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Tilting at Windmills

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May 25, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

GETTING OUT....This is sort of a rare occurrence, but I want to strenuously disagree with Swopa today. After today's disappointing war vote, he argues that the best way for liberals to sway public opinion over the next few months is to keep the death toll front and center:

In my opinion what matters most is for the next Iraq-funding vote opportunity to be defined ASAP and to apply the necessary weeks/months of full-court pressure to the swing votes that kept us from securing a withdrawal timeline this time around.

Which is where the mounting U.S. death toll comes in. The higher casualty rate is a result of Dubya's "surge" strategy of increasing the visibility of our military presence in Iraq — and if that approach is kept up through the end of his term, 2,000 more Americans will have died by the end of January, 2009....Every Democrat or other progressive with access to a microphone, TV camera, or keyboard can help by reminding people that those 2,000 lives are the price we're going to pay for not putting an end to the war.

I think this is badly wrong on two counts. Substantively it's wrong because the death toll isn't the reason we should withdraw from Iraq. After all, if fighting in Iraq really were critical to our national security, we'd be willing to make the sacrifice in lives and treasure that we're making. The reason we should leave Iraq isn't because the war is costing lives, but because the war isn't critical to our national security.

Rhetorically, this is also a bad strategy. Focusing on the death toll merely reinforces Republican frames about "defeatist" Democrats: namely that we're too spineless and weak-kneed to stay strong in the face of a determined opposition. Faced with a few deaths we run for cover. Likewise, most Americans don't want to feel like they're giving up just because they can't take a beating. That's cowardly, and they'll resist arguments that make them feel that way.

Bottom line: We should avoid focusing too heavily on the death toll as a reason for withdrawal from Iraq. Rather, our primary focus should be on why this is a bad war and why our national security would be improved by getting out. Not only is it the truth, but it's also a more persuasive argument.

Kevin Drum 2:20 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (91)

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Comments

The death toll and the notion that Iraq isn't worth fighting for go hand in hand. Either idea would be acceptable without the other.

Posted by: Boronx on May 25, 2007 at 2:26 AM | PERMALINK

Kevin,

I agree with you 100%. The cost in lives does matter and is important, but sometimes wars must be fought. After all, a Dem president might have to fight a war too. In the case of this war, it was unnecessary and executed badly. However, dwelling on death tolls as a major part of a political debate, I think, can get caught between that very fine line between sincerity and ugly opportunism. The stronger case is exactly as you say, to point out why this war was bad strategically, and why it continues to be bad strategically.

Posted by: KC on May 25, 2007 at 2:35 AM | PERMALINK

So... The fact that Democrats have a large tent, and all of the Senator candidates voted against this bill (as did my representatives) even manage to finagle a single second guess here?

It's not like they didn't say yesterday that they were voting against it, or that they waited until it was long passed to vote.

The leadership and actual lefties of the party are disgusted. It's those mealy-mouthed middlekins and Republicans who should get the blame.

Liberals voted against it.

Posted by: Crissa on May 25, 2007 at 2:40 AM | PERMALINK

We should let the generals set our policy in Iraq rather than letting Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) micromanage it.
You mean like Gen. Shinseki? Certainly we don't want war micromanaged by civilian know-nothings.

Posted by: luther on May 25, 2007 at 3:02 AM | PERMALINK

our primary focus should be on why this is a bad war and why our national security would be improved by getting out.

I would agree that the case is most effectively made as a cost/benefit analysis but what about the word war? It isn’t really a war. Maybe it’s not a productive thing to spend energy on but it’s not a war. It’s either an occupation or a Nation building effort or something…

Posted by: antiphone on May 25, 2007 at 3:03 AM | PERMALINK

Absolutely wrong, Kevin. U.S. soldiers are dying. We cannot pretend that isn't happening or that it somehow isn't part of the calculus. The reason why people are against wars (whether it is all wars or only some wars) is that people get killed. If there were no casualties, then almost everybody would be on board for every war.

But the real point is this: people are risk averse. If they think "leaving=losing," they will want to avoid what they see as the inevitable risk of leaving. Better to keep plugging away in the hope that thing might get better, as opposed to accepting certain defeat.

On the other hand, if they see the PRESENT COURSE as a definite loser, then that becomes the risk they want to avoid. Better to get out and hope that improves things, rather than sticking to a strategy doomed to inevitable failure.

The fact that staying in Iraq inevitably leads to a continuing catastrophic loss of life is what makes it a guaranteed loser strategy. And that makes the alternative preferable.

Posted by: Hollywood Gothique on May 25, 2007 at 3:07 AM | PERMALINK

Substantively it's wrong because the death toll isn't the reason we should withdraw from Iraq.

This ignores the possibility that the most effective argument for getting out of Iraq will not necessarily be the most substantive argument for getting out of Iraq.

I'm not saying that pictures of body bags are the answer, but I don't think that the things that are most persuasive to someone with the intelligence and knowledge of someone like a Kevin Drum are necessarily the things that are most persuasive to most voters.

I prefer the strategy of saying that we lost the war AND it's all Bush's fault. Maybe we could have won if someone else was in the White House (or probably not *wink, wink* to my liberal friends), but if we could have, this war was made unwinnable because Bush is an idiot.

Posted by: Anthony on May 25, 2007 at 3:16 AM | PERMALINK

Also, this would lead to the perception that "more deaths" is better for democrats.

Posted by: Clint on May 25, 2007 at 3:24 AM | PERMALINK

Mainly, what boronx said. But also, in the end any policy proposal must be justified in favor of saving lives or improving lives, right?

I read a Patrick Cockburn piece (via Juan Cole) which summed up very well why we should leave Iraq: neither Sunnis or Shiites like foreign troops very much, but the Sunnis have fought foreign troops militarily for the past 4 years and the Shiites haven't. So sectarian fighting has increased more and more as the occupation gone on, and increased sectarian hatred makes any progress impossible.

Also, I think democrats have to discuss in a very detailed way what our troops are currently doing in Iraq, what they are supposed to be accomplishing, and what evidence exists to what extent they are accomplishing it.

For example, sending troops out on patrols. I don't understand what these patrols are supposed to accomplish. The purpose ostensibly is to make the Iraqi civilian population feel safer, but we send patrols out even in Sunni areas where the civilian population doesn't support us and doesn't want us there.

Posted by: roublen on May 25, 2007 at 3:37 AM | PERMALINK

I agree with Kevