Sunday, July 27, 2008

A short note on casualties 

Suddenly the mainstream media is declaring victory in Iraq (although, as Tom Maguire says, victory has 999 fathers). I hope to have more to say on all these subjects over the next couple of days, when and if I get all my important day-job work done.

By at least one famous measure of victory -- the enemy losing its will to fight -- the news is great but not definitive. Great, because in the 31 days since June 26 only five Americans have died in Iraq from hostile action. There have been no American KIAs for twelve days. It is possible that the last American soldier will die in combat before Labor Day, if it has not already happened.


By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sun Jul 27, 10:28:00 AM:

Perhaps if we had avoided fighting this war on the cheap in the first place, we might actually have paid less.  

By Blogger TigerHawk, at Sun Jul 27, 11:05:00 AM:

Agreed. It should not have taken until January 2007 to put a strong counterinsurgency strategy into place. If we -- meaning the White House, the SecDef, and the military itself -- had acknowledged that we had a traditional counterinsurgency on our hands in the summer of 2003 instead of the summer of 2006, the war would have been prosecuted very differently. That is not to say that the Petraeus strategy would have worked so quickly; the surge itself depended on the increasing maturity of the Iraqi military and the fatigue of the Iraqi civilian population, both of which required time to develop. But still.  

By Blogger SR, at Sun Jul 27, 01:24:00 PM:

On the other hand, a larger footprint could very well have resulted in more American casualties in the early months and years of the war.

One could just as easily claim that were there less vociferous politically driven opposition to the war here at home, it would have been over long ago.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sun Jul 27, 03:43:00 PM:

Expect a maximum effort against American troops in mid-October before the election. And also a general terror campaign against civilians.

I don't think the various militia - at least the more disciplined ones - will join in. Their leaders are not eager to engage regular troops. And they can wait.

Al Queda and Iran perceive the US as divided about Iraq. Obama appears likely to leave. So turmoil will be created in hopes it will help Obama.

Whether turmoil would help Obama cannot be known. I don't regard Al Queda or Iran as having any great insight about US voters. Voters may actually back McCain if conditions seem to worsen.

The upcoming attacks should reveal how much strength Al Queda/Iran can still muster in Iraq.

IMO the calculus of Iraq and the election has only four plausible outcomes.

Obama wins, and begins to withdraw immediately without conditions.

Obama wins, announces a conditional withdrawal with a timetable.

Obama wins and at first continues current policy.

McCain wins and at first follows current policy.

I don't think the various militia will join in. Their leaders are not eager to engage regular troops. And they can wait.  

By Anonymous sirius_sir, at Sun Jul 27, 04:47:00 PM:

We fought this war "on the cheap"?

While we were supposedly losing all I heard from the war's detractors was how much it was costing. But now that it's putatively won? Apparently we shouldn't have been so niggardly.

I'm not sure what metric this commentator is using to measure. Is it blood, or is it treasure? Or doesn't it matter as long as one is given the chance to deliver a snarky riposte that, divorced from data and offering no interpretative analysis, really means little to nothing other than we should have simply "avoided fighting this war"?  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sun Jul 27, 05:29:00 PM:

@ sirius: Methinks you are projecting a wee bit much, so I will elaborate.

Rummy's "you can't have extra armor because we go to war with the army we have rather than the army we want" response really grated me for many many reasons, but among them I find the following: What were civilian sacrifices like during WW2, Vietnam, and so on? Iraq has stood out among conflicts as an engagement where there was relatively little civilian impact. With the necessary speculative disclaimer that accompanies all hindsight, perhaps if we had taken Shinseki's advice and incentivized more troops, with more armor, and more multilateral support from other countries, the war wouldn't have featured the losing streak and been resolved much more quickly at a greater per year cost for fewer years. (A sorta-pseudo-draft of high signing bonuses was eventually implemented, so it's not a problematic policy, and could have been implemented eariler.)

Further, I think it was outrage over the unforeseen pricetag of this engagement that rankled many people and torched trust in the executive; the argument of "Saddam is a very bad man for these many reasons, and it'll cost $200B for hundreds of billions of dollars of savings in the world without him" definitely would have flown with antiwar advocates I know. (Sidebar: one of my other big gripes with Rumsfeld's comment was that every dollar we spent on abstinence-only education was another dollar we could have spent to reroute scrap metal in the area, so at least the troops wouldn't have had to dig in landfills themselves AND we could have given up on poorly-justified social policy. /sidebar)

I hope the above speaks to your concern about a metric; using civilian sacrifice, I can justify my comment. On the $$$'s front, higher annual expenditures can lead to lower pricetags by toggling the timeframe.

It isn't too hard to justify the "it costs too much, and you should have spent more" argument: the differentiating factor is the return on a dollar combined with overall pricetag. A higher per-dollar return (2 years of serious nation-building rather than 5+,) can sometimes be found by spending more cash because, to be frank, half-assing the job is usually more expensive than fixing the problem the first time. If the options, in order of efficacy, are 1) a glut of spending for a short time, 2) a longer-term lower expenditure, or 3) a middle option that spends more but not enough to cut down on the requisite timeframe, taking option 3) means that you're open to overspending and underspending criticisms. I think all of this is obvious upon a moment's thought, so perhaps you should spend more time thinking and less time projecting.  

By Anonymous EnerGeoPolitics, at Mon Jul 28, 05:06:00 PM:

TH - you wrote: "It should not have taken until January 2007 to put a strong counterinsurgency strategy into place."

Maybe so, but the fact is Generals Petraeus and Mattis did not complete writing the new (and so far quite effective) combined Army/Marine Corps counterinsurgency manual until the latter parts of 2006. What turns out to have been the winning strategy had not intellectually crystallized until very late in the game. Unless you assume that any CI strategy is as good as any other, the laments can't be too strong.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Mon Jul 28, 05:15:00 PM:

If I could ask President Bush one question, it would be this: Why'd you pull up lame in Baghdad?

(I suspect he'd quote "Mathew")  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Mon Jul 28, 05:15:00 PM:

You can't design, much less implement, a counter-insurgency doctrine until you have an insurgency to counter. The kind of insurgency we had in Iraq was not the same kind of insurgency we had in Vietnam. There were parallels, but it was still different.

While it could be argued that lessons could've been learned much quicker and reactions honed with less loss, a counter-insurgency can't begin until you know what kind of insurgency you're fighting against, not until you've been bloodied by their tricks and strategies.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Mon Jul 28, 05:19:00 PM:

Think about this, armchair strategists and second-guessers:

Question: Why did we invade Iraq in 2003?

Answer: To avoid having to nuke it in 2004.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Mon Jul 28, 05:20:00 PM:

Re: Rumsfeld's Army we have vs. Army we want: partially it is a matter of stuff like up-armored HMMV's, but it is also a matter of the entire command hierarchy. Lincoln went to war with the army HE HAD! It took him how long to find the men to win for him, and to houseclean the losers? Same process happened to get Gen. Petraeus into place, and all of the key men both under him, and above him.

Jack Hawk83  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Mon Jul 28, 05:22:00 PM:

"Rummy's 'you can't have extra armor because we go to war with the army we have rather than the army we want' response really grated me for many many reasons...."

That's not what he said, of course. He said, "As you know, you go to war with the Army you have. They're not the Army you might want or wish to have at a later time." Nothing about "you can't have extra armor." At the time, we had just begun scrambling for armor in all directions, which Secretary Rumsfeld also mentioned.

Rumsfeld's comment was nothing more than a statement of fact. Folks with no more military expertise than that obtained by watching the military channel (and often not even that) tend to believe certain things should happen instantly upon being recognized, but that doesn't happen in any organization, let alone the military. Twenty-twenty hindsight makes marshalls of us all.  

