The Grim Numbers

Posted January 3, 2007

Categories: Articles

At the corner of 18th and K Streets in Washington, DC, a banner keeps a running tally of U.S. casualties in Iraq. The United Food and Commercial Workers Union updates the banner daily so that “corporate lobbyists and the foreign policy think tanks that dominate the canyons of K St. NW as well as the leaders around the corner at the White House and up the hill in Congress will always remember the impact of the policies that they advocate and the decisions that they make.”

For many Americans, these numbers — 3,834 U.S. soldiers dead, 27,753 wounded — quantify the tragedy of Iraq. It’s all about us: our invasion, our occupation, our losses.

Yet, American public opinion has turned decisively against the war. U.S. casualty figures are part of this story. But the deeper reason is that the U.S. public senses that these sacrifices are for nothing. U.S. military presence has not made Iraq a safer place. And that’s where the other numbers come into play:

  • Two million Iraqi refugees and two million internally displaced
  • Unemployment rate of 68%
  • Over 600,000 Iraqi casualties

This last number is the perhaps the most controversial. President Bush says that the war has cost only 30,000 Iraqi lives. Iraq Body Count, which scrupulously monitors the public sources, puts the casualty rate at around 80,000. A July 2006 study from Johns Hopkins, which measured “excess mortality” by doing an extensive household survey, estimates somewhere in the 600,000 range. And the Just Foreign Policy team has updated this number to establish the ceiling estimate of over one million casualties.

It is very difficult in the fog of war to come up with an accurate number. Suffice it to say that the president is low-balling it, and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have died. At this point, Americans have been disabused of the notion that the occupation has been a success. They recognize that we have sunk a dagger deep into Iraq. The question is: how can we remove the dagger without killing the victim? As long as first aid is available — in the form of Iraqi security forces, UN peacekeeping, and economic reconstruction assistance — the dagger should be pulled out immediately.

This week at FPIF, columnist Conn Hallinan runs the numbers on Iraq. In The Casualties of Iraq, he assesses the mortality figures, the refugee crisis, and so much more that has gone so terribly wrong. He concludes on an even grimmer note: “In 1258 the Mongol generals Hulagu and Guo Kan besieged and took the city of Baghdad. They murdered its inhabitants, burned its libraries, and ravished its lands. The Bush administration has done the same, but hidden it behind a smoke screen of lies and voodoo statistics. For the average Iraqi, there is little difference between the Mongols and the United States. Both have laid waste to their country.”

And for what? As FPIF contributors Bonnie Bricker and Adil Shamoo argue in The Costs of War for Oil, there has been no honest conversation in the United States about the sacrifices made by Iraqis and U.S. soldiers in order to ensure a steady oil supply to the United States. “Are we really the noble Americans we like to think that we are, if we allow death and destruction of this magnitude to occur in our name?” they ask.

State of Denial

The Iraq War is even having an effect on how the United States looks at mass killings in the past. In 1915, the Ottoman empire killed as many as 1.5 million Armenians. Today, the U.S. Congress is considering a resolution to commemorate this attempt at genocide. But after the House Foreign Affairs Committee approved the resolution, setting the stage for a floor vote, the Bush administration and the Turkish government have combined to put pressure on lawmakers to vote down the resolution. The primary reason? The Bush administration needs Turkey on its side to keep Iraq from exploding into even more violence and fragmentation. As a result, more than a dozen co-sponsors of the resolution have changed their minds, and the resolution may not even come to the floor.

FPIF’s Middle East editor Stephen Zunes writes a powerful commentary this week castigating those who oppose the resolution. “Not only is this a tragic affront to the remaining genocide survivors and their descendents, it is also a disservice to the many Turks who opposed their government’s policies at that time and tried to stop the genocide, as well as to contemporary Turks who face jail by their U.S.-backed regime for daring to acknowledge it,” he writes in U.S. Denial of the Armenian Genocide. “If the world’s one remaining superpower refuses to acknowledge the genocide, there is little chance that justice will ever be served. Adolf Hitler, responding to concerns about the legacy of his crimes, once asked, ‘Who, after all, is today speaking of the destruction of the Armenians?’ Failure to pass this resolution would send a message to future tyrants that they can commit genocide and not even have it acknowledged by the world’s most powerful countries.”

U.S. policy in Pakistan has also suffered from the misguided focus on Iraq. “The neo-conservative wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have consumed not only lives and resources from both Iraq and the United States, but also attention, distracting observers from the real frontlines of the War on Terror,” writes FPIF contributor Shahid Buttar in Supporting Musharraf Fuels Crisis in Pakistan. “While confused, knee-jerk calls emanate from the American right wing to invade Iran, Pakistan has already emerged as the latest theater. The Bush White House has characteristically failed to support democracy in the country, with potentially grave results.”

Danticat and Food

In this week’s Fiesta, FPIF interviewer extraordinaire E. Ethelbert Miller talks with Haitian-American novelist Edwidge Danticat about her latest book, Brother, I’m Dying, which is a finalist for the National Book Awards. How should the next U.S. president relate to Haiti? “I think he or she should support the leader the Haitian people have chosen for themselves and not impose U.S. choices on the people,” Danticat replies. “Haiti is a very close neighbor and should not be neglected. Aid should be given toward building infrastructure and long-term institutions so that every couple of years there is not a forced regime change that requires putting out more fires.”

Finally, I take a look at the local food movement and assess whether it will be able to transform fundamentally the structure of agriculture and consumption. It once was that the further away a food product came from, the more valuable it was. “The ‘eat local’ movement has reversed the value-distance equation,” I write in Global Tastes. “It becomes the poor who are condemned to eat the cheap food in the supermarket — white bread produced several states away, frozen orange juice from Brazil, sandwich meat from hogs butchered in Mexico. The wealthier consumers demonstrate their extradietary concerns — whether expressed in the desire to reduce overall consumption, help small farmers, or improve their own health with less-processed food — by paying a little more for locally produced products, whether vegetables or microbrewed beer or bread from a local bakery. This process of creating value, often arbitrary, is inescapable in our economic system. When locavores praise the flavor of a locally grown tomato, they are asserting that taste — as opposed to merely the calories needed to sustain life — is important. They are privileging their own tastes, their own health, and the socioeconomic assumptions embedded in these choices.”

Here’s a final grim number: a head of organic lettuce that travels from California to Washington, DC requires more than 30 times as much fossil fuel energy to transport as it provides to the consumer in food energy. Perhaps we wouldn’t need as much oil and invade as many countries if we simply ate locally…

FPIF, October 22, 2007

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *