence-free accusations of fraud against Les Roberts, Gilbert Burnham, Riyadh Lafta et al

When we’re talking about “squelching heretics” or “castigating” people here, let’s just remember who was saying what about who, hey? Let’s get this straight. Falsifying interviews for a survey is serious scientific malpractice. Anyone guilty of it ought to be sacked from their job and publicly disgraced everywhere people respect science. If at any future date, Roberts, Burnham, Lafta or anyone else involved in either of the Lancet reports is shown to have falsified data, I will be right in the vanguard of those calling for the very severest of sanctions to be applied and I suspect Tim Lambert will be too (if you want to know how pissy I get when I feel like I’ve been played for a sucker, ask David Kane). Let’s be totally straight about this.

But if it’s a serious crime (and it is), then accusing people of it should only be done on the basis of evidence. If it’s not OK for me to say “Fred Bloggs is a bit of a hack because he’s reproducing this crap argument about the Lancet study which he plainly doesn’t understand”, then surely we can all agree that it’s much more not OK for Fred Bloggs to say “Well that devastating critique has just about wrapped it up for me, so I suppose that the Lancet team must have falsified their results in order to influence the US elections!”

Anyone trying to pretend that people who defended the Lancet studies against ill-informed criticism in some way “wanted” the death count to be higher and are “disappointed” by the IFHS survey

This is not so much a “no apology” as a heartfelt “Kiss My Arse”, with a side order of “Try Saying That To My Face, Sunshine”. This is and always was a pure, simple and disgusting insult. Anyone who ever did this, went straight on my shit-list and has been on a permanent 100% discount factor for their views on Iraq ever since. I’ve even lodged standing instructions with the Grice United Fund to make sure they don’t accidentally respect your opinions on my behalf. Which brings us on to the subject of …

In general, I just don’t agree with Tyler’s implicit view that there’s something illegitimate about making your case forcefully and not giving the kid gloves treatment to people who try to push weak, uninformed or fraudulent arguments against it (I’m glad to note that, revealed preference reveals, Alex Tabbarrok agrees with me on this one). Things which are definitely and provably wrong, do need to be squelched. We are not in relativist country here – there are some things which are true and some which aren’t, and “the government of Iraq has accurate mortality statistics, based on death certificates collected from around the country”, isn’t. Nobody benefits if people are allowed to pretend that this falsehood is true, and people who assert it without checking it don’t deserve very much in the way of condescending validation of their views.

Let’s not forget that, although we can all sit around and scratch our chins now saying “wwwelll, we all agree that thousands of people have died in Iraq, but …”, at the time when Lancet 1 came out, there were plenty of people (and not just right wing maniacs either) trying to claim that the Iraq Body Count figure was wildly inflated by antiwar political ideologues. This was the period of “all the good news that the MSM won’t report from Iraq”, remember?

A lot of the reason why the Lancet debates were so vicious was that so many people decided to join in them who clearly had no business getting involved (for lack of relevant knowledge), but who did so on the basis of the repetition of a small number of “seed” fallacies, like Kaplan’s Fallacy, the Cluster Sampling critique, the Mere Random Sample, the Mythical Death Certificate Repository, Kane’s Zombies and so on. Stamping on these, early and hard, before they take root, seems to me to be exactly the sort of thing that bloggers ought to be in the business of doing, if they care about the debate at all.



roger 01.11.08 at 4:59 pm

Daniel, excellent post except for “the international signal for “ooh! Get her!” which is somehow not in my international signal book, so … I don’t know what it means.
Your other points seem hard to answer – especially the lack of data from Anbar province and the lack of any statistical dummying to cover the Iraqi refugees (a sample of whom, it strikes me, could and should have been surveyed). Let the debate begin!


John Emerson 01.11.08 at 5:17 pm

And so Day One of the Tyler Cowen Mea Culpa Watch begins.


John Emerson 01.11.08 at 5:39 pm

Tyler, the sooner you confess the easier it will go for you.


Kevin Donoghue 01.11.08 at 5:39 pm

Good post but this is a bit misleading: “Lancet 1 got roughly the same balance between nonviolent and violent deaths as the NEJM/IFHS, but Lancet 2 didn’t and Lancet 2 is the only one that checked death certificates.”

For Lancet 1, death certificates were sought in some cases. But they did tighten up their procedures for Lancet 2 in that regard so maybe you are on to something here.


Stuart 01.11.08 at 5:42 pm

I have a prediction to make about the comparisons people are going to be making between the recent study and the Lancet study. I predict that the discussion of the relative merits of methodology, reliability and scope of permissible conclusions from each of the studies will align more or less perfectly with the political views of those participating in the discussion.

On to the next subject.


Daniel 01.11.08 at 5:47 pm

4: ah yes you’re right, Kevin, the word “systematically” somehow got lost between brain and keyboard there.


John Emerson 01.11.08 at 5:51 pm

I should have mentioned that I’m pretty mild-mannered, Tyler, but if I don’t get results they’ll take the case away from me and assign the case to a guy whose nickname is “Dahmer”.


John Emerson 01.11.08 at 5:53 pm

5: The interesting thing to me is whether the people using the new study against the old one will feel obliged to acknowledge the validity of the new study. It’s not really too cheery either.


Sortition 01.11.08 at 5:56 pm

Another category of people deserving special mention: Anyone talking confidently about the large numbers (often, millions) of people “killed by X”, where X is some official Enemy (Saddam, Stalin, Pol Pot, Hitler, Kim Jong Il) but are ever so careful and skeptical when discussing any estimate of the number killed by Ourselves or our Allies.


a. y. mous 01.11.08 at 6:04 pm

I’m curious. Do you folks get a hard-on (or dripping panties, as the case may be) seeing tabulations of words and numerals?

Or perhaps it is just me. “Death” may just not be academic enough for me. My apologies for interrupting your intellectual wank-fest.

Regular programming will continue now.


John Emerson 01.11.08 at 6:07 pm

What was Mous trying to say? Was this the thread he wanted to post on?

Cowen probably has an Insta link by now. I fear that Dahmer may end up having to take over the case.


John Emerson 01.11.08 at 6:48 pm

From Tyler’s comments:

“Is there really people, who are stupid enough to believe stuff like this? Do these people believe that the US Marines went from house to house to kill civilians? Do they not understand, that the majority of these victims were killed by the same people who attacked the WTC? Why are so many people so fricking retarded?”

Admittedly, it’s the worst of the bunch.

My own feeling about this question has always been that during wartime reason is suspended for the duration. And of course, our enemies have proclaimed that we’re in the middle of a cultural civil war. I am not actually oppose to the rational discussion of the questions involved here, but I do think that in the context of today’s America that would be quaint, like a cotillion or something.


a. y. mous 01.11.08 at 6:48 pm

mea culpa! John, sorry! That was an emotional outburst. Ignore me.


Grand Moff Texan 01.11.08 at 6:57 pm

So, the usual fruitcakes are cherry-picking from an apples-to-oranges comparison?

That’s not news.


John Emerson 01.11.08 at 7:01 pm

Grand Moff Texan is banned for metaphor abuse.


Grand Moff Texan 01.11.08 at 7:07 pm

Mass murder in Iraq seems to have been a contentious issue for some time.