By Blogger TigerHawk, at Mon Jul 28, 05:24:00 PM:

It is always problematic to second-guess the decisions of commanders after the fact, so commenters who believe I was unfair to argue that we should have moved to a counterinsurgency strategy sooner have a point. However, I have two responses.

First, we did not have to wait for the manual. The Marines, in particular, have a lot of good writing on the subject of cointerinsurgency going back many decades. Dust off the old stuff and use that until you have the new doctrine worked out. C'mon guys, its war. Enough with the analysis-paralysis.

Second, if there was one indisputable lesson from Thomas Ricks' book Fiasco is that there was no coherent strategy for the occupation in the first two-three years after the fall of Baghdad. Each divisional commander pretty much did what he though best, without much strategic or doctrinal guidance from the people with theater responsibilities. So it was not that we had a bad strategy that turned out badly -- that's pretty easy to forgive if you are not trying to score political points -- but that we had no integrated strategy. That is less easy to forgive.

And I say this as somebody who viscerally likes Donald Rumsfeld.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Mon Jul 28, 05:27:00 PM:

What a superb victory it has been - note how tortured the leftists are about it.

A victory for 2008 was superbly predicted way back in May 2006, as per this.  

By Blogger RJ, at Mon Jul 28, 05:27:00 PM:

Why didn't we execute this war perfectly, and why didn't the enemy always do exactly what we wanted them to do? It all would have been so much easier. That's how war is supposed to work, right?  

By Anonymous Jimmy, at Mon Jul 28, 05:28:00 PM:

Well, Bush was listening to the commanders on the ground who insisted it was better to barricade behind the green zone fences to minimize casualties except in support and training operations.

It was proceeding pretty well until the Golden Mosque in Samarra was hit and the country descended into sectarian violence.

The commanders on the ground and the Joint Chiefs wanted to continue status quo or either pull out and let the Iraqi's fight it out until the dust settled or leave it to another failure of Pol Pot proportions.

There was one strategy that was having success in some places in Iraq... that was our current counter-insurgency strategy-lite. We were doing the Clear, and asking the under-prepared Iraqi army to hold and build. Bush's strategy to change the entire operation into a Clear, Hold, Build counter insurgency strategy went against the recommendation of the Joint Chiefs, the commanders, the Baker commission... everyone but he was right. And we are much better today for it.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Mon Jul 28, 05:34:00 PM:

Hindsight is 20-20, but our current strategy is working partly due to some factors that weren't present in earlier years.

1. The enemy lost many skilled members (like bomb-makers) and replaced them with less skilled people.

2. The steady finding and destroying of weapons caches raised the cost to the enemy of funding their operations. As did killing their operatives.

3. The collateral damage to fellow muslims and iraqis due to suicide attacks reduced population support for the insurgency, which led to greater tips.

4. The steady training and equipping of the Iraqi army and police have steadily established more order among the populace. This was inevitably a multi-year process.

All these factors took several years to play out. It's unlikely that our current strategy would have been as effective in 2005 as it was in 2007.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Mon Jul 28, 05:40:00 PM:

Critical, devastating errors in tactical and strategic judgment leading to unnecessary loss of life are often made early in wars. This was particularly true even in two of our most "successful" wars -- the Civil War and World War II. The winning strategy is rarely obvious at the outset and often evolves only upon careful reflection as experience and mistakes on the ground accumulate. This is why the decision to go to war always must be made carefully. At the time Bush made his "Mission Accomplished" speech, it seemed the right choices on the ground had been made. All too soon, this proved not to be the case, but then that is the nature of warfare.  

By Anonymous Mustang, at Mon Jul 28, 05:41:00 PM:

If I could ask President Bush one question, it would be this: Why'd you pull up lame in Baghdad?

Former Secretary of State Baker said (around 2005-6 IIRC), People used to ask me that question all the time. Nobody asks me that anymore.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Mon Jul 28, 05:58:00 PM:

Re the time it took to come up with our surge strategy, have we (or anyone else) ever fought a real war or campaign where we didn't take realtively heavy casualties until we figured out who our enemy and what they were bringing to the battlefield? The old saw about always fighting the last war is right because we're not really sure which other war to fight. Once the enemy's strategy and tactics become real, we learn (and pretty damn quickly) how to adjust to meet them. Do I wish we'd figured out the surge strategy sooner? Absolutely, but I don't see anyone deserving of blame for the time it took us to do it.  

By Blogger Edward, at Mon Jul 28, 06:04:00 PM:

I sure hope you're right, seeing as how I'm heading there after Labor day. Taking CLS class this week and it ain't pretty, great skills to have (saline locks, IV's, etc) but I don't want to ever have to use 'em.  

By Anonymous cjm, at Mon Jul 28, 06:20:00 PM:

everyone says how badly this war was managed -- but no one provides the name of the war(s) that were fought/managed better.  

By Blogger OldGrouchy, at Mon Jul 28, 06:31:00 PM:

Edward: God Speed and return from Iraq.

The comments on this post run the gambit from "We're not perfect" to "We're mostly Fu'ed!' My guess is it's mostly the former. Our military didn't seem to understand about IEDs this time around although they'd been used before, just apparently not to this extent.

One point that needs to be made for the next time is that DoD and State need to coordinate, which didn't happen in Iraq. Also, President Bush should have made more and stronger "rah, rah" points rather than not responding at all to the various and many critics throughout the land.

What does seem clear is like always the USA gets into a war with what it has and then figures out how to end it. Even Vietnam was that way except our military didn't quite realize the domestic content that really determined that outcome of that war.  

By Blogger engineer, at Mon Jul 28, 06:39:00 PM:

everyone says how badly this war was managed -- but no one provides the name of the war(s) that were fought/managed better.

Let me hazard three:

Grenada, Panama, and the Falklands

However, let me add that all three were much smaller wars with much more limited objectives and that leads to the "duh!" conclusion that big ambitious projects are far harder than smaller, simpler ones. Let me also stipulate that better doesn't mean perfect and mistakes were made in all three of those wars.

I think the real turning point was the Dean candidacy in the 2004 race. Prior to that point the Democrats might have wanted to oppose the war, but they thought it was political suicide. Dean showed you could survive openly opposing the war. That turned the debate in the US from how better to win the war to a three sided struggle of pulling out, status quo, and improved strategy.  

By Anonymous Tony, at Mon Jul 28, 06:51:00 PM:

From this amateur's POV, the enemy in Iraq evolved over time. The light footprint strategy was not so ineffective (though far from perfect) until the bombing of the Golden Mosque, which ignited the 'civil war.' In the beginning, Rumsfeld's Pentagon was fighting Saddam's regime and then its remnants, and then a suicidally determined enemy chose to confront the Paper Tiger and establish its New Caliphate in Baghdad. Michael Yon says Petraeus's strategy worked fine in the North in 2003/04, but Al Qaeda hadn't engaged their global jihad there at the time. Things changed, America adapted and prevailed.

One Perfect Plan in 2003 would not have remained perfect through 2008, because our enemies are not that cooperative.

God bless our troops.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Mon Jul 28, 07:13:00 PM:

Grenada - rescue operation, not a war ...
Panama - big DEA operation, again not a war and the Faulklands - a British operation, not a US war
0 for 3  

By Anonymous Cover Me, Porkins, at Mon Jul 28, 07:29:00 PM:

Reminder: in 2003, the White House was under heavy pressure, domestic and worldwide, to use a light hand. Amnesia on this, left or right, has shocked me for five years.

CJM's right: every war goes wrong, which is why giving up is so damned foolish.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Mon Jul 28, 07:33:00 PM:

Also, you might ask the British weather or not they felt the Faulklands went so smashingly. They might have a different perspective, or several of them.

