Casualties of Math

Casualties of Math

Casualties of Math

The latest chatter in cyberspace.
Sept. 7 2007 4:29 PM

Casualties of Math

Bloggers question the contradictory casualty figures out of Iraq, analyze Sidney Blumenthal's article about Bush's knowledge of Saddam's lack of WMD, and ask if dead goats can cure jet electrical failure.

Casualties of Math: With Gen. Petraeus' report due next week, war critics have questioned the Pentagon's guarded release of statistics about Iraqi casualties, particularly following the surge. According to Friday's Washington Post [note: Slate is owned by the Washington Post Co.], the Government Accountability Office, along with other independent data-gathering organizations, disputes what senior military officers are saying about the rates of violence in areas like Baghdad, Basra, and Anbar province.

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Liberal Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo thinks he and colleague Spencer Ackerman have found the most reliable set of statistics on war casualties: "The one set of numbers we've found that appears to go back some way (a couple years) and have a consistent methodology are those compiled by the Associated Press from police reports about deaths in Iraq. To further the confusion, though, the AP seems unwilling to assemble these numbers together in one place, so you need to go back and piece together the separate monthly numbers from individual stories."

Amid the muddle of numbers and neglected correlations, liberal Kevin Drum at the Washington Monthly's Political Animal points out: "Petraeus argues that sectarian violence is down 75% since last year, following a peak of about 1600 deaths in December. But virtually all of the drop came between December and February, before the surge had started, and even that drop is questionable thanks to dramatic and unexplained differences in various versions of Pentagon reports." But liberal Engram at Back Talk * comes up with the same civilian casualty figure for August (1,800) as the Associated Press and concludes: "Although I wish more progress were evident in the civilian casualty chart, one has to say that the new strategy adopted by General Petraeus is showing results. Actually, the results have been quite spectacular, but this fact is obscured by the high number of civilian casualties that are still evident. I have thought all along that if civilian casualties did not drop very substantially by the Fall 'deadline,' Harry Reid would use that fact to successfully convince the American public that "this war is lost." And because most Americans do not pay close attention to the details and therefore do not really understand what is happening in Iraq, I had thought that surrender (to al Qaeda) would be in the cards."

Lefty hilzoy at Obsidian Wings says there are too many blind spots in those data: "Here are some of the things we know about these statistics: they don't include Sunni-on-Sunni violence, or Shi'a-on-Shi'a violence. They don't include car bombings." Of course, "there is an easy way to resolve these issues. If the government were to release its figures, and explain the methodology behind them, then it would be clear whether they had been cherry-picked or not."

"If mayors in America could choose how to count violence, there would be no crime in any major city in the country," writes lefty Joe Sudbay at AMERICAblog. But that's not how it's done in the real world—only in Bush/Petraeus world."

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Read more about dubious Iraqi stats.

Bush Knew? Former Clinton staffer Sidney Blumenthal has a piece in Salon suggesting the White House knew Saddam had no WMD before the war. Blumenthal writes that two anonymous CIA agents have confirmed that former CIA Director George Tenet presented President Bush with top-secret information in September 2002 indicating that Saddam had no active nuclear program or any usable biological or chemical weapons. The source for this now-vindicated intelligence? Baathist foreign minister Naji Sabri.

Conservative war critic Andrew Sullivan doesn't jump on the "Lying Liar and the Lies He Tells" bandwagon, but doesn't find Bush innocent, either: "I don't think, if this is all true, that Bush therefore lied about WMDs. He was just guilty of professional negligence and criminal blindness on the most important decision a president can ever make. That goes for the conduct of the occupation as well, of course. But we had a chance to fire him in 2004; and we didn't."

Jonathan Schwartz at Tom Tomorrow's This Modern World wants to see the Bush administration "nailed on the WMD issue" but says that Blumenthal's piece is "overstated":  "[T]here's a significant difference between the head of the CIA telling the president 'we have a spy who says Saddam wants a nuke, is hiding WMD programs and gave out chemical weapons to his tribal allies' and 'we have a spy who says Iraq isn't hiding anything.' The way the story's written gives you the impression it was the latter rather than the former."

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Liberal Brian Beutler is also underwhelmed by Blumenthal's scoop: "I'm going to go way out on a limb here to suggest that, of all the things the administration did and failed to do in order to hasten this war, not listening to Saddam Hussein's foreign minister when Saddam Hussein's foreign minister came to say in private what Saddam Hussein had said in public wasn't one of them."

Read more about Blumenthal's story.

Deus ex Bah-ina: State-owned Nepal Airlines has sacrificed two goats to Akash Bhairab, the "Hindu god of sky protection," to make one of its 757s * fly right. Akash Bhairab still thinks the peanuts suck.

"Animal killings in response to technical problems are not the only bizarre custom in Nepal," writes   Insider at Independent Sources. "For example, menstruating girls are separated from boys and kept in a dark room for 12 days. On the 12th day, the girl then pays homage to the sun."

Righty Ed Driscoll wonders if Nepal Airlines will have the same trouble as Michael Vick: "Actually, PETA might well give them a pass (or maybe not). Because it's multicultural, we mustn't judge. As Christiane Amanpour might say, who amongst us can truthfully say that he thinks that ours is the superior culture because we don't sacrifice goats to enhance jet aircraft performance?"

Read more about goat sacrifice as plane maintenance.

Correction s, Sept. 11, 2007: The article originally identified the name of the blog as Talk Back. (Return to the corrected sentence.) Also, the article originally misidentified the plane for which Nepal Airlines sacrificed two goats. (Return to the corrected sentence.)

Michael Weiss is the director of communications at the Henry Jackson Society, a London-based think tank that promotes democratic geopolitics. He is also the spokesman for Just Journalism, which examines how Israel and the Middle East are portrayed in the U.K. media.