“We’ve already discovered just so far the remains of 400,000 people in mass graves,” said British Prime Minister Tony Blair on November 20 in London.

Turned out that, at that point, Tony was already wrong by a factor of 80.


A 01.11.08 at 7:22 pm

More importantly, I’d like to know if Daniel supported the surge that has stopped much of the killing? If this game is all about the number of deaths then surely the surge has been a good thing and those who opposed it have turned out to be wrong? Lets have a mea cupla about that from you.


John Emerson 01.11.08 at 7:27 pm

Yeah, A, that’s it exactly. I like the way you cut to the heart of the issue.


roger 01.11.08 at 7:32 pm

a, that is a sorta silly point. Nobody opposed the surge that I know of because they were afraid not enough Iraqis were being killed. Rather, they opposed it because we had alternatives. There was the Baker commission alternative. There was beginning to withdraw and proposing open and unconditional negotiations between all parties in Iraq. Etc. In fact, the surge did bring down deaths because of three things, only one of which had to do with the surge, which was that increasing the number of American troops led to increasing the possibility of providing security – something that, by the way, was argued against strenuously for four years by the pro-war side. The other two factors were: the American surrender to Sunni militias in Anbar province, leading to their arming and their turning against Al qaeda; and the flow of refugees out of Baghdad that essentially decreased the numbers of those who could get killed.

Of course, the political dimension of the surge – the only thing that would make the security results sustainable – all failed. Which means that the surge is essentially an element of the same failed plan for Iraq, which calls for occupying it for a decade or two and pouring another trillion or so dollars into that occupation. On that level, the surge has failed spectacularly, since it is easy to guess that Americans aren’t going to happily spend money on a vanity project for hawks while they go through a recession.


Watson Aname 01.11.08 at 7:32 pm

Are people really so desperate to claim a success from “the surge” that they grasp at such feeble straws? Sad.


John Emerson 01.11.08 at 7:33 pm

Damn, this is boring. I was expecting more idiots.


Daniel Goldberg 01.11.08 at 7:35 pm

I’m sure they’re on their way, john.


EthanJ 01.11.08 at 7:37 pm

Kevin Drum cited this study earlier this week, focusing on the apples-to-oranges nature of the numbers and lack of an “excess death” calculation.

So he ran his own… and found that the NEJM study implies an “excess death” count of nearly 400,000. Still not 650K, but far larger than 150K.


John Emerson 01.11.08 at 8:10 pm

I hate this. Where are my morons?


Francis 01.11.08 at 8:18 pm

John: over at Megan’s place. here


abb1 01.11.08 at 8:21 pm

#17 …the surge that has stopped much of the killing…
USA Today 2007-10-21:
The U.S. military has increased airstrikes in Iraq four-fold this year…

Coalition forces launched 1,140 airstrikes in the first nine months of this year compared with 229 in all of last year, according to military statistics.

….Some bombs are “designed to take one building and not the whole block,” Mueller said….


John Emerson 01.11.08 at 8:30 pm


Thanks, but I don’t post there.


abb1 01.11.08 at 8:48 pm

Actually, 1,140 airstrikes in the first nine months of this year compared with 229 in all of last year is not four-fold, it’s 7-fold.

I’m curious, though, how these studies will account for 1500 or so incidents in 2007 when whole blocks (or, let’s be fair here, in some cases only individual buildings) disappeared off the face of the earth. What exactly is the sampling methodology here?


Steve LaBonne 01.11.08 at 8:49 pm

I hate this. Where are my morons?

a (#17) gave it the old college try, but he needs reinforcements!


Kieran Healy 01.11.08 at 9:00 pm

You mean a surge?


John Emerson 01.11.08 at 9:09 pm

Crooked Timber is history. The morons no longer come. Nice ride, guys! All things must pass.


John Emerson 01.11.08 at 9:37 pm

It’s so hard to be dependent on the whims of the moron community. When you’re hot, you’re hot. When you’re not, you’re not. I hope Dsquared is able to handle this.


A 01.11.08 at 9:49 pm

The baker commission idea of pulling out is now completely discredited – everybody recognises that the surge for the right policy for saving lives.

If you people really are concerned about Iraq deaths then you must admit the surge was right and you were wrong.

Or is this about something else?


Steve LaBonne 01.11.08 at 9:55 pm

Right, we have to kill more people in order for fewer people to be killed. Or something. We must destroy the country in order to save it! Wingnut logic is a very special thing.

By the way, the surge is a clear strategic failure as well, since it was actually sold as a way to buy time for a political solution to be developed. How’s that coming along, a? Even the Bushies are busily trying to pretend they never really said that. Now we’re seemingly just surging for the sake of surging (just as we “have to” stay in Iraq because, well, because we’re there) which appears to be the party line that you’re (incompetently) trying to push.


John Emerson 01.11.08 at 10:02 pm

A, bring your friends. Can’t you see that we’re hurting over here?


John Emerson 01.11.08 at 10:09 pm

Even over at McMegan’s there’s really only one moron, Mixner, who’s made about 40 comments so far.


Barry 01.11.08 at 10:32 pm

What was really funny, in a sick sense, was him quoting Wikipedia on how many people Saddam killed. Now, I believe that those figures are probably good; certainly order-of-magnitude good, but in a thread where he tries to minimize deaths in another war by insisting on a high standard of proof, he certainly doesn’t have the right to quote ballpark estimates – where are the cluster samples, the lists of death certificates, etc?


Barry 01.11.08 at 10:37 pm

I’ve heard (but don’t know where to prove it), that the initial estimate of deaths in Auschwitz was on the order of 4 million. Allegedly this was based on a post-WWII Soviet analysis of maximum capacity of the gas chambers and crematoria (i.e., what a 24/7/365 operation could have done). [scarily, one wonders what sort of industrial engineering experience that team brought to the task, from Stalin’s, um, ‘unpleasantness’.]

Afterwards, the figure was revised down sharply, working from German records; apparently German efficiency isn’t always what it’s supposed to be (thank God!).

However, by that standard, Holocaust deniers get to poo-poo Auschwitz as an atrocity and symbol of evil; they can claim that it wasn’t that bad, ignoring the fact that ‘not that bad’ was hideous. They can also claim to be vindicated, and put the burden of re-(re-re-re-)proving everything on others.


John Emerson 01.11.08 at 10:40 pm

Well, this dance is over. Back to cursing the darkness.


dsquared 01.11.08 at 10:43 pm

More importantly, I’d like to know if Daniel supported the surge that has stopped much of the killing?

there’s actually a post on Crooked Timber, index on Wikipedia, in which I say that one of the ways in which the surge could fail is if Moqtada al-Sadr were to have the nous to call a temporary ceasefire and bloc with the Sunni insurgents, leading to the political collapse of the Maliki government.

Barry: you are of course, quite right. If a memo showed up tomorrow demonstrating conclusively that Adolf Hitler had not been informed of the Final Solution, how many people would think David Irving deserved an apology?


Anderson 01.11.08 at 10:47 pm

If a memo showed up tomorrow demonstrating conclusively that Adolf Hitler had not been informed of the Final Solution

Now, *there* is a McSweeney’s classic if ever I’ve seen one.


Ron F 01.11.08 at 10:53 pm

Is no-one else concerned that the data was sent to the Ministry of Health for “checking and editing”.

