March 12, 2003

When the Hawks Co-opt the D...

When the Hawks Co-opt the Doves' Bullshit Math: Walter Russell Mead, who I respect greatly, is full of dukey here:

Based on Iraqi government figures, UNICEF estimates that containment kills roughly 5,000 Iraqi babies (children under 5 years of age) every month, or 60,000 per year.
Why is that wrong? Because, last time I looked (which was seven months, 13 months and 15 months ago, respectively), UNICEF had never used the word "containment," nor had it "based" its figures on "Iraqi government figures." Again and again, UNICEF has made the point that the figure of 5,000 "excess deaths" a month among children under five is due to a whole sump-bath of circumstances, of which sanctions, or "containment," is just one. Those who quote UNICEF otherwise are ideologically biased, journalistically lazy, or both:
Saddam Hussein is 65; containing him for another 10 years condemns at least another 360,000 Iraqis to death. Of these, 240,000 will be children under 5.

Those are the low-end estimates. Believe UNICEF and 10 more years kills 600,000 Iraqi babies and altogether almost 1 million Iraqis.

Unless UNICEF has come out with new numbers I'm not aware of, this is double-dukey. Anyone who is serious about assigning blame for dead Iraqis knows it is impossible to make such an omniscient statement as "condemns at least another 360,000 Iraqis to death." And, as far as I'm aware, UNICEF has not gotten into the business of predicting death in Iraq (I'm happy to be proved otherwise).

It is worth noting, too, that Mead makes the following plausible-but-horrific claims, without a shred of evidence backing them:

Hussein murders the babies.

But containment enables the slaughter. Containment kills. The slaughter of innocents is the worst cost of containment.

"Slaughter" implies some direct campaign of deliberate murder, as opposed to more vague programs of starvation. If there was a baby-slaughtering campaign -- and there might well have been, for all I know -- I would appreciate hearing about it.
Containment allows Saddam Hussein to control the political climate of the Middle East. If it serves his interest to provoke a crisis, he can shoot at U.S. planes. He can mobilize his troops near Kuwait. He can support terrorists and destabilize his neighbors. The United States must respond to these provocations.
"Control"? Really? This is a monster whose regime will not be in power come May. He is a broke and isolated and desperate totalitarian. He can (and has) shot at many a U.S. plane -- did a single crisis ensue? Sure, he "can mobilize his troops near Kuwait," in a similar way that I "can mobilize drunks near Barbra Streisand's house in Malibu." Both are about as likely to happen; the difference being I wouldn't get blown to bits on Day Two of the deployment. "Must" is a strong and specific word. "Provocations" is a weak and vague one.
Worse, containment forces the United States to keep large conventional forces in Saudi Arabia and the rest of the region. That costs much more than money.

The existence of al Qaeda, and the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, are part of the price the United States has paid to contain Saddam Hussein.

The link is clear and direct. Since 1991 the United States has had forces in Saudi Arabia. Those forces are there for one purpose only: to defend the kingdom (and its neighbors) from Iraqi attack. If Saddam Hussein had either fallen from power in 1991 or fulfilled the terms of his cease-fire agreement and disarmed, U.S. forces would have left Saudi Arabia.

But Iraqi defiance forced the United States to stay.

It is possible that each of Mead's certainties (with my italicization) is 100% true. It is also possible that they are not. To my eyes, it seems entirely improbable that he was shown proof that his assertions were correct. If he was, I wish he would have shown them to us, instead of just asserting his confidence. This lil' distinction becomes important:
[O]ne consequence was dire and direct. Osama bin Laden founded al Qaeda because U.S. forces stayed in Saudi Arabia.

This is the link between Saddam Hussein's defiance of international law and the events of Sept. 11; it is clear and compelling. No Iraqi violations, no Sept. 11.

So that is our cost.

