Saturday, October 30, 2010

The shrinking target of the anti-war movement

Wikileaks, the group that is releasing classified data of governments they disagree with, had a couple of interesting and unintentional side effects of their release of documents about the Iraq War. As Glenn Reynolds says, though, they're not news to anyone who's been paying attention. First is that the two Lancet studies which posited absurdly inflated numbers of Iraqi civilian casualties -- released right before elections in order to influence them -- were, well, absurdly inflated. They claimed that 100,000 civilians were killed within the first year of the war, and 600,000 within the first three years. I still have a hard time believing that anyone took such blatant and obvious propaganda seriously. (Just to give one reason: that many corpses in that short a time in that small an area would have created enormous health issues for the survivors; no such issues arose.) The grand total is about 109,000 deaths, of which 24,000 were enemy insurgents and another 19,000 were Iraqi defense forces and coalition forces. That makes the civilian death rate for the Iraq War from 2003 to 2009 about 66,000 people, or about 11,000 civilians per year. This is lower than South Africa's murder rate for the same time period, and much lower than the civilian death rate in Iraq when Saddam Hussein was in charge. With this last point we can subtract the rate of civilian deaths during the Iraq War from the rate of deaths during Saddam's reign to reach the number of Iraqi lives saved by the Iraq War. Again, this won't be news to anyone who's been paying attention.

Second is that, while they didn't find the huge caches of WMDs in Iraq that they were expecting, they still found WMDs in Iraq, in sufficient quantity to do serious damage. Bear in mind that the reason they're called weapons of mass destruction is because they can cause a lot of damage with only small amounts of some agent (chemical, biological, or nuclear). However, what they've found thus far dates back to the first Gulf War. This is not insignificant, since the cease-fire was predicated on Saddam destroying all of his WMDs. Since he didn't, the casus belli was still in effect. And while some of the chemical agents they found had deteriorated to some extent, they were still extremely dangerous.

Nevertheless, one of the several justifications the Bush administration gave for the Iraq War was that Saddam was actively producing chemical and biological WMDs in large amounts, and was pursuing nuclear weapons as well. They have not found evidence of this. However, they have found evidence that Saddam was going to start production of WMDs as soon as the UN inspectors left and the sanctions were lifted. Again, this is not insignificant: in order to prevent Saddam from producing WMDs, either the sanctions would have had to have been made permanent -- which would never have happened -- or Saddam would have had to be deposed. Since the first of these options is absurdly unrealistic, we either had to let Saddam develop WMDs and share them with his numerous terrorist connections, or invade.

I've argued before that the Iraq War could have been justified solely as the second stage of the War on Terrorism, without any reference to WMDs. Nevertheless, it's interesting how much the anti-war movement's target has consistently shrunk. They can't claim that Saddam didn't have extensive ties to terrorists (of course he did), they can't claim that the death toll in Iraq reached absurd levels, they can't claim Saddam wasn't going to develop WMDs unless we stepped in and stopped him, they can't even claim he didn't have WMDs. As Tigerhawk says, "The first really objective history of the Iraq war will have to wait until somebody who did not live through the propaganda around that war is old enough to write it."

1 comment:

Noons said...

The most noticeable thing about the most recent report is that the condition of the chemical and biological agents discovered after the Iraq War are far more consistent with things forgotten by the previous regime than a hidden stockpile. The state of disrepair of most of the weapons caches suggests that they had been deteriorating long before the 2003 invasion, and a regime with as much experience producing WMDs as Saddam's would know how to store them properly if they intended to have them ready use or sell.

And whatever ties to Al Qaeda Saddam might have had, assisting in a terrorist attack would only be inviting trouble. He was a dangerous dictator and a threat, but he wasn't stupid. And finally, it's only been in the last few years that we've began to appreciate the role a strong Iraq used to play: a counterweight to Iran.

But either way, at this point arguing over the Iraq war is about as helpful as arguing over how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.