It’s pretty well documented that the Iraqi MoH took Harold Shipman as it’s model, and not Florence Nightingale, at least while the Sadrists were in charge, as they were during the survey period.

If you think that’s unfair, or paranoid, consider the fate of the director of Baghdad morgue, Faik Bakir, who fled the country after receiving death threats for releasing mortality data. Or of Iraq’s Deputy Health Minister, Hakim al-Zamili, who was arrested for allegedly allowing his department to assist in “sectarian kidnapping and murder”, of the kind Bakir had reported.

Is Death Squad Central really a wise place to entrust mortality data, or are there statistical safeguards which can overcome the threat of a drill to the head?

And colour me surprised that David Kane is happy to trust the word of a ministry run by the goons of “firebrand anti-American cleric” Moqtada al-Sadr.



stuart 01.11.08 at 10:56 pm

Why is it that “The Surge” reminds me of the Battle of Bulge (seen from the German perspective) somehow?


novakant 01.11.08 at 11:01 pm

Yeah, well, whatever – I’d be happier with the correct number. Between 100.000 and a million is a bit weak as a talking point.


A 01.11.08 at 11:02 pm

This is not about stopping deaths for most of you people. You would quite happily have pulled out the troops and let the civil war step up, as long as it could be declared that the US had ‘lost’.

You’re not fooling me.


Donald Johnson 01.11.08 at 11:05 pm

“Between 100.000 and a million is a bit weak as a talking point.”

Depends on who you’re talking to. If it’s someone who cites unproven statistics about Saddam’s crimes as justification for the war, then yeah, you want the exact number. If you only want to make the point that the war has been a disaster, hundreds of thousands of excess deaths is all you need to know. Your 100,000 is for the violent deaths only, by June 2006. That was twice the IBC number at the time, so right now the violent death toll is likely to be close to 200,000, not counting nonviolent excess deaths.


nick s 01.11.08 at 11:10 pm

You’re not fooling me.

Ooh, get her.


John Emerson 01.11.08 at 11:28 pm

Hitler: “Mein Gott! Why was I not told?! This is a crime against der Volk!”

Eva Braun: “Don’t let yourself be upset, mein Fuhrer. You could not have known! Your subordinates have betrayed you”

Hitler: “I feel so tired sometimes, Eva……”


Donald Johnson 01.11.08 at 11:39 pm

I was looking at IBC’s website and I stumbled on this–

It’s actually the first plausible-sounding explanation (to me) of why the second Lancet paper could have inadvertently picked out a biased sample. According to them this wouldn’t have happened in the first Lancet investigation, except in the case of the Fallujah cluster.

It may be total crap, of course, but it’s appealing to me (again, the non-expert) because it seems to pull things together. It explains why L1 would give a lower violent death toll than L2–they supposedly stuck to rigid rules in L1 but did not in L2.

I suppose, though, it depends on the Iraqi survey team being poorly trained, since this is a fairly predictable kind of problem. Even I should have been able to think of this.

Still, I wonder if IBC is moderating its hardline stance about the number of deaths, if they are acknowledging that L1’s data seemed reasonable.


Donald Johnson 01.11.08 at 11:41 pm

I feel out of place in this thread. But someone had to be the token moron.


John Emerson 01.11.08 at 11:54 pm

Eva: “Kiss me, mein Herr! Kiss me right there….”


Walt 01.12.08 at 12:12 am

Since the current trolls aren’t cutting it, (“a”‘s performance is particularly pathetic), maybe we should divide up into teams. Me, Kieran, Steve Labonne, and Donald Johnson could be the trolls, and the rest of you could be the regular CT commenters.

I’ll start. The fact that only 150,000 civilians have died proves that the Iraq War was a good idea all along.


Steve LaBonne 01.12.08 at 12:19 am

Because Saddam would have fed at least eleventy kazillion people into his shredders by now! Iraq is really one of those humanitarian missions you liberals claim to be in favor of!

Eh, my heart’s not really in it. Not when the reality of the war is as sickening as described here.


Donald Johnson 01.12.08 at 12:35 am

We had to invade Iraq because Saddam would have resurrected an army of Fallujah Zombies and….ah, hell, there’s no substitute for a real troll.


John Emerson 01.12.08 at 12:42 am

100,000 dead would have been totally cool, but 150,000 is really horrible.


Alan Bostick 01.12.08 at 12:47 am

Color me confused. I thought the Lancet study’s 650K excess death number had big error bars on it. Doesn’t the 400K excess death number fall within those error bars, and serve as a confirmation of the Lancet number, at least as a ballpark estimate?


Jackmormon 01.12.08 at 12:57 am

John, I’m confused. Are Eva Braun and Adolf Hitler supposed to be re-enacting the Rene the French Fighter Pilot joke?


Walt 01.12.08 at 1:06 am

Christ, people! Put your backs into it! This thread isn’t going to derail itself. Heave, ho! Heave, ho!


aa 01.12.08 at 1:10 am

Na nu denk ick jetzt bin ick uff erst war ick zu
dann geh ich raus und kieke und wer steht draußen?

This is Berlinisch for:
Who’s there?


John Emerson 01.12.08 at 1:17 am

No, no. The shredder is Gaer Grimson the existential hero in “Fargo”.


John Emerson 01.12.08 at 1:19 am

57: Work in progress.

Hitler is crestfallen that 6 million people have apparently been killed unbeknownst to him. Eva is using her wiles to distract him from his grief and despair.


Matt Weiner 01.12.08 at 1:21 am

My youtubes aren’t loading so I can’t see it all, but how can you have a compilation of British Camp Comedy without John Inman?


John Emerson 01.12.08 at 1:50 am

Hitler [stunned]: “I would have authorized what they did if they had asked, but they did it without my approval. They think I’m irrelevent, Eva!…. [desparingly] Future generation will judge me, not as the evilest man who ever lived, but as a pitiful dupe …. a figurehead ….. a buffoon!”

Eva [consolingly]: Not true, mein Herr! We can arrange to falsify history! You will be hated forever!…. The Allies need someone to hate. We will make sure that it’s you! The only thing that can foil our scheme is the rise of a truthtelling historian among th victorious allies….

Hitler [interrupting, jubilant]: And what are the chances of that, Eva! Here, suck on this pistol! I have one for each of us.

Eva: Oh, Adolph!

Hitler: Oh, Eva!

[Bang. Bang.]



John Emerson 01.12.08 at 1:54 am

“das Volk”. We regret the error.


Jon H 01.12.08 at 1:56 am

If a memo showed up tomorrow demonstrating conclusively that Adolf Hitler had not been informed of the Final Solution

Or maybe long-lost film of a comical skit showing Hitler searching the Reichstag for the missing Jews.


Jon H 01.12.08 at 2:05 am

Hitler: Goebbels! Get me some fresh bagels!

Goebbels: (Turns white) Mein fuhrer… um.. uh.. um..

Hitler: What!? Just get me some bagels!

Goebbels: But mein fuhrer, the.. the… bagel shops, they’re all closed. Jewish holiday.

Hitler: I don’t care! If the fuhrer wants bagels, he gets bagels. Fleischman makes my favorite. What a mensch he is! Send a car to get him, have the shop opened and make me some bagels. But be nice! And take some flowers for his wife, and some dolls for his little girls. I used to bounce them on my knee. Do it! Is this so hard?