This is some crazy-ass omniscience. How does Mead know, incontrovertibly, that Osama Bin Laden formed Al Qaeda because American troops stayed in Saudi Arabia (against their intentions, natch)? He does not tell. This is not to say that he is wrong, mind you, but that he has not come close to proving it, or even arguing it. My hunch is that the United States has made several promises of "temporary" deployments that have turned out to be more or less permanent, for whatever reasons. Even if the reasons here were totally noble -- and they might be -- there is no way, to my knowledge, that Mead knows that with the same kind of certainty with which he writes these sentences.
Containing Hussein delivers civilians into the hands of a murderous psychopath, destabilizes the whole Middle East and foments anti-American terror -- with no end in sight.

This is disaster, not policy.

Powerful stuff. But what does "containing King Fahd" deliver, in comparison? Is he not a "psychopath"? Doesn't his country have more to do with the fomenting of "anti-American terror"? Also, it is not the United States or Nations that "delivers" any subject people to their own dictator -- the poor schleps were likely born into their condition, and we are (understandably) agonizing over the appropriate way to free them.

There are terrific arguments for toppling Nasty McMustache (as one of my comments-people here so accurately named Hussein). Mead's column ain't one of them. Worse, it co-opts the opposition's bogus stats as fact. Let me make one certain point clear, to my hawkish friends: DID YOU NOT LEARN, AFTER SEPT. 11, TO AVOID LYING, SELECTIVELY QUOTED BULLSHIT? Knock the shit off, already. (Thanks mucho to Stephen Green for the heads-up.) UPDATE FOR NATIONAL REVIEW READERS: As sort of gets discussed in the comments below, this is indeed a hair-splitting exercise, conducted mostly because I'd written previously on the topic. Mead's basic thesis -- war is justified because it reduces a human rights catastrophe -- is powerful, and may well be right.

Posted by at March 12, 2003 12:22 AM
Comments

Only point I'd make is that Bin Laden did pretty much convert his anti-Soviet Afghanistan operation to an anti-West/U.S. outfit because the U.S. troops remained in Saudi Arabia. And Saudi Arabia tossed Osama out of the kingdom because of his loud calls to force the infidels out of the islamic holy land. I could look it up & put some links here, but I'm tired and have to hang up all the drapes tomorrow.

Speaking of ... is there any chance in hell my nice power drill is somewhere in yr house? If so, call/e-mail immediately so I don't go to Lowe's in the morning & drop a bunch of money on a new drill.

Posted by: Ken Layne at March 12, 2003 12:43 AM

Dude -- Didn't see no drill, though I haven't totally exhumed the two boxes you left, aside from that secret "candy" ....

As for Dead Sammy, I don't doubt that his whole deal is predicated hugely on the Camp Fahd whatever; the question I have about Mead's article is more whether the U.S. was truly "forced" to stay there because of the Saddam threat. I'd say that that's likely, but not an absolute. To treat the Pentagon's word as gospel in this case is not necessarily the best and/or most convincing approach.

Posted by: Matt Welch at March 12, 2003 01:01 AM

There are lots of reasons besides Saddam for keeping troops in Saudi Arabia. I would say, at least. There are all kinds of imaginable threats that could arise in that region, and the region is too strategically important not to keep a goodly sized presense there if we can. Of course, absent SH, the question would be -- would Saudi Arabia allow us to have troops there? I think likely not, but then after May, we won't need Saudi bases any longer. Which I think is a big plus.

Posted by: Howard Owens at March 12, 2003 07:56 AM

P.S. I don't have the drill either.

Posted by: Howard Owens at March 12, 2003 07:57 AM

Matt, you're right, Meade's logic and numbers are faulty. Tho actually I think he lets Sadam off easy, ascribing the 5k dead babies to containment/sanctions as opposed to Sadam's need for multiple luxurious palaces, not to mention $ for all those chemicals, equipment etc. The problem with sanctions is not lack of $ for Iraqi babies, its that it more easily enables Sadam to control acces to those $. Now, despite his flawed arguments, Meade is absolutely right on the substance. Namely, that from a moral/humanitarian point of view, as well as for geostrategic & the other collateral reasons war in Iraq is far preferable to the peace we now have.

