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Iraq 2003, looking back

by Chris Bertram on June 15, 2013

British Tory MP and former diplomat Rory Stewart starts speaking at about 1h 30 minutes. Definitely worth a listen, particularly as we hear the usual suspects crank up enthusiasm for war again.
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And (thanks to Chris Brooke) for those who would prefer just to read, the Hansard transcript.

Look Who’s Teaching at CUNY

In case you were wondering about this

David H. Petraeus, who resigned as director of the Central Intelligence Agency last November after having an extramarital affair with his biographer, will serve as a visiting professor at the City University of New York next academic year, the university announced on Tuesday. [click to continue…]

Why Did Liberals Support the Iraq War?

by Corey Robin on March 25, 2013

In September 2005, on the fourth anniversary of 9/11, The Nation ran a long piece I did on liberal support for the Iraq War and for US imperialism more generally.  By way of Paul Berman, Michael Ignatieff, Christopher Hitchens, and Peter Beinart—as well as Judith Shklar and Richard Rorty—it addressed what I thought and still think are some of the deeper political and intellectual roots of the liberals’ support for the Iraq War. On the tenth anniversary of the War, I thought I might reprint that essay here. Some things I got wrong (Beinart, for example, went onto have something of a turnabout on these issues; it wasn’t Oscar Wilde but Jonathan Swift who made that jibe). Other issues I over-emphasized or neglected. But still, it’s got some useful stuff there. Without further ado…

• • • • •

It’s the fourth anniversary of September 11, and Americans are getting restless about the war in Iraq. Republicans are challenging the President, activists and bloggers are pressing the Democrats and liberal hawks are reconsidering their support for the war. Everyone, it seems, is asking questions.

Two questions, however, have not been asked, perhaps because they might actually help us move beyond where we are and where we’ve been. First, how is it that few liberals and no leftists in 1968 believed that Lyndon Johnson, arguably the most progressive President in American history, would or could airlift democracy to Vietnam, while many liberals and not a few leftists in 2003 believed that the most reactionary President since William McKinley could and would export democracy to Iraq? [click to continue…]

Inspecting Iraq, in retrospect

by John Quiggin on March 18, 2013

Following up on Corey’s piece, I want to restate a point that seems to be forgotten a lot, especially by those who went along with the Bush-Blair claims about WMDs. Until December 2002, there was plenty of behavioral evidence to suggest that Saddam had WMDs, namely the fact that he had expelled (or, more precisely, refused to co-operate with) the UN weapons inspection program. Given the benefits from being declared WMD-free, this made little sense unless he had weapons. Equally, Bush and Blair were making statements that they knew what WMDs Saddam had and fairly accurate knowledge of their location. Again, this seemed (to me, at any rate) to make no sense if they were relying on a bluff that Saddam could easily call.

All of that changed, in December 2002, when Saddam readmitted the inspectors and declared that he had no WMDs. At that point, it suddenly became obvious (again, to me, at any rate) that Bush and Blair had been making it up. I naively supposed that it would be equally obvious to everyone else, and that, as a result it would be impossible to mobilise support for war. I was particularly struck by the unanimity with which the pro-war bloggers reproduced the ever-changing propaganda lines of the Administration. No one would be surprised now, but back then, the assumption was that disputes with people like Glenn Reynolds were a matter of honest disagreement.

On the 10th anniversary of the Iraq War, it’s important to remember that George W. Bush did not always or simply lie about Iraq and the threat it posed. He did not sell the war simply by making stuff up about the presence of WMD or exaggerating the threat posed by Iraq. That storyline is too easy. Bush and his allies did something far subtler—and more disturbing—and what they said was actually well within the canon of national security discourse, both on the left and the right. [click to continue…]

Open thread on Iraq

by John Quiggin on December 15, 2011

Everything that can be said about this tragedy has been said, many times over. Nevertheless, it seems appropriate to note the offically announced end of the US invasion and occupation of Iraq, and to invite reflections on it.

