Across the Bay

Saturday, October 30, 2004

A.S.S. Cole

As soon as I heard of the Lancet report which claimed that about 100,000 Iraqi civilians have died as a result of the war, I had a wager with a friend that this ridiculous report (see why below) will be picked up by the usual birdbrain fools and preached as gospel truth.

Speaking of nitwits, Juan Cole, Mr. "Informed Comment," Prof. "I convey very complex social and intellectual realities" (and hot air), has jumped on this story with his usual abandon and over-the-top rhetoric. Here's a slice:

"The troubling thing about these results is that they suggest that the US may soon catch up with Saddam Hussein in the number of civilians killed."

But wait, Cole is not convinced of Saddam's murder toll (just like Said wasn't sold on Saddam's gassing of the Kurds). After all, this is "Informed Comment." We take our academic integrity very seriously around here folks! Hence the following comment:

" How many deaths to blame on Saddam is controverial. He did after all start both the Iran-Iraq War and the Gulf War. But he also started suing for peace in the Iran-Iraq war after only a couple of years, and it was Khomeini who dragged the war out until 1988. But if we exclude deaths of soldiers, it is often alleged that Saddam killed 300,000 civilians. This allegation seems increasingly suspect."

I see, so the number of Saddam's victims is suspect (over the course of three decades, two wars, a genocide, and specialized death troops and death chambers), but the Lancet report is "very tight."

Very tight?! This goes to show how foolish Juan Cole really is, and how he jumps on data that fits his ideological bias with reckless abandon, even when he knows squat about the material he's talking about. Here's what people who really are informed said about the report:

"Beth Osborne Daponte, senior research scholar at Yale University's Institution for Social and Policy Studies, put the point diplomatically after reading the Lancet article this morning and discussing it with me in a phone conversation: "It attests to the difficulty of doing this sort of survey work during a war. … No one can come up with any credible estimates yet, at least not through the sorts of methods used here.""

You may want to test Cole's own "scientific" calculation, which includes the following estimate: "The toll in Sadr City or the Shiite slums of East Baghdad, or Najaf, or in al-Anbar province, must be enormous."

The funny part was when Cole said "Burnham is quite humble about it not being definitive." I'll say! Understatement of the year! Here's how not definitive it really is. As the Kaplan Slate piece explains:

"It means that the authors are 95 percent confident that the war-caused deaths totaled some number between 8,000 and 194,000. (The number cited in plain language—98,000—is roughly at the halfway point in this absurdly vast range.)

This isn't an estimate. It's a dart board.

The contrast between poseur Cole's eagerness, as well as his hilariously stupid, and totally uninformed categorical statements with Fred Kaplan's piece is simply astonishing.

It is estimated that the Lebanon war, over the brutal span of 15 years, which included random as well as targeted aerial bombardment, random artillery bombardment as well as targeting of schools and hospitals, booby-trapped cars aimed exclusively at civilians, snipers picking off civilians, kidnappings of civilians, wholesale slaughter of villagers in sectarian cleansing campaigns, etc., claimed ~150,000 deaths (2-3 times the total of deaths of all Arab-Israeli wars combined from '48 to the present). So let me put it this way: there is no way in hell that the US military campaign (including aerial bombardment) claimed 100,000 deaths in less than 2 years! This is leaving aside the incredibly faulty methodology of the Lancet report.

Nevertheless, when things do calm down, the US needs to conduct an honest and methodologically sound study and figure this out. Whatever the number of deaths, it includes innocent people, not just enemy combatants. It's both a matter of courtesy as well as a matter of importance for the military in order to assess its operations.

But intellectual honesty and methodological sanity leaves no room for advocate poseurs like Cole. Good going Professor! Keep it "tight!"

Update: Here are a couple more people who are preaching the Lancet report's number. First is Mark LeVine of UC Irvine, a jaw-dropping idiot in a league all his own. He's done it at least twice now. First in a perfectly horrible guest editorial on guru Juan Cole's site, and the second in an equally barf-inducing piece on TomDispatch. Second is Patrick Seale in one of his text-book opinion pieces (they all sound the same anyway), after the re-election of President Bush. Both Mark "Indiana Jones" LeVine and Patrick "Third World" Seale have put forth the silly proposition of a truce and dialogue with the Ben Laden types. LeVine even created a new Arabic historical category for it which he called "dar al-hudna." Won't somebody PLEASE notice him!

Of course, this is hardly surprising! I bet that Robert Fisk has gorged on it as well, but ever since they started charging money to read his garbage, I found it as the perfect excuse to stop reading him altogether. Not that I lose sleep over that. In fact, my doctors say my blood pressure has suddenly shown much improvement!