Posted by: Lloyd at March 12, 2003 10:21 AM

But I don't think you really succeeded, Matt. I think focusing on the precise estimate here is like focusing on exaggerations of Kosovar dead when Milosevic attacked; the fact was, too many were dying, and too many had died elsewhere by the same hand.

Whether it's 5000 per month or some lesser figure, say 1/5 of that, there is going to be some non-negligible number of child deaths that can be attributed to "sanctions-and-how-Saddam-deals-with-them," to coin a soon-to-be-forgotten phrase. And there is presumably some _additional_ proportional number of teenage and adult deaths also attributable to the same thing.

Mead may use figures that are too high as far as Iraqi children are concerned, but his overall point in that respect is valid: sanctions-and-how-Saddam-deals-with-them are _also_ a "high collateral damage" sort of tool to apply to the problem.

It's in part witnessing the deterioration of support for sanctions that prompted me to wave good-bye to them as well, in favor of simply deposing Saddam to end the threat he poses. It seems clear to me that how-Saddam-dealt-with-the-only-alternative-to-war-called-sanctions caused suffering among the Iraqi people. The suffering was on Saddam's conscience; the sanctions' tragic but valid point was to prevent even greater suffering among their neighbors. It will be the same with the war -- one the opponents of effective sanctions have helped make necessary.

Posted by: Thomas Nephew at March 12, 2003 07:57 PM

Thomas -- Mead wrote: "Believe UNICEF and 10 more years kills 600,000 Iraqi babies and altogether almost 1 million Iraqis." That is a falsehood. Since I know that to be a falsehood, and since people are talking about Mead's article, I decided point that out. In addition to everything else, I think facts matter, and I define one of my job descriptions as stemming the proliferations of falsehoods. I am sorry that that wasn't the post you were looking for; thankfully, there are about 10,000 other bloggers busy taking up the slack.

Posted by: Matt Welch at March 12, 2003 09:48 PM

"With the Afgan war, it was hard to spot a "right-wing idiotarian" because, well, we were fighting an enemy that had attacked our military headquarters and killed 3000 of our civilians. Now that we are entering a more morally murky war, I think you have found one test for rooting out a right-wing itiotarian: Anyone who co-opts an argument that warbloggers once used to lable an idiotarian and now uses it to justify war.

Claimed in Nov. 2001 that sanctions kill 5000 Iraqi babies a month? Left-wing Itiotarian.

Claimed in Mar. 2003 that sanctions kill 5000 Iraqi babies a month? Right-wing Itiotarian.

Matt Welch? Consistant Anti-Idiotarian."

Of course, the difference is that the left wingers simply wanted the sanctions stopped (or replaced with something that wouldn't have served their function), leaving Saddam free to do whatever the hell he pleased. The right wingers want to put Saddam in a pine box, removing the *need* for sanctions. Big difference, to anyone with the sense that God gave a jackrabbit.

Posted by: M. Scott Eiland at March 13, 2003 01:29 AM

M. Scott Eiland -

1. To respond to your general point, I agree that is an important difference, but I consider it irrelevent. Good ends do not justify rhetorical lies like this any more than bad ends. All they do is help opponents discredit the good ends.

2. "Big difference, to anyone with the sense that God gave a jackrabbit."
What the hell?!? What precisely did I say to deserve an insult like that? Because I do not support the extremists on your side, I don't have the sense of a jackrabbit? That is very typical of extremists on both sides: Anyone who doesn't wholely side with them is stupid. I have a question for anyone against or unsure about an Iraqi War reading this: Were you persuaded to switch sides by Mr. Eiland's extremely clever insults of my intellect?