It's real easy to armchair quarterback with the benefit of hindsight.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Mon Jul 28, 07:37:00 PM:

This is purely speculative, but with division commanders left up to their own devices until Petraeus took over, didn't we have a bunch of experiments running? Was there no local commander whose idea(s) worked and were incorporated into the current unified strategy? You know, a la welfare reform? (One could say this is not just "speculative" but "making lemonade out of really sour lemons." Perhaps...)

As for the thing about 2 versus 5+ years of nation-building, I must say that's a radical notion. Even our own nation, child of the Enlightenment, British common law and the Magna Carta and all, took a lot longer than 2 years to build. France, with the American example before it, is still working on it: what Republique are they on now? I've been a strong proponent of Iraqis' ability to embrace an Enlightenment-informed system, as well as their great advantage in having so much history from which to learn (and, with luck, with which to avoid common mistakes), but it's darn hard to change a culture. Two years wouldn't have done it even if everything had gone perfectly, istm.

Can't log in; must publish anonymously.


By Blogger Louis, at Mon Jul 28, 08:15:00 PM:

The main thing that is most often left out of these discussions is " How much control did the Islamists enemy have over where they fought us?" The answer was "total control." It was the choice of Al Qaeda, the Syrian, Saudi Arabian and Iranian foreign fighters as well as the Baathists deadenders to pursue jehad in Iraq.

If only the latter group had chosen to fight, then the insurrection would have been over quickly--shortly after Saddam Hussein was hanged. Once the Islamist enemy chose to fight in Iraq, what else could our military do? It was far better to fight them where we had a standing army, than in Europe or America.

The complaints of the left never took into account that the Global War on Terror was being waged in Iraq. And that this is why it took so long.

The question the Anti war activists were never asked by the Mainstream Media was, "If you don't want to fight al Qaeda in Iraq, where do you want to fight them?" The answer the Left would never give was, "Nowhere." That would have led inevitably to the next question of, "Then, do you want America to surrender to the terrorists?" They wouldn't answer that one either.

Of course, the Left wanted us to surrender and they hate the fact that we have won in Iraq. It isn't because the left are pro terrorist, but are anti Republican Party. Winning wars tends to boost the popularity of political parties, and the Left could not have that. They hate being out of power. America had to lose in Iraq, because the Republicans held the Presidency. Of Course, all Bush was doing was carrying through with President Clinton's plans in the 1998 Iraqi Liberation Act.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Mon Jul 28, 09:27:00 PM:

I linked to this post from Instapundit, and I have to tell you that I am glad I did. The level of thoughtfulness and tone of responses from the various commentors is very impressive. All discussions/posts on the internet should be so civil and intelligent. Of course when I look at the title of the blog, I should have known to expect that being a member of the Iowa Hawkeye Class of 88.

Well done all.


By Anonymous Anonymous, at Mon Jul 28, 09:28:00 PM:

@ Louis: Funny, all the Iraq war critics I talked to answered "If you don't want to fight al Qaeda in Iraq, where do you want to fight them?" with "where they are bunkered down, like on the border of Pakistan and in Afghanistan, because it is silly to have a stationary defense against a mobile threat." Quit projecting answers in hopes of making your simplistic and silly surmise truistic, and instead engage real opposition rather than strawmen.  

By Blogger Moneyrunner, at Mon Jul 28, 09:37:00 PM:

I would like to take our host Tigerhawk to task for stating that all we had to do to win the war Iraq quickly (by 2004?) is to dust off the Marine Corps manual on counter-insurgency and apply it. He neglects to tell us what that manual says to do. He also neglects to tell us at what point we knew what kind of a war we were fighting.

If my memory serves me, the assumption before and during the invasion that our military’s job was to defeat Saddam’s army, capture Baghdad and replace the old regime with a new one purged of its Baathist elements. Steps one and two were fairly easily and cheaply accomplished. Prior to the invasion the Left was predicting that we would lose tens of thousands to the vaunted Revolutionary Guards. The Right was overjoyed at the quick victory. Only George Bush was talking about a long war and no-one took that very seriously.