Goebbels: But mein fuhrer… uh… they’re um gone.(blam!)


Eli Rabett 01.12.08 at 2:13 am

Why is it that “The Surge” reminds me of the Battle of Bulge (seen from the German perspective) somehow?
Posted by stuart

It snowed in Baghdad today. History always repeats itself as farce


Michael Bérubé 01.12.08 at 2:40 am

Christ, people! Put your backs into it! This thread isn’t going to derail itself. Heave, ho! Heave, ho!

Oh, all right. Let’s stop doing Hitler, John. Let’s try “Milosevic had no knowledge of Srebrenica, and he was horrified when he heard. . . .”

Naaaah, that one never works. Let’s just stick to thanking General Petraeus for the Wonder-Working Surge(R).


Rich Puchalsky 01.12.08 at 2:55 am

Has anyone ever found one of those human-sized shredders that Saddam was supposed to have had? That struck me as particular baroque propaganda when I first heard it, but presumably we’ve turned over the country to the point now where we would have found and displayed them.


Down and Out of Sài Gòn 01.12.08 at 3:06 am

“Dance for me, Eva. Dance for me. I’ll do ANYTHING!”

“Bring me the head of Claus von Stauffenberg… on a platter!”


A 01.12.08 at 4:02 am

Lets be serious here for a second. Dsquared, and much of the other people here, have touted the Lancet study and other studies of fatalities in Iraq as a reason why the Iraq war was terribly wrong. It therefore really won’t wash to assert that I, or anyone else who points to the progress of the surge, is some kind of troll that is on a wind up. This war has gone on for five years. It turns out that the surge in foreign troops – called for by many supporters of the war for many years before this – has dramatically reduced the amount of death in that country; up to 70% by some counts. You can argue that you wouldn’t have proposed the war in the first place, but you cannot claim that your calls for the troops to pullout and allow the growing civil war to commense, was the right thing to do. Clearly, if death rates are your prime concern, you must now accept that supporting the surge was right and should have been done much earlier.

If this is really about death rates then you couldn’t possibly disagree with this. No amount of jokes and silly comments will change this fact; you were wrong to oppose the surge. Why is it so difficult to admit if Iraqis are your prime concern?

Or is this about something else?


Walt 01.12.08 at 4:24 am

A, your hands are drenched in blood. You helped kill every single one of those Iraqis and Americans in the war just as surely as if you killed them yourself. For a mass murderer like yourself, making up imaginary arguments about people on the Internet who you don’t know must seem like thin gruel indeed, but I guess you do what you can.


SG 01.12.08 at 4:49 am

It turns out that the surge in foreign troops – called for by many supporters of the war for many years before this – has dramatically reduced the amount of death in that country; up to 70% by some counts

Two questions a:

1) by whose counts? Usually the same people who attacked the very papers we are talking about here, and produced lame and piss-poor counts, or claimed that they “don’t do bodycounts”


2) how do you know the surge caused the reduction in deaths? 2 million of the likely most at-risk people have fled, there are massive numbers of internally displaced and daily reports of communities homogenized and walled off. The strife has lasted 4 years, who’s to say it didn’t coincidentally just burn out?

To paraphrase you, no amount of silly jokes and silly bodycounts will change the fact : you don’t even know if the surge achieved anything. Why is it so difficult to admit if truth is your prime concern?


Michael Bérubé 01.12.08 at 4:53 am

In a slightly more serious vein, I have to say that the supporters of war in Iraq have taken goalpost-shifting to a Whole Nother Level. It used to be a dismal social science– but hell, now it’s an art.


John Emerson 01.12.08 at 4:59 am

A — nice try, but really.

If you have a point to make about the Lancet report or any of the other reports, please make it! But your surge thing is way too meta. We’re not talking about the surge here.

And we don’t believe what you believe about the surge. And we also don’t believe what you presumably believe about the Iraqi death toll. And finally, we don’t believe what you believe about the relationship between the surge and the Iraqi death toll.

So there you are. Three strikes and you’re out. Don’t call us, we’ll call you. Bye.


John Emerson 01.12.08 at 5:20 am

So anyway, what are we liberals going to do about this Fascism project of ours? Especially, how do we deal with Hitler?

There are a lot of grave questions. For example, were the Nazis Fscists? If not, were they better than Fascists, worse, or about the same? Should we just be Fascists and reject Hitler, or should we go for that extra oomph that we would get as Nazis?

If Hitler was responsible for the Holocaust, is that a bad thing, a good thing, or just sort of OK? If he wasn’t, does that mean that he was OK after all, or does it just mean that he was totally lame?

What about liberal Jews? Should we declare them to be honorary Aryans, or should we take harsh measures? This is a tough one, because there aren’t a whole lot of American liberals, and a high proportion of them are Jews. I believe that we should welcome them, but as a fascist I have problems justifying that conclusion. Any suggestions?

Finally, what about all that New Age spiritual animal rights vegetarian anti-cancer Nazi shit? Do we really have to go that way? Can’t we just leave that to the supermodels? It seems to me that if we go that way, we’ll turn a lot of reasonable people against our Fascist cause. Frankly, I myself would have a lot of trouble with something extremist like that. We should make that optional rather than obligatory, in my opinion.


SG 01.12.08 at 6:20 am

john, one of the most important aspects of our Liberal Fascism is moral relativism – you know, letting everyone believe their own thing so that we can oppress everyone. So I think that if we’re going to be really fascist – as fascist as Hitler – we’re going to have to let everyone believe what they want. If we started mandating what people could believe, we wouldn’t be moral relativists, and then we wouldn’t be fascists.

Though of course, as liberal fascists we have to ensure they eat healthily.


nick s 01.12.08 at 9:04 am

It therefore really won’t wash to assert that I, or anyone else who points to the progress of the surge, is some kind of troll that is on a wind up.

Ooh, get her.

When your point appears to be that ‘humanitarian disaster’ is better than ‘humanitarian catastrophe’, and failing to celebrate the former over the latter is morally reprobate, you really are pushing it.

This isn’t so much moving the goalposts as attempting to push a sedated elephant in skates and a goalie mask onto the rink.


Barry 01.12.08 at 1:13 pm

“And colour me surprised that David Kane is happy to trust the word of a ministry run by the goons of “firebrand anti-American cleric” Moqtada al-Sadr.”

Posted by Ron F

Well, ya gotta realize that ‘anti-American’ is a relative term. For example, the Sunni guerrillas who’ve been killing US soldiers are now Our Friends. So long as we give them guns and money. In fact, I recall somebody say that one of them had told him, face to face, that he wasn’t going to kill Americans (‘for now’). If it’s good enough to get Bush out of trouble, we’d be Librul Fashitz if we complained.

So Moqtada is a Good Guy, as needed. It’s an interesting extension of the ‘Our SOB’ policy, since he isn’t even Our SOB – only for death counts.

I’ve come to the conclusion that that DFH who talked about ‘strain at gnats, and sawllow camels’ was on to something.