Posted by: Timothy Roscoe Carter at March 13, 2003 09:51 AM

Actually, I was remarking mostly on the fact that the argument made by leftists (that the sanctions are causing lots of deaths) works better as an argument for getting rid of Saddam (which will end the threat he poses and therefore the need for sanctions), than as a reason for ending the sanctions (which leaves the problem that provoked the sanctions there and festering), even if one accepted the numbers the leftists used. IMO, that leaves the right with a rather stronger position to defend. The difference is rather obvious, and you acknowledged above that you don't care about it. The comment about jackrabbits was made as a generic reaction to the analytical ability of the folks who made the leftist argument on this position in the first place (who wanted sanctions lifted but not Saddam deposed), and you can probably decide for yourself if it applies to you (since you admitted that there is a distinction, I doubt that it does).

Posted by: M. Scott Eiland at March 13, 2003 11:32 AM

M. Scott Eiland -

I appriciate your backing down from insulting me, although I note that you did so via trying to claim you did not insult me specifically in a response solely to my comments, rather than an honest apology. I am still at a loss to explain your hostility to me. Why twist my statement that your point was "irrelevent" into "you acknowledged above that you don't care about it". To be more clear: I meant your point was irrelevant as a response to my point, not that it was irrelevant as an aguement for or against war. I had that argument with an anti-sanctions demonstrator in the mid-nineties. I asked what to do about Sadam, and he couldn't come up with anything better than talks. Now, I want Sadam's head on a pike, but I don't trust the Bush administration to do it without simply installing a pro-American Sadam (you know, like Sadam used to be) or without creating greater international danger by gutting international law. So, I essentially agree with you, but because I do not agree with you enough, I am fair game for attacks on my intelligence and moral fiber. It is the kind of extremism that you are demonstrating that I was praising Matt for attacking.
- Decnavda

Posted by: Timothy Roscoe Carter at March 13, 2003 01:45 PM

Leaving aside the admittedly entertaining little dust-up between Messrs. Carter and Eiland for a moment, I think Matt missed a nuance in Mead's column. To quote: "Believe UNICEF and 10 more years kills 600,000 Iraqi babies and altogether almost 1 million Iraqis." Matt ignored the phrase "Believe UNICEF," which Mead would not have inserted if he accepted their figures unquestioningly. I think he was winking at his readership, showing us that he knew full well that he was coopting the Left's old argument for lifting sanctions -- a sort of rhetorical ju-jitsu, if you will. This interpretation is bolstered by the fact that Mead questioned those numbers within his column itself, if memory serves me correctly (I read it hours ago, but recall that he did say the numbers were probably exaggerated, and cited some lower estimates). It's clear to me, at least, that he wasn't necessarily taking the UNICEF figures at face value. He was simply arguing that if you did, then you'd have to conclude that continuing sanctions was more deadly and caused more suffering than a war in all probability would. I agree with Thomas Nephew's point above: even if the UNICEF numbers are off by a factor of five, sanctions are still deadlier than war.

Posted by: alistair at March 13, 2003 03:16 PM

THOSE AREN'T UNICEF'S NUMBERS. They are the numbers of people who misquote UNICEF's numbers. If he had said, "believe people who misquote UNICEF's numbers," or simply "believe most anti-sanctions advocates," we wouldn't be having this discussion.

Posted by: Matt Welch at March 13, 2003 04:18 PM

Matt, you're right, those aren't UNICEF's numbers, and Mead should not have claimed they were. My hunch is he has accepted the exaggerations of anti-sanctions people in the past, reasoning as I did more about their justification than about their cost.

Re Osama's founding Al Qaeda because of US forces in Saudi Arabia, from his fatwa of February 23, 1998, calling for deaths of American civilians:

No one argues today about three facts that are known to everyone; we will list them, in order to remind everyone

First, for over seven years the United States has been occupying the lands of Islam in the holiest of places, the Arabian Peninsula, plundering its riches, dictating to its rulers, humiliating its people, terrorizing its neighbors, and turning its bases in the Peninsula into a spearhead through which to fight the neighboring Muslim peoples. [...]