That was followed by some sporadic resistance. It was not until later that the enemy began infiltrating fighters through a porous border; supply the indigenous hostiles with money, weapons expertise and training. And then, of course the “light touch” which was adopted both for political and military reasons allowed the situation to get out of hand. The light touch was used to give the Iraqis a sense that they were not, in fact, occupied, to reduce casualties, and to avoid tying up a very large portion of our available forces in a single theater. Remember: the military doctrine of being able to fight several wars simultaneously continues to define troop commitments. Otherwise why not ship our forces in Europe, Korea and Japan to Iraq?

So let me offer this observation. This war is different. I say “IS” because despite all the back slapping, it’s not over. The battle for Iraq may be winding down and it looks like we won. But the long war; the war against Islamofacism is not over by a long shot. George Bush’s biggest failure was not on the execution of the war, it was a failure to use the bully pulpit of the Presidency to educate the nation about the nature of the war and to rally the nation behind it.

That’s why this election is so important.  

By Blogger George, at Mon Jul 28, 09:53:00 PM:

...because it is silly to have a stationary defense against a mobile threat." ....

But of course that "mobile threat" (if you accept that it was mobile in military terms) became engaged, then pinned down and now defeated.

Sometimes you accept that your enemy has declared the battlefield to be decisive and it becomes so. Example..Gettysburg.  

By Anonymous Sovereign, at Mon Jul 28, 10:40:00 PM:

@TH: I am going to engage in a forum faux pas and take one of the top comments in a very different direction, particularly yours. I showed this thread to my roommate, and we had a few thoughts.

For purposes of background, I am socially liberal (your life, your business), fiscally moderate and my arc on the Iraq war has been: in the beginning, Saddam's a bad man, and while that isn't our stated justification, it's a fine supplement; trust in the CinC torched in the middle due to reports of totally lacking a strategy for the peace and a reasonable estimate of the cost of the engagement, on top of a perceived absolutist posture to critics; in the end, reiterating the welfare argument, ie having the end in sight forces people to step up. My roommate is more liberal than I am in most things, and we spend a good amount of time sussing things out with more diverse friends. Overall, though, we have spent a good amount of time with articulate and intelligent opponents of many facets of the war, and we believe that your comment at 11:05 does more to further the prowar cause among the antiwar crowd than you probably know.

Essentially, a good amount of the opposition to the war I have encountered focused on a total lack of confidence in the Executive and his advisors. The $60B figure that kept floating around seemed unreasonable, and as “greeted as liberators” and “mission accomplished” fell apart, the rhetoric shifted from “they’re not perfect” to “they’re either stupid or deliberately misleading, both of which are inappropriate for leadership.” This is not to say that the Iraq war couldn’t have been justified to the very same people; several of them were sensitive to the humanitarian issues of Hussein Iraq, others would have been in favor of addressing abusive Sunni/Shia relations generally, still more would have actually bought into stabilizing the Middle East with a multinational coalition. This remains the case even if we slap a sticker price of $150B a year for two years, or somesuch, so long as the plan is believed to be a good one and the execution competent.

But the perception was that we were making up policy as we went along, staying forever until undefined or unfeasible “win” conditions arose, rather than taking criticism seriously and improving. Arguments to the effect of “If you’d just shut up already we’d be winning” are easily construed as “it’s your fault we are losing,” and the transparently bad logic behind such a statement can be infuriating. Rumsfeld’s response, as vacuously truistic as it may be, was a horrifying thing to hear in response to a question by one of our men in uniform about being forced to scour junk yards for scrap metal, and the expenditure on perceivedly frivolous items only made things worse. (There were other factors, like politicizing the DOJ as confirmed in the Journal recently, and the Brown emails during Katrina, but the general theme for opponents was “these guys don’t know what they are doing.”)

Merely recognizing a small fraction of this, TH, simply noting that errors in judgment transpired, goes a tremendously long way toward forming common ground. It’s not a Quaker aspiration toward peaceful life that envigors many opponents, but an intolerance for things deemed obviously and preventably harmful, in addition to chafing at obstinate posturing. These same antiwar people support the mission in Afghanistan, preferably led by Obama, because they think that the mission is justified due to being a terrorist safe-haven and that Obama knows how to marshal a cause and lead by justification rather than stubborn curmudgeonliness. Winning trust is a vital aspect to turning the opponents, and actions of forthrightness are phenomenally helpful in this regard. These same people favor intervention generally, as evidenced by positions on Darfur, but want to take a much more scrutinizing approach to the policy; one which is greatly enhanced by not brushing flaws under the rug.  

By Anonymous Sadie, at Mon Jul 28, 11:28:00 PM:

Wars that were fought/managed better?

Gulf War I  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Mon Jul 28, 11:54:00 PM:

I've been troubled, and annoyed, by the question of casualties and victory in Iraq, for years now. The media definition of victory has always been somewhat fuzzy--basically, victory in Iraq consists of whatever the American military hasn't done in that country. A year and a half ago, there was much talk of benchmarks. These days, no one mentions them (because most have been met, of course) and instead we here that the gains that have been made are fragile, and we still might lose, etc.

The other issue, that of casualties, is touchier. Any casualties these days are heavy, unbearable, beyond endurable, above what any country should have to bear, more than an uncaring president should ask of his weary citizens. The difficulty here, of course, is that you can't contradict any of the above without sounding heartless, cruel, and insensitive, because of course behind each soldier killed in Iraq there's a grieving family, and for each family, "light" casualties aren't light at all, if their loved one is dead. I recently finished a book on the first World War, 1914-1918. Most of the nations involved suffered hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of dead soldiers in what amounted to four years of combat. We've suffered about 4,000 dead in the same approximate period. Pointing out that our casualties in Iraq are about 1/100th of what they were in that other war just brings protests that you're minimizing peoples' sacrifices and ignoring their grief. The problem is that we have learned to fight wars without so many casualties, and while war should still be implemented carefully, and only used as a last resort, what's going on in Iraq isn't anything like a particularly bloody war. Saying so is just a mis-statement, even an over-statement.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Tue Jul 29, 06:57:00 AM:

I don't know how our country dealt with the casualty rate in WWII. We lost 3,000 troops in four years in Iraq. In WWII we lost that many before the nation even knew we were at war. We lose about 750 soldiers and marines each year in Iraq. In WWII we lost that many when a dress rehearsal for D-Day was intercepted by German E-boats. Of course, it's not the same country but I imagine everyone in the U.S. in WWII knew multiple families affected by combat losses.  

By Blogger TigerHawk, at Tue Jul 29, 07:10:00 AM:

Sovereign (10:40 PM) -

All good remarks. Nobody other than rank partisans has been willing to defend the Bush administration's communications around the war. It is as if the entire executive branch was as inarticulate off the cuff as Bush himself seems to be, and lacked a clear strategy besides.

Now, on the question of acknowledgment of error, may I respectfully suggest that one of the big differences in this war and one's willingness to forgive it turns on one's expectations for the war. All wars, or virtually all of them, get tremendously screwed up along the way. This is true even if they are obviously victorious wars and acclaimed in popular culture thereafter as having been brilliantly fought. How many weak generals did Lincoln run through before he found Grant? By today's short attention span, Lincoln screwed up vastly more than Bush with much greater damage to the cause and and much greater consequence. But nobody remembers that now. And that is but one example.

The problem we have, of course, is the most recent example of a real American war is Gulf I. That war was fought brilliantly right up until the endgame, which we blew so badly we turned a military victory into a geopolitical mess. It inverted American expectations about war in ways that have been difficult for the inarticulate Bush administration to management in the current conflict.  