Michael Bérubé 01.12.08 at 2:30 pm

Those are timely questions, John, and I hope to answer at least some of them in my new book, What’s Fascist About the Fascist Arts? I think sg is basically right about letting people believe whatever they want so that we can oppress them, but in the end I want to argue that there’s something irreducibly fascist about the fascist arts insofar as they rely on a kind of procedural fascism that collapses the institutions of civil society and creates a repressive state apparatus to fight cancer and compel everyone to drive in a folk-wagon.

But I don’t care what people eat. I call it De Gustibus Fascism.


David Kane 01.12.08 at 2:30 pm

[what part of “banned” do you not understand, Kane? -dd]


John Emerson 01.12.08 at 2:59 pm

It seems to me that as fascists we should force people to believe whatever they want, and that people who seem to be failing to follow their whims off cliffs should be dealt with harshly.


SG 01.12.08 at 3:17 pm

I’m happy with that John, so long as when they discuss what they believe, they are forced to smoke outside, preferably not within 5m of a child, and aren’t allowed to celebrate christmas.

Plus, of course, a Santa genocide. The only survivors from that little number are going to be the few elves we appoint as camp guards. Can we agree on that?


SG 01.12.08 at 3:19 pm

The people of Il Berube want to know about our fascist program for the arts! I will tell you about our fascist program for the arts – it is to paint the people of Il Berube green, and force them to do interpretative dance outside the offices of Exxon!


John Emerson 01.12.08 at 3:26 pm

By 5m you did mean 5km, right?


SG 01.12.08 at 3:48 pm

we can wrangle over the details once the last elf has been strangled on Santa’s beard.


John Emerson 01.12.08 at 3:57 pm

I don’t like the trend here. It’s too easy to complacently say “Of course I’m a Fascist — I’m a liberal” and leave it at that. But to remain vital, liberal Fascism has to always be asking itself what liberal Fascism really is. We need someone to ask the hard questions, and I don’t see people doing that.

Giuliani, for example. For different reasons, neither liberals nor Fascists should make Mussolini jokes (pbuh). Yet I hear people doing that all the time. We’ve allowed ourselves to become corrupt and lax.


roger 01.12.08 at 4:19 pm

Well, a., as I argued above, the surge failed politically, is an element in a larger strategy that allows for no U.S. exit from Iraq – which is a strategy that will blow up in the face of the war supporters, who have an absolute blind spot as far as the willingness of the American public to resource a war that does them no good for an indefinite period of time – and was not the major reason for the downturn of deaths. To this, you have replied by saying that the Baker commission was discredited (and it may have been in your mind, but of course, that is mere assertion. As Piaget points out, after the age of five or so, most humans learn to distinguish mere assertion from a reasoned argument. Piaget would have been fascinated by American rightwingers. And then you asserted, again, that it was the surge that brought down the level of violence all by itself.

So, perhaps it is time to look at the evidence. I’m asserting that the presence of more American troops was one of three things that brought down the violence, the other two being the American surrender in Anbar, and the ethnic cleansing of Baghdad. By the way, the latter should help us to keep in mind that violence counts aren’t uniformly good – less violence can simply signal the end of an unjust and violent process of expropriation, for instance. In August , the Iraqi Red Cross (Crescent) reported that the ethnic cleansing of Baghdad – the flight of the Sunni population – was happening in tandem with – as an unexpected result of – the increase of American troops. This was because the policy of the surge was to bring largely Shi’ite police and army into Sunni areas of Baghdad, and breaking apart Sunni insurgent units that had guarded those neighborhoods. These maps on Matt Yglesias’ site tell that tale. Meanwhile, in Anbar, which was where the majority of American troops were being killed, Sunni tribes that had fought the Americans in Fallujah and Ramadi since 2003 made a deal that had nothing to do with the surge – it had to do with America surrendering on a point it had vehemently held to since 2004, which was the amnesty of those Iraqis who had killed Americans. Not only amnesty, though – the Americans started arming the people who had been killing them. This was actually the only logical move made by the Bush administration since the war, in terms of American interest – it quietly rescinded the whole nonsensical purge of the Ba’athists that had been the centerpiece of the Bremer protectorate. And of course it was the last kick delivered to the corpse of the Bushite dream for Iraq in 2003 – some radical, free enterprising, secular democracy, allied to Israel and ready to kick some Iranian butt. Just put “not” before all those modifiers and you have the current situation.


John Emerson 01.12.08 at 4:28 pm

Perhaps Crooked Timber could sponsor a thumbsucker symposium: “Liberal Fascism In the Third Millenium”. It would be eight years late, but millenia are really long, so no big deal.


lemuel pitkin 01.12.08 at 4:40 pm

wow, this is an extraordinarily stupid thread.


JP Stormcrow 01.12.08 at 4:55 pm

Just keep it coming guys. It’s all fodder for my upcoming book The End of Liberal Fascism. “Virtually all contemporary assumptions about the origin of liberal fascism, its historical significance, its contemporary effects, and what to do about it are wrong.”


Donald Johnson 01.12.08 at 4:55 pm

I wouldn’t mind a serious discussion about the death toll, but sometimes you have to read the thread you have, not the thread you wish you had, and this one is kinda funny.


John Emerson 01.12.08 at 5:25 pm

There is a serious CT thread about the death toll immediately below. I kept expecting the people DD was arguing against to show up, but except for Kane (who is bannred) few of them did. I had been looking forward to it. “A” was just too feeble to bother with.

For whatever reasons, CT doesn’t seem to be a good venue for discussing sophisticated statistical concepts in the context of the Iraq death toll. Presumably that’s being done somewhere else.


Russell L. Carter 01.12.08 at 5:27 pm

Geez. I check in and see 92 comments, and ahm thinkin’, John must have gone to sleep and now we’ll be gettin’ some quality trollage. But NOOOOOOO!. Just ‘a’ struggling to find some oxygen amongst the hijinks. I’ll have to head over to deltoid to see what’s up.

That guy mixner over at McMegan’s really sets the limbo bar low, eh? He convincingly demonstrates a dominating ineptitude with the basic algebraic operators. Maybe he could be lured over here somehow.


Russell L. Carter 01.12.08 at 5:42 pm

Ah. I see that ragout and dickhead David Kane are crawling around in the down post. I do like ragout’s technique, he can slice and dice text so that it plausibly appears to support his claims, and you have to go back to the original context to see how he’s twisted it. nice. The trick with swapping the survey documents was a cool move too.

I think that Tyler Cowen should assign one of his graduate students to produce a public choice theory of trollage. But I don’t know how well it would play on NPR.


Steve LaBonne 01.12.08 at 5:45 pm

Lets be serious here for a second.

You go first. It’s about time you started. Perhaps your first move could be to come up with a semi-intelligent response to the points roger made in #88.


JP Stormcrow 01.12.08 at 5:51 pm

I am more than fine with the humor in this thread as a welcome escape from a ghoulish discussion of the details of the grim calculus of death being carried on primarily by citizens of the very countries which precipitated the entire episode. You know I’m not sure all of the statistical procedures used in the Tuskegee Experiment were sound, time for a review and Internet debate! I went through about a dozen different follow ons, representing various conflicting emotions, to the quote from The Plague I posted on the other thread before I settled on the lame one that I used. I’ll just say that the attention paid to this particular story by all sides is the real story here. And yes, I certainly do understand why we bother our beautiful minds with establishing scientifically valid methods of estimating excess deaths in areas suffering catastrophic social collapses after military interventions. Let’s get it right at least.
Yay us! Yay mankind!


