The new study estimating that 650,000 Iraqis have died as a result of the U.S. invasion was naturally dismissed out of hand in Washington and London and disdained by the War Party‘s pet pundits. My favorite comment came from the president, who announced: "The methodology is pretty well discredited."
Yes, our genius of a chief executive is an expert on the subject of methodology: the methods he and his confreres utilized to project we’d be greeted by Iraqis throwing rose petals in our path are a monument to his expertise. Asked about his previous estimate of 30,000 dead Iraqis, Bush replied:
"I stand by the figure. Six hundred thousand or whatever they guessed at it’s not credible."
That Bush has the gall to challenge anyone’s credibility is a testament to his complete cluelessness. Here, after all, is a president who went to war under false pretenses, and now demands that we "stay the course" right over a cliff. Let him look at his own methodology, which involves reading or, at least, skimming a presidential daily briefing entitled "Bin Laden Determined to Strike U.S." and then going blithely on his merry way, oblivious to all dangers but a nonexistent one in Iraq.
Are we to be spared nothing?
Tony Blair, too, put on his scientific genius hat and dismissed the Johns Hopkins University study, saying through a spokesman:
"The figure is an order of magnitude higher than any other figure. It’s not one we believe to be anywhere near accurate and that is not in any way to downplay the seriousness of the security situation in Iraq."
This argument assumes that the conventional wisdom can’t be wrong: by Blairite standards, the West’s early ignorance about what was happening in Hitler’s concentration camps is all we need know about the Holocaust. It means that low-ball estimates of the toll taken by Stalin in the former Soviet Union never required revision.
Anthony Cordesman, a security analyst who is no friend of the Bush administration and has always been highly skeptical of the Iraq war, says this study is just "politics." This characterization is baffling when one takes into account the traditional willingness of Americans to countenance casualties so long as they aren’t our own.
When Truman dropped nukes on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, there was no national outcry: rather, there was a celebration of unassailable American power. Likewise, the bombing of Dresden caused nary a ripple of protest. A long string of American-sponsored and -countenanced atrocities, ranging from the torture methods employed by the shah of Iran’s U.S.-trained SAVAK to the "free-fire zones" of Vietnam, to the terror manual written by the CIA for the Nicaraguan contras during the 1980s, and on and on none of this bothered much of anyone, either in Washington or in the country at large. We withdrew from Vietnam not because we were repulsed by our murderous tactics, and those of our Vietnamese sock-puppets, but because we were beaten militarily by a ragtag bunch of insurgents.
If the Johns Hopkins study is "politics," then it is an oddly ineffective effort: it is hardly politic to imply that your own side is engaged in mass murder on a scale approached by only the worst regimes of the modern era.
The U.S. military has steadfastly refused to maintain Iraqi body counts: for obvious reasons, they’d rather we didn’t know how many Iraqi souls have been permanently "liberated" from their bodies. More importantly, they’d rather the Iraqis didn’t know. Independent sources of such information invariably depend on reported deaths: the Iraqi media, Western news accounts, and figures from the UN and other humanitarian agencies. Yet this kind of passive approach is not sufficient in wartime: the chaos makes it more than probable that a great deal of the killing goes unreported. It therefore makes perfect sense that the Johns Hopkins survey which involved researchers personally interviewing a total of 1,849 Iraqi households, most of whom produced death certificates would be far higher. That it is 10 times higher is not all that surprising although quite sobering when one realizes the total represents 2.5 percent of Iraq’s population.
The study has proved controversial, and anyone can summon their favorite experts to either support or debunk it. Yet one has to say that, even if the figure of 650,000 is off by half, the vastness of U.S. war crimes in Iraq is quite a shocker. No wonder the Americans are denying it: they can’t stand the sight of their own ruthlessness. And the hypocrisy! Here, after all, is a nation that was supposed to be "liberated" and, instead, it has been turned into a slaughterhouse. Whatever the numbers, that is the cruel reality.
The Iraqi government derides the Johns Hopkins numbers, as well they might: either that, or they’d have to admit they were installed into power by a pack of mass murderers. And that would be far too close to the truth.
I have no technical expertise in statistical analysis, so I won’t try to put on scientistic airs by waffling on about "baselines" and "clusters." I’ll just cite the testimony of someone who is on the scene and has to deal with the horror on a daily basis:
"Some readers and viewers think we journalists are exaggerating about the situation in Iraq. I can almost understand that because who would want to believe that things are this bad? Particularly when so many people here started out with such good intentions.
“I don’t know a single family here that hasn’t had a relative, neighbor, or friend die violently. In places where there’s been all-out fighting going on, I’ve interviewed parents who buried their dead child in the yard because it was too dangerous to go to the morgue."
The hidden horror is so much worse than we imagine, yet the invisibility of evil isn’t at all unusual when it comes to the modern world. The sheer scale of the crimes committed by the Nazis, the Soviets, the Khmer Rouge, and all the other mad tyrannies of the 20th century didn’t come to light until well after their demise. One wonders if it will take the fall of the American Empire to uncover the full extent of Washington’s war crimes.