Iraq in the movies

by Chris Bertram on March 24, 2010

I’ve seen The Hurt Locker and Green Zone within a few days of one another. Purely as a piece of cinema, The Hurt Locker is probably the better film, but politically it is nowhere, and indeed it suffers from the same syndrome as many Hollywood Vietnam pictures – they are all about Americans and how they feel, and the poor natives appear as mere ciphers. Not so Green Zone, where the Iraqis appear as persons in their own right, with interests, feelings, grudges, agendas. Green Zone is, in some ways, a pretty crude film, and there’s a striking disconnect between the late-Bourneish style and the anti-war substance. Still, if that gets a broader audience remembering and thinking about what happened, and what went wrong, and why, that’s no bad thing. In the credits at the end, I was surprised to see “Based on _Imperial Life in the Emerald City_ by Rajiv Chandrasekaran”. I’m not sure what the necessary and sufficient conditions for the “based on” relation are, but this is not that distant from saying that the latest Bond movie is “based on” the official history of MI5 (although to be fair, the account of the pathologies of the CPA is recognizably, though distortedly from _Emerald City_). One thing that both book and movie reminded me of is this: that the cheerleaders for the war (be they neocon or “decent left”) didn’t just applaud the invasion. The awfulness of Saddam was such that being pro-war in 2003 was wrong but perhaps forgiveable and — as some of the barely repentant cheerleaders keep reminding us — was sometimes motivated by moral motives. They also applauded or excused the really bad post-invasion fuck-ups: the failure to control looting, deBaathification, the dissolution of the Iraqi army, etc. So thanks to Rajiv Chandrasekaran, Paul Greengrass and Matt Damon for keeping a light shining on that.

By Kathy G.

Well, what can I say? Henry has provided me with such a truly awesome intro that I can’t possibly hope to live up to it. But it does give me an additional incentive to do my best, which is what I’ll attempt to do.

Yesterday, following up on something Spencer Ackerman had posted, Matthew Yglesias wrote the following:

It’s really bizarre how, in the context of war, totally normal attributes of human behavior become transformed into into mysterious cultural quirks of the elusive Arab. I recall having read in the past that because Arabs are horrified of shame, it’s not a good idea to humiliate an innocent man by breaking down his door at night and handcuffing him in front of his wife and children before hauling him off to jail. Now it seems that Arabs are also so invested in honor that they don’t like it when mercenaries kill their relatives.

I completely agree, and this gives me an excuse to bust out an argument that has long been marinating in the recesses of the ol’ cranium. It’s this: that America, the Mideast, and the world would have been better off if “the single most popular and widely read book on the Arabs in the US military,” Raphael Patai’s racist tract The Arab Mind, had been taken off Pentagon reading lists, and been replaced with Edward Said’s Orientalism* instead. [click to continue…]

Iraqi interpreters coming to Australia

by John Quiggin on April 9, 2008

I only saw this item flashing briefly across the TV screen, but I’m sure it will be of interest to CT readers. The new Australian government, which is withdrawing combat troops (though not some troops guarding our embassy) from Iraq, has announced that Iraqis who have worked with Australian forces in Iraq will be offered resettlement in Australia. The estimated number of Iraqis to receive visas, including family members, is 600. Australia had only about 500 troops on average, so that gives an idea of the scale of commitment that might be expected from the UK and US if they met their obligations in a comparable fashion.

The decision to accept the interpreters ahead of other refugees has been criticised, but I think this is justified. The essential point should be to treat this intake as additional to, rather than part of, our general obligation to accept refugees.

Updating on the same point, this Times story indicates that the first three workers to be accepted under the much more restrictive British program have finally arrived in the UK, and that the program has so far delivered visas to a total of 12 Iraqis and their families. The total estimated intake is 2000.