JP Stormcrow 01.12.08 at 5:54 pm

Why did the chicken only cross the main road?

Because it was stapled to a Lancet survey team member.


Walt 01.12.08 at 6:06 pm

Lemuel, that was a yeoman attempt at trolling, but I think you can do better. Try, “This is an extraordinarily stupid thread that proves that you hate America” and go from there.


Jon H 01.12.08 at 8:03 pm

“we can wrangle over the details once the last elf has been strangled on Santa’s beard.”

Poor Mrs. Clause.


rea 01.13.08 at 12:43 am

we’re going to have to let everyone believe what they want.

No, you forget, we’re liberal fascists. We’re going to force everyone to believe what they want, whether they like it or not.


gunther 01.13.08 at 12:48 am

Gospel according to Daniel… ‘I believe what I believe and no amount of evidence will change that.

Does that about sum up the position of this post?


rea 01.13.08 at 12:50 am

But seriously, about that surge.

Any idiot could see that adding more troops ought to have an effect reducing violence. Problem is, we have a limited number of troops. The surge is not sustainable–in fact, the pre-surge troop numbers are not sustainable. So great, we can manipulate the killing rate by increasing or decreasing the number of troops. What is the point? What does that accomplish?

Now, if pushing down the killing rate for a while would lead to a political settlement, there might be some point–but you see, it hasn’t.


Alex 01.13.08 at 12:53 am

“Do they not understand, that the majority of these victims were killed by the same people who attacked the WTC?”

Now that would have been difficult.

Anyway, I collected a gaggle of surveys including the ORB one (1,200,000!), and took a mean and a Malatesta estimator; mean is roughly 700,000, Mala 350,000. Whether the Malatesta is applicable is another question; you subtract 30% from the mean to reflect the fact that exaggeration has no limit but underestimates can only go to zero. In this case, zero is definitively ruled out..


SG 01.13.08 at 2:26 am

jon h, even if Mrs. Clause’s husband had survived, we liberal fascists will mandate the shaving of all beards, because they’re dirty and you can’t trust people with beards, or give them mandatory hugs. Exceptions will be:

1) women, because they will be forced to grow beards by our army of bearded dyke lesbians who are militant feminazis just like Hillary, though she herself strangely doesn’t seem anything like them

2) left wing bloggers, who will be granted an exception by our corrupt and incompetent Ministry of Mandatory Hugs and Smilies (MiniHug), because it lends them a certain gravitas

3) Muslims, because we give all sorts of special privileges to those people we innocently believe are just victims of white oppression

4) everyone, because of course we secretly aim to turn America Muslim.

So what will probably happen is Mrs Clause will strangle the last elf on her own beard while Santa Clause is at prayers with Michael Berube (who of course will not be doing interpretive dance in front of the Exxon office during prayers or Ramadan); she will probably strangle this elf in a fit of rage at having had her marriage annulled. There will of course be no marriage. This is unfortunate because we will have a whole brace of hate crimes laws with which to punish her (this is an elf, folks!), and then we will send her away to a re-education camp, where she will receive many Hugs.

have I missed anything?


JP Stormcrow 01.13.08 at 5:28 am

Don’t forget litotes.


abb1 01.13.08 at 3:58 pm

Roger, #19: In fact, the surge did bring down deaths because of three things…

You’re forgetting the sudden and unexplained docility of “firebrand” Al-Sadr. What happened to that guy, is he still alive? Was he bought? Is there some sort of Moctezuma/Cortes deal?


THR 01.13.08 at 4:18 pm

You’re forgetting the sudden and unexplained docility of “firebrand” Al-Sadr. What happened to that guy, is he still alive? Was he bought? Is there some sort of Moctezuma/Cortes deal?

No. He just moved to New Hampshire, and started makin’ cider.


John Emerson 01.13.08 at 4:30 pm

The hug is the liberal fascist’s version of a pistol shot to the back of a head.


John Emerson 01.13.08 at 4:41 pm

The inquisitor Cardinal Biggles with his dread Comfy Chair was, of course, the first liberal fascist.


Roger 01.13.08 at 6:49 pm

106, Abb1 – Well, I think Sadr has been consistent with his whole strategy. In December, 2004, I wrote up a little analysis of the chess playin’ styles, as I saw them, of Sistani, Allawi and Sadr. This was after the war crime committed by the Americans against Fallujah. The premise of my blog piece was that just because the Americans were irrelevant to the larger destiny of Iraq doesn’t mean they couldn’t be played by one side or the other. Remember, the same success meme about ending the reign of the ‘terrorists’ that we’ve heard about the surge was spoken about after Fallujah – it broke the back of the terrorists, we was told, by officers and everything. I wrote this:

“It soon became clear that this attack on Fallujah was different from the assault in the spring, or the assault on Najaf, in that there wasn’t an echo of support in the Shiite community. Even from Sadr. This is a measure of the disaster enacted in the alliance between a qaedist group that is oriented towards anti-Shiite pograms and a cynical Ba’athist group that is oriented towards retaking power — and restoring an economic order that, after all, benefited a large class of Sunnis.

The Americans were probably pleased by the lack of Shi’ite support – but it did rather doom their program of cleansing Allawi in the blood of the Sunni. Allawi still bears the mark of collaboration and the mark of weakness. Tyranny is a harsh master — just as God spews the lukewarm out of his mouth, tyranny makes a similar demand on its potential incarnations. Allawi is in the excrutiating process of being spewed out of the mouth. This will last for some time.

Great rulers are rarely great chess players – but they are often good ones. Sadr, we imagine, is a terrible chess player. The limits of Sistani’s play are coming up. Assuming a Dawa led coalition comes into power in January, the question of how to get rid of the Americans and the insurgents will take on a new twist. Simply having the Americans go is unacceptable – it would replay the stupidity of Bremer’s unilateral disbanding of the Iraqi army. It is, at the present, to the advantage of all players that the Americans have no recognition of their objective irrelevance in Iraq – in this, they have become perfect tools. But tools of force in Middle Eastern history have a latent dangerousness.

It is as difficult to see these things, sitting here in America, as it would be to make a map of New York city from watching repeats of Law and Order on A and E. The American press is fixated solely on the American p.o.v. in Iraq. But one thing that the Americans are structurally unable to consider is that they might have become irrelevant in Iraq. Such is the national vanity, such is the manic wavering between passion and indifference.”

Which I still think is true. Sadr has been a master of silences in the past, and I expect, if he survives, that he will continue the possum strategy when it suits him.


abb1 01.13.08 at 7:51 pm

I disagree with this concept that Americans are irrelevant and being played for fools. Americans are not irrelevant, they are more relevant than everybody else in there.

America is like Rome. Of course local chiefs will sit with them and drink tea and smoke the big pipe and try to convince them to annihilate the enemy tribe, but the Americans are not the pawns there and the chiefs are not grandmasters. In the end the chiefs will do what they’re told and the Americans will do what they want.


John Emerson 01.13.08 at 8:33 pm

Come on, Crooked Timber guys, let’s have a thumbsucking piece within which we can decide what liberal fascism really means. I’ll quit hijacking threads for awhile if you give me my own thread.