By Blogger TigerHawk, at Tue Jul 29, 07:16:00 AM:

Anon 6:57 AM -

I think two factors have made casualties much harder to absorb than they were during World War II and earlier conflicts -- antibiotics, and shrinking family size.

Antibiotics, because before their invention early death was much more routine. People forget that infectious disease was by far the biggest killer before World War II. People died young and before their time, often in childhood, all the damned time. So we were much more accommodated, if you will, to that sort of tragedy. Family size also matters. Callous as it sounds, if you have five or six children the loss of one is not nearly as devastating as it is when you have one or two children.

This last reason, by the way, is why I think we do not have to worry about China starting major wars any more. The one child policy has made children sacrosanct in that country, and no government will risk the outrage in the streets when thousands of Chinese kids start coming home in body bags.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Tue Jul 29, 07:55:00 AM:

Tigerhawk, re: China will never start a war.

Maybe, maybe not. I've also heard of the "Little Emporer" syndrome in Chinese society, but China is not America:

--The gender ratio is 130 boys per 100 girls. That's 15% of the male population that will never settle down. A redcipe for a marauding band of barbarians.
--As you pointed out, when death was common in the US, tolerance for casualties was high. The Chinese lose 4,000 miners/year ina ccidents, not to mention capital punishment and other industrial accidents.
--Confucianism, though officially discouraged, still has an influence on Chinese society (much as Christianity does in the US...though that too is somewhat discouraged). They have a different outlook than we do.

Tell me why the Chinese didn't rise in rage when thousands of students were killed at Tiennamen Square (the way the US was outraged over Kent State)? Or why the parents of the schoolchildren crushed in the earthquake haven't made more noise than they have?

You write great stuff, I'm glad you're here, but I think it is an error to apply American thinking to the Chinese.  

By Blogger Cassandra, at Tue Jul 29, 08:05:00 AM:

Nobody other than rank partisans has been willing to defend the Bush administration's communications around the war.

Wow. That's a stunner.

I think I'm glad I didn't bother to comment earlier, though that wasn't the gist of my comment.  

By Anonymous sirius_sir, at Tue Jul 29, 09:57:00 AM:

Cassandra, speaking of course only for myself, your comments are always welcome--even given the possibility you may come off sounding like a rank partisan. (Insert cute smiley-face thingy.)  

By Anonymous Tony, at Tue Jul 29, 10:48:00 AM:


When you are sussing things out with your roomie, do you ever put our losses in Operation Enduring Freedom in perspective with our losses in our own cities? Since there was no "anti-war" sentiment in the '90's, even though we were constantly engaged in multiple wars (Iraq, Somalia, Serbia, Haiti, Sudan, Afghanistan). That leads me to believe that this sudden "anti-war" passion among Democrats and the left is primarily political, not a genuine moral issue.

More Americans have been killed in Philadelphia since 2003 than have been killed in Baghdad. There have been more killed in the last year and a half in Philly than all of our KIA in Afghanistan since December, 2001. Where's the outrage about the 15-16,000 murders in the good ol' USA? Comparing costs and government efficiency in dealing with the problem, we have spent trillions dedicated to eliminating the problems that supposedly lead to all the murders in America, and we've made a lot less progress here in the last five decades than we have made in Iraq in the last five years.

Why is there no anti-murder MoveOn, Code Pink or Cindy Sheehan?  

By Blogger TigerHawk, at Tue Jul 29, 02:40:00 PM:

I take it, Cass, that you disagree. Oops. Incurring your wrath is definitely not one of my priorities.

I still believe it, though -- yes, the Bush administration's communications have been twisted by the opposition and a hostile press, but I genuinely believe two things: First, that the Bush administration has done a generally poor job of articulating the objectives of the war including the geopolitical benefit that has accrued from it, and second, that many supporters of the war see it the same way. You have done a better job articulating the case for the war than the administration.  

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