Tuesday, January 8, 2008

...and counting...

(Occasional sobering thoughts.) It's been 6 weeks since we last looked at how things stand in Iraq and Afghanistan, the theaters since 2003 and 2001, respectively, of armed conflict between a multistate coalition led by the United States and a myriad of nonstate groops. Story lines noted then continue to dominate. Often heard still is that "the surge" -- a U.S. effort to reduce violence by increasing U.S. troops -- is working.
On a closer look one finds chinks in the armor of that argument.
► Noteworthy in Sunday's Democratic presidential debate was the degree to which candidates responded to the moderator's suggestion that the surge had worked. Sen. Hillary Clinton began with this pushback:
[T]he purpose behind the surge was to create the space and time for political reconciliation, for the Iraqi government to do what only it can do and trying to deal with the myriad of unresolved problems that confront it. ... [B]ut there has not been a willingness on the part of the Iraqi government to do what the surge was intended to do, to push them to begin to make the tough decisions. And in the absence of that political action, 23 Americans dying in December is totally unacceptable.
Gov. Bill Richardson pushed back further:
The policy's a massive failure. Here are the measurements that we should look at: Thirty-nine hundred Americans have lost their lives. There are 60,000 Americans today that are wounded, mainly mentally wounded. Tell that to the family that only 23 died in December.
Look, here are the barometers that we need to look at. First, there is no military solution; there's a political solution. Secondly, has there been progress in any political compromises of reconciliation between the Sunni, the Shi'a and the Kurds? Zero. Has there been progress in sharing oil revenues? Zero. Has there been any regional elections? Zero. Is the Maliki government intensifying its efforts to train the Iraqi
security forces more than they have? No. Is there any end to Iran's efforts to bring terrorist activities to Iraq? No. Iran, Syria -- no one has participated in the regional solution.
Then Sen. Barack Obama joined the pushback:
[T]he bar of success has become so low that we've lost perspective on what should be our long-term national interests. It was a mistake to go in from the start, and that's why I opposed this war from the start.
It has cost us upwards of $1 trillion. It may get close to 2. We have lost young men and women on the battlefield, and we have not made ourselves safer as a consequence.
... [W]e started in 2006 with intolerable levels of violence and a dysfunctional government. We saw a spike in the violence, the surge reduced that violence, and we now are, two years later, back where we started two years ago. We have gone full circle at enormous cost to the American people.
Finally, Sen. John Edwards made pushback a 4-for-4 Democratic position:
[T]he whole purpose for the surge was to create some environment where there could be political progress and political reconciliation between Sunni and Shi'a. ... [E]ven George Bush acknowledges that that's -- that's what we're trying to accomplish. ... I don't believe ... that there will be political progress until we make it clear that we're going to stop propping the Sunni and Shi'a up with American lives and with the American taxpayer dollars.
► Another "barometer," to use Richardson's term, is the question of overall U.S. casualties. That question surfaced during an excellent panel on private military contracting at last weekend's Association of American Law Schools annual meeting, at which law professors Laura A. Dickinson (Connecticut), author of a new ASIL Insight already mentioned in IntLawGrrls, Martha Minow (Harvard), Paul Verkuil (Cardozo), and Steven L. Schooner (George Washington), spoke. Schooner noted that deaths of contractors appear to be going up -- perhaps up to 1 contractor death for every 3 servicemember deaths. The numbers are hard to come by. Neither the Department of Defense nor other contracting departments collect them, leaving researchers to look to loss-of-job-force statistics issued by the Department of Labor. Assuming these gleanings to be accurate, there's reason to think that the drop in servicemember casualties may have been offset by a rise in contractor casualties, with the result that overall U.S. casualties have remained constant.
Missing from all these considerations is the casualty count on which we've focused since starting this "... and counting" series nearly a year ago: (additional post) the number of Iraqi civilians who've died since the 2003 invasion. Here are those numbers: according to Iraq Body Count, between 80,331 and 87,742 Iraqi women, children, and men had died in the conflict -- an increase of between 2,998 and 3,492 deaths in the last 6 weeks, and of 23,451 to 25,129 deaths since we began counting last February.
Regarding servicemembers: by the U.S. Defense Department's figures, as of Sunday 3,911 American servicemembers had been killed in Iraq. Total coalition fatalities: 4,218 persons. (That's 36 servicemember deaths in 6 weeks, all but 1 of them Americans.) The Department stated that 28,661 servicemembers have been wounded, and that 8,691 of them required medical air transport.
Military casualties in the conflict in Afghanistan stand at 476 Americans and 278 other coalition servicemembers, an increase of 7 and 9, respectively, in the last 6 weeks.
No numbers on civilians in Afghanistan; no one seem to keep them.

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