John Emerson 01.13.08 at 8:37 pm

I do have my own Zombie Army, of course. But that wasn’t a “threat”.


abb1 01.13.08 at 9:09 pm

President Bush used to have “armies of compassion”, and they were full of liberal-fascist zombies. But they all deserted now.


Bernstein calling you out 01.13.08 at 9:22 pm

Daniel Davies, hypocrite?


Roger 01.13.08 at 9:58 pm

abb1 – the Rome analogy is a pretty poor argument, even as an analogy, considering Rome’s problems in conquering and holding Mesopotamia. Remember Crassus.

The theory that the U.S. pulls the strings is curiously unamenable to falsification. When the U.S. invaded, the idea was that the U.S. would seize all the oil and pump it out to corporation America’s delight. Now, in the fifth year, the oil being pumped out hovers around the amount coming out in the Saddam years – but don’t worry, that was really, really America’s secret plan. Chaos! So Allawi was Bush’s ally and he got whacked, just as I said he would, in the elections. Ah, but that was part of the deeper U.S. plan, don’t you know.

I would say, on the contrary, that there is no way that the amount of money being spent by the U.S. in Iraq could be justified by any notion of U.S. interest; that the various disasters impinging on U.S. volunteer forces are all the more harmful in that those forces can’t really win, since there is no strategic endpoint of winning; that the notion that the U.S. is going to use Iraq as its platform in the Middle East, which was certainly the Bush/Cheney intention, has pancaked, as Iran’s prestige has gone up noticeably in the Gulf region – and why not, as Iran’s people are in power in Baghdad and in Najaf; and that the U.S. tilt towards SCIRI is a measure of America’s desperation – it is sorta like America allying with Hezbollah.

So yeah, America is irrelevant in terms of serving its own interests, since the very structure of its own interests in Iraq is down, but it is not irrelevant as a giant instrument, which is all the better for all parties involved insofar as they don’t have to pay for a lotta bang bang, you get money to repair pipelines which, you know, is a cost when you are smuggling out oil, and the determination of the Americans to stay there is on a leash that is now starting to pull – the leash of the American economy. Bush’s two hundred billion earmarked for Iraq this year had best buy him that relevance. My bet is that it won’t. And next year, I don’t think there’s going to be 200 billion going to Iraq. This project is already way overtime.


abb1 01.13.08 at 10:25 pm

There are hundreds and thousands of tactical fuckups. Who is Allawi on the scale of things? What’s a trillion dollars? Dot-com bust wiped out $5 trillion.

Take Rome vs. Hannibal, for example. They lose an army, they send another. They lose two, they send two more. They’ll change tactics, and then they will change them again. When they lose they double the bet. They never quit, as long as they they have enough resources.


Roger 01.14.08 at 12:42 am

Well, on the scale of the Punic wars, over two centuries, the U.S. loss in Iraq will not be a major setback, anymore than the fall of the shah or the fall of the Saigon regime was a real setback. We used to worry about undue british influence in argentina in 1890, but the serious old men in D.C. who knew we had to do something about that are all dead.

But, as far as analogies go: the U.S. is soooo not Rome. Our real power in the Middle East, after the Cold war, was bound to fall – anti-communism could no longer be used as an all purpose mask that allowed Americans to support radical Islam, for one thing. Getting out of that alliance has obviously been tricky. Luckily, Americans are still ignorant and uninterested in the things our great allies, like the Saudis, actually do.


Bernstein calling you out 01.14.08 at 4:50 am


“Still under moderation.”

Davies, you preposterous quack. I suggested to a friend before I linked to Bernstein’s post that you would let it sit in the moderation queue permanently, lest your readers find out that you are guilty of the same fraudulence you accuse others of.

And I was right! More predictable than an eggtimer. And not a shred of intellectual honesty on you.. I’m disappointed, really. :)


Neil C. Reinhardt 01.14.08 at 6:11 am

Anyone who says the surge has failed has neither the logical thinking skills or sufficient knowledge of the facts for anyone who has a fully functioning brain to waste their time with.

The only difference between the Clueless Clods of the Loony Left who refuse to learn the facts proving the Iraq War is fully justified & the Programmed Religious Robots of the Far Right who say evolution is not a fact is the subject matter,



Neil C. Reinhardt 01.14.08 at 6:29 am

1. The first Lancet study was total antiwar crap as anyone with a IQ above 90 and who had been following the war knew.

2. Those who says the surge has failed has neither the logical thinking skills or sufficient knowledge of the facts for anyone who has a fully functioning brain to waste their time with.

The only difference between the Clueless Clods of the Loony Left who refuse to learn the facts proving the Iraq War is fully justified & the Programmed Religious Robots of the Far Right who say evolution is not a fact is the subject matter,


abb1 01.14.08 at 1:29 pm

Isn’t it just like Rome, though? Citizens are intersted in bread and circuses and the elite in expanding their power.


Barry 01.14.08 at 1:59 pm

roger: “Great rulers are rarely great chess players – but they are often good ones. Sadr, we imagine, is a terrible chess player. ”

I’d take exception to this. He’s survived the last few years, which is not a negligible achievement; he seems to endure among Shiites. As others are compromised by working with the USA, he’s stayed ‘pure’.


Barry 01.14.08 at 2:03 pm

“Isn’t it just like Rome, though? Citizens are intersted in bread and circuses and the elite in expanding their power.”

Posted by abb1

Describes so many places, and so many times.


nnyhav 01.14.08 at 4:18 pm

Back home: Cowen culpa: OGH!!


lemuel pitkin 01.14.08 at 5:08 pm

Does anyone else here find Emerson’s performance somewhere between embarrassing and pathological? (And not funny, either.) Most people prefer the company of people they respect to the company of people they despise — that’s why trolls are generally considered a bad thing. Emerson, on the other hand, is apparently so addicted to gawking at idiots at that if there are none around he’ll resort to playing both parts himself.


Donald Johnson 01.14.08 at 5:11 pm

“. The first Lancet study was total antiwar crap as anyone with a IQ above 90 and who had been following the war knew.”

You apparently missed the fact that this latest paper in the NEJM said the violent death rate for the first 18 months of the war was 120 deaths per day–the same as the first Lancet paper if you exclude the Fallujah outlier.


John Emerson 01.14.08 at 6:08 pm

Not I, Lemuel. Please explain.


Hidari 01.14.08 at 9:43 pm

The key point about the Rome analogy Abb1 is: where are we on the timeline? Is Iraq indeed analogous to the Celtic victories early on, or Hannibal?

Or are we perhaps talking about something closer to the Crisis of the Third Century?. Or, even more, the fall itself? Consider: if Chavez succeeds in creating his bank (admittedly a big ‘if’) then the US will have finally lost South America. Central America may well go the same way in a little while (cf Nicaragua, the continuing non-compliance of Cuba). The Euro (and the European project generally) pose a long term economic threat. And the rise of China , India and Russia at the same time, amount to something like a ‘perfect storm’ scenario. Even in the heart of the American Empire, the middle east (whose cheap oil subsidises the Empire in the same way that North African grain subsidised Rome), the client state Israel was defeated by Hizbollah, Iraq burns, Pakistan and Afghanistan are falling, and the rest of the region is close to exploding. It doesn’t even need democracy to spread: if China, for example assumed the position of the hegemonic power then the US’ influence would be greatly reduced.

