Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Discredited tactics

A week ago, the UN issued a report noting that 14,000 Iraqi civilians had been killed in the first six months of this year -- evidence that the violence in Iraq is spreading, not shrinking.

A lot of war opponents used this to point out the obvious: that the credibility of the administration on this -- from Dick Cheney's "last throes" comment to Donald Rumsfeld's dismissal of "dead-enders" -- has become all but nonexistent.

Others have noted that perhaps blaming the media for "only reporting the bad news" was a smokescreen after all.

And lately we've been seeing a lot more grim and realistic assessments of the situation from unlikely suspects: Congressional war supporters, the military, the Iraqi government -- even the administration itself.

But that hasn't stopped some ardent war backers from resorting to tried-and-discredited arguments in an attempt to maintain their fantasy of progress in Iraq. Here are a few of them, from political discussion sites I read:

Compare these casualties to those suffered in World War II, as if the situations were at all comparable. By that logic the American Civil War was just a light disagreement, since it didn't kill anywhere near as many people as World War II.

An actual quote: "How many die in the US every year from various forms of violence? I am betting that the ratio is comparable."

First, the comparison is of apples and oranges. We're not talking about civil homicides and assaults here; we're talking about IEDs, car bombs, sectarian massacres and armed insurgency.

Second, Iraq's population is 1/11th that of ours. This figure is comparable to 300,000 Americans being killed each year by insurgents and death squads.

Third, even if this comparison were valid, there were 17,000 U.S. homicides in 2003. So the Iraqis are experiencing a rate of violent death that is 20 times ours.

Another actual quote: " Well, why doesn't the UN get off their Kofi Anan fat butts and do something about it? I'll tell you why: because they are worthless.....100% worthless. And if they are not willing to do that....then they need to shut their freaking mouths!!"

The underlying suggestion here is that we can ignore the report because it came from the UN, which isn't doing anything to stop the violence.

The inherent illogic in that argument aside, it ignores two things: that the United States has rejected the idea of a UN military presence, and that the sketchy security situation makes it difficult for UN agencies to perform humanitarian and reconstruction work -- though they're trying.

This argument quotes a March 2006 report that most of the violence is limited to three of Iraq's 18 provinces.

Besides relying on a report that is four months old, this argument ignores several things:

1. Those three provinces contain a third of Iraq's population.

2. "Most" doesn't mean "all": 25 percent of the attacks were occurring outside those provinces.

3. Most insurgencies and civil wars only affect a small geographic area at any given time.

4. The violence is spreading, both geographically and in intensity.

We can never have a reasoned discussion on what to do in Iraq -- and the fight against terror in general -- unless we can agree on the reality facing us. Those posing these arguments discredit only themselves, not their entire side. But we need to show no tolerance for such arguments from either side, because all they do is provide an excuse not to think clearly about the situation.

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