Stiglitz on the (financial) cost of Iraq

by Daniel on February 28, 2008

Joe Stiglitz, interviewed in the Guardian about his book (co-authored with Linda Bilmes), “The Three Trillion Dollar War”. A couple of thoughts:

  • The cost of the Iraq War could have underwritten Social Security for fifty years. This brings home one of the points Max Sawicky always made in the SS debate (in general to a brick wall). Although the headline amounts associated with these problems are scary, they are actually not all that much as a percentage of GDP. The Iraq War is a horrific waste of money, but I don’t think anyone would actually try and claim that it literally can’t be afforded. Similarly with the Medicare/Medicaid/Social Security nexus of funding costs; it’s absolutely clear that the productive capacity of the US economy can pay for these things, it’s just a question of whether there is political will to do so, or whether the government would rather spend the money on killing hundreds of thousands of people overseas for no very obvious benefit.
  • It’s not often that one gets to correct a Nobel Prize winner, so I will take the opportunity. Stiglitz is qutoed as saying that “Money spent on armaments is money poured down the drain”. This is actually the best case for armaments spending from an economic point of view. Most of the time, when armaments are used, they damage something valuable. If all the bullets fired in Iraq had been poured down the drain instead, the world economy would be massively better off, even allowing for the cost of cleaning up the pollution caused in the drain.
  • Three trillion dollars really could have solved a lot of world problems. For example, it would have funded a once-and-for-all offer to the entire population of Gaza, the West Bank and the UNRWA refugee camps of half a million dollars each to slope off and stop bothering the Israelis. That’s the sort of money we’re talking about here.

Post-Invasion Deaths in Iraq

by Kieran Healy on January 10, 2008

A new study estimates violence-related mortality in Iraq between 2003 and 2006:

Background Estimates of the death toll in Iraq from the time of the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003 until June 2006 have ranged from 47,668 (from the Iraq Body Count) to 601,027 (from a national survey). Results from the Iraq Family Health Survey (IFHS), which was conducted in 2006 and 2007, provide new evidence on mortality in Iraq.

Methods The IFHS is a nationally representative survey of 9345 households that collected information on deaths in the household since June 2001. We used multiple methods for estimating the level of underreporting and compared reported rates of death with those from other sources.

Results Interviewers visited 89.4% of 1086 household clusters during the study period; the household response rate was 96.2%. From January 2002 through June 2006, there were 1325 reported deaths. After adjustment for missing clusters, the overall rate of death per 1000 person-years was 5.31 (95% confidence interval [CI], 4.89 to 5.77); the estimated rate of violence-related death was 1.09 (95% CI, 0.81 to 1.50). When underreporting was taken into account, the rate of violence-related death was estimated to be 1.67 (95% uncertainty range, 1.24 to 2.30). This rate translates into an estimated number of violent deaths of 151,000 (95% uncertainty range, 104,000 to 223,000) from March 2003 through June 2006.

Conclusions Violence is a leading cause of death for Iraqi adults and was the main cause of death in men between the ages of 15 and 59 years during the first 3 years after the 2003 invasion. Although the estimated range is substantially lower than a recent survey-based estimate, it nonetheless points to a massive death toll, only one of the many health and human consequences of an ongoing humanitarian crisis.

150,000 violent deaths in three years is a lot. You’ll recall that the _Lancet_ study estimated about 655,000 excess deaths, which is a lot more. The two numbers aren’t directly comparable because excess deaths due to violence are only one component of all excess deaths (e.g., from preventable disease or other causes attributable to the war). Deaths due to violence rose from a very small 0.1 per 1000 person years in the pre-invasion period to about 1.1 per 1000py afterwards, or 1.67 adjusting for estimated underreporting. This is where the authors get their 151,000 number. The overall death rate rose from about 3.2 per 1000 person years to about 6, an increase of just over 2.8. Depending on whether you use the raw or adjusted estimated rate of violent death this would work out to an overall excess death total of just under 400,000 or just over 250,000. (But this is just a back-of-the-envelope calculation, as the overall death rate isn’t reported.)