Peter Heather’s new book on the subject makes clear that things are as they ever were: the Persians (Iran) battle it out with Rome (the US): this could have been an easily contained threat, but for the fact that Rome was hit by wave after wave of ‘barbarian’ attacks: eventually Rome simply succumbed under the pressure. The US is not omnipotent. Already its economy is propped up by China, a weapon that the Chinese choose not to wield: yet.


jack lecou 01.14.08 at 9:44 pm

Representing a lurker faction of one, I rate Emerson’s performance embarrassing AND pathological. Good mean-spirited fun.


Martin Wisse 01.14.08 at 10:09 pm

What I find so intellectually draining about the whole Lancet “controversy” is that time and time again we’ve seen the same deadenders arguing that the study they thought was fraudulent six months ago now suddenly proven the new study showing the situation had worsened could not possible be true, all the way to the original IBC project.

So taken a leave out of Daniel’s book, I’ve decided that the debate is over and should’ve been over a long time ago. No matter whether Lancet 1 or 2 or this new study is more correct, the fact remains that Iraq is a humanitarian disaster which costs the lives of hundred of thousands of Iraqis.

Just like we predicted before the war.


abb1 01.14.08 at 10:13 pm

The US is very strong. Can beat Chavez, can Iran, easily. I don’t see the wheels falling off at all, not even close.

Students don’t riot and national guardsmen don’t shoot them like in the early 1970s; rednecks don’t blow up buildings and the FBI don’t burn them alive like in the early 1990s; there’s no anti-government movement of any kind. The communists are defeated, the Muslims too, nothing to worry about; I don’t even think there’s going to be a serious recession – the dollar is too low. A couple of million people will stop paying mortgages and start paying rent instead, maybe some banks will lose a few billion dollars, big deal. It is a golden era, really.


John Emerson 01.14.08 at 11:11 pm

My belief is that rational debate over these studies is only possible in restricted expert forums, which CT is not. The public debate is fraudulent and is kept alive mostly by dishonest people who wanted to Ratherize the Lancet study and drive it from the debate. They were more or less successful.

There may be legitimate criticisms of the Lancet studies, but I can’t participate in that debate, and above all, think that it’s an entirely different debate than the public debate here.

I do confess to enjoying debating trolls. Some people do needlework, some collect garden gnomes, some insult trolls. A small but harmless hobby.

Two spaces below this post there was a serious-minded dabate, with David Kane but without much of me. I wasn’t preventing a debate from happening.

Also, we liberal fascists have to get our shit together,


SG 01.15.08 at 12:26 am

Sewage workers of the world, Unite!!!


Hidari 01.15.08 at 8:26 am

You see Abb1 you do exhibit what I see as one of the key flaws of the radical left (something which another commentator pointed out). If Iraq had turned out to be a ‘success’ then this would have proved that the Americans are omnipotent. However if Iraq is a ‘failure’ then this mysteriously also proves that the US is omnipotent. In fact every single thing can on the planet can be explained as ‘the Americans benefit from this’. Indeed, as you argue above, American failures apparently prove that the US is even stronger than ‘we’ thought.

I know this is a popular line amongst the radical left but it is actually extraordinarily disempowering. Since the US becomes this almost religious force, moving in mysterious ways throughout the world, what is the point of fighting it? (Interestingly, proto-neocons like James Burnham used to talk about Russia in the same way).

The fact is that the US can NOT defeat Chavez. I know that ‘cos they tried and the coup failed. They would try again, but they are bogged down in the middle east. Moreover, again, the US made an effort to attack Iran but it failed because their own intelligence agencies rebelled, mainly because Iraq has been such a fiasco.

I know with the paranoid ‘The US are behind everything, they control the vertical, they control the horizontal’ mindset everything can be explained, and, yes, I know that the British Empire ‘failed its way upwards’. Every ‘defeat’ somehow led to an increase in British power…..for a while. To be more specific, it led to an increase in British power until it didn’t.

I do sometimes suspect that there is something to be said for the old cliche that American nationalists and the radical left are ultimately united in their belief that the US is the supreme unbeatable Empire that will last forever. As I hardly need to remind you, they said the same about Rome.


abb1 01.15.08 at 10:51 am

Well, first of all, I’m a typical petit bourgeoise guy, I do not consider myself a radical of any stripe nor do I have any contact whatsoever with any radicals. None of the generalization above (true or false) are relevant here.

Now, c’mon, Hidari. We both know that the US government (the executive branch) is an extremely power and well-organized force. Chavez’ plane might crash tommorow and that’ll be the end of Chavez; these things have happened before.

The US has huge economic and political power. The US is indeed (at the moment) behind most of everything; that is not paranoid, that’s common sense and common knowledge. Almost any decision taken by almost any world government or international organization is checked and double-checked against a possible reaction from Washington. It’s not “the supreme unbeatable Empire”, but it is very strong. At the moment. And, as far as I can tell, for the forseeable future.


Hidari 01.15.08 at 11:53 am

Yes but Chavez’ plane won’t crash tomorrow. I guarantee you that. That’s the point.


abb1 01.15.08 at 12:50 pm

He seems to believe it might.


lemuel pitkin 01.15.08 at 6:13 pm

I do confess to enjoying debating trolls.

And I confess to thinking that’s an extraordinarily stupid pastime for a clearly intelligent person. Stick with the garden gnomes, is my advice.


John Emerson 01.16.08 at 12:14 am

Sorry, Lemuel. You go your way and I’ll go mine. You prissy bastard.


SG 01.16.08 at 7:50 am

Oh No! A liberal fascist factional split! Hugs at 10 paces as the 5th Fascist International face off with the New Liberal Fascist International! And the ultimate cause of the split is of course, the matter of diversity – which we all know is fascism in its purest form. When there is so little racial diversity that there are no trolls, should we force other liberals to become trolls? Well do I remember the day when the seemingly invincible Axis of Hugs fell apart over this controversial issue…


abb1 01.16.08 at 8:37 am

Why can’t we all get along, sing a song, raise the flag and march where Hillary and The Party lead us?


SG 01.16.08 at 10:04 am

fascist! you’ll be the first against the wall when the revolution comes!


John Emerson 01.16.08 at 11:54 am

I have serious doubts as to whether Lemuel is a liberal fascist at all. I suspect that he is one pof our sworn enemies: a weenie liberal. All the hugs and kumbaya with none of the jackboots.


abb1 01.16.08 at 1:56 pm

Hugs and kumbaya administered by trained professionals are most powerful weapons, Genosse Emerson. Make no mistake about it.


Barry 01.16.08 at 6:05 pm

“fascist! you’ll be the first against the wall when the revolution comes!”

Posted by SG ·

No, it’s *liberal* fascism. He’ll be first on the massage table.


John Emerson 01.16.08 at 6:52 pm

I, for one, support the legalization of the dread Comfy Chair. Horrible, yes, but we’d only use it on horrible people, like Pitkin, for example.


SG 01.17.08 at 2:03 am

“He’s a conservative anti-fascist!!! I knew it! I could tell by his hatred of gays! Send him to the recliner!!!”

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