On that basis, and in compliance with God's order, we issue the following fatwa to all Muslims

The ruling to kill the Americans and their allies -- civilians and military -- is an individual duty for every Muslim who can do it in any country in which it is possible to do it, in order to liberate the al-Aqsa Mosque and the holy mosque [Mecca] from their grip, and in order for their armies to move out of all the lands of Islam, defeated and unable to threaten any Muslim. Note that American forces in Arabia comes "first" among Bin Laden's reasons for the fatwa, both because of the land's holiness and because it is a base to fight neighboring Muslim peoples. I suppose that's not precisely equal to a reason for the founding of Al Qaeda per se, but it's reasonably close.

Mead's arguments about this and about sanctions aren't as far-fetched as you made them appear, I thought, so I made my earlier comment. But you're right, truth matters, and Mead should have at minimum researched the numbers better before publishing the piece.

Posted by: Thomas Nephew at March 14, 2003 09:06 AM

Thomas -- Yeah, I probably shouldn't have been so nitpicky about the other stuff, but since I was reading it closely anyway I thought it worth pointing out the omniscient certainty in some of his assertions.

Posted by: Matt Welch at March 14, 2003 04:38 PM


Matt, you make a good point, but I think in all fairness Eiland does as well. If (as you have convincingly shown)Mead is using the 'Dove's Bullshit math' it still constitutes a sound argument to the effect that if one accepts the same premises of the doves, i.e. their rhetoric on the subject of sanctions, the conclusion that follows weakens rather than strengthens their case.

I also wonder what the cost to Iraq's people might be if Iraq was placed under sanctions for 5, ten, maybe even twenty more years if the Baathists remain. Won't its effects grow worse over time? Since revolts in the past have been crushed by Saddam it would seem they would be in the future, leaving the containment strategy in place for as long as the regime lasts.

Posted by: Jim Seaton at March 17, 2003 02:46 PM
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g fatwa to all Muslims

The ruling to kill the Americans and their allies -- civilians and military -- is an individual duty for every Muslim who can do it in any country in which it is possible to do it, in order to liberate the al-Aqsa Mosque and the holy mosque [Mecca] from their grip, and in order for their armies to move out of all the lands of Islam, defeated and unable to threaten any Muslim. Note that American forces in Arabia comes "first" among Bin Laden's reasons for the fatwa, both because of the land's holiness and because it is a base to fight neighboring Muslim peoples. I suppose that's not precisely equal to a reason for the founding of Al Qaeda per se, but it's reasonably close.

Mead's arguments about this and about sanctions aren't as far-fetched as you made them appear, I thought, so I made my earlier comment. But you're right, truth matters, and Mead should have at minimum researched the numbers better before publishing the piece.

Posted by: Thomas Nephew at March 14, 2003 09:06 AM

Thomas -- Yeah, I probably shouldn't have been so nitpicky about the other stuff, but since I was reading it closely anyway I thought it worth pointing out the omniscient certainty in some of his assertions.

Posted by: Matt Welch at March 14, 2003 04:38 PM


Matt, you make a good point, but I think in all fairness Eiland does as well. If (as you have convincingly shown)Mead is using the 'Dove's Bullshit math' it still constitutes a sound argument to the effect that if one accepts the same premises of the doves, i.e. their rhetoric on the subject of sanctions, the conclusion that follows weakens rather than strengthens their case.

I also wonder what the cost to Iraq's people might be if Iraq was placed under sanctions for 5, ten, maybe even twenty more years if the Baathists remain. Won't its effects grow worse over time? Since revolts in the past have been crushed by Saddam it would seem they would be in the future, leaving the containment strategy in place for as long as the regime lasts.

Posted by: Jim Seaton at March 17, 2003 02:46 PM
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