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Less bad news from Iraq

by John Quiggin on December 13, 2007

Over the last few months, the volume of bad news from Iraq has diminished. For example, the number of US troops killed in November (about one per day) was the lowest in a couple of years. While it’s much harder to measure Iraqi casualties the number seems to be declining, at least in Baghdad. Of course it’s good that not so many people are dying. But what does this mean for the policy choices facing the US and its allies?

The short answer is ‘Not much’

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Iraqi employees – the nightmare continues

by Daniel on November 26, 2007

Dan Hardie just emailed me with some news about the Iraqi employees campaign. God help us all, but the compromise asylum arrangements have been so poorly publicised that several Iraqi employees have been left searching the internet for information and ended up at Dan’s blog.

I have, with permission, reproduced the whole of his post below the fold, but in summary we’re basically making another call on your good nature. The last set of emails and letters to British MPs worked, in as much as they pretty directly led to the Milliband statement and the announcement of asylum and resettlement packages. However, it’s clear that we need to keep making the point (politely) that the British blog reading public has not forgotten about this one, and to insist that the policy is generously and efficiently implemented. So basically, we need people to send emails and letters to their MPs. Crooked Timber readers have done us proud in the campaign so far and I hope we can rely on your support once more.

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Iraqi government bonds

by Daniel on September 18, 2007

Via Marginal Revolution and the Freakonomics blog, Michael Greenstone of MIT’s analysis of developments in Iraq since the beginning of the surge. Most of it is pretty unobjectionable stuff (if not terribly related to economics), but the bit that caught my eye was the use of the secondary market price of Iraqi government bonds (they’re tanking) as an indicator of whether the surge is working.

IRAQI EMPLOYEES CAMPAIGN UPDATE: sorry to interrupt – the post is continued below the fold. The following update is mainly aimed at our British readers – once more could I prevail on the goodwill of other CT authors to keep this one at the top for the rest of UK daytime? Thanks.

Frank Dobson, my local MP, has replied to me about the Iraqi employees. His letter is mainly concerned with administrative arrangements for the speaker meeting on the 9th – I had asked him to book a room for us, but Dan had already sorted one out. He is, however, in firm sympathy with the campaign and is utterly sound on the issue. If any readers who wrote letters the last time we asked have received replies from their MPs, then do please say so in the comments here (or if you have a blog, post them there). We’re trying to keep the list of MP replies up to date; Dan’s apparently having quite a good response to the mailing we sent out but it’s important to keep the blog campaign running too. Thanks very much.
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More on the Iraqi employees

by Daniel on August 13, 2007

The Iraqi employees of the British Army story has continued to roll on, with some amount of mainstream media attention (particularly in the Times) and the first wave of responses from MPs. Any CT readers with a UK MP who didn’t write to their MPs last week, you still have time to do so, but potentially not very much time. For one thing, the British Army is withdrawing from Basra town, meaning that it is going to be much more difficult for the employees to be protected. For another, the government (an uncharitable man would say “the New Labour spin machine”) is trying to suggest that the problem can be solved by giving visas only to the 91 individuals who had been employed as translators by the British Army. This is clearly inadequate – the way Des Browne is quoted, it doesn’t even sound as if protection is being extended to families – and I’d be grateful if our readers could mention this.

By the way, the last comments thread on this subject was a bit of a disgrace. Can I make it very clear that anyone using the word “harki” is going to get themselves banned immediately and without appeal. The very idea that people who read this blog might think that the massacres in 1960s Algeria represent a model for an anti-imperialist struggle frankly gives me the creeps. I will charitably assume that the term was used out of ignorance by people who’d only heard it in the context of Zinedine Zidane, for the time being, but any evidence to the contrary and you are banned my son (the commenters in question know who they are). Ditto “quislings”, “collaborators” and any other terms which say or imply that the massacre of civilians by self-styled “resistance” movements isn’t mass murder or isn’t a war crime (as Conor Foley notes in the comments to this trainwreck, there is a decent case for saying that, along the lines of the Rwandan radio trials, advocating a war crime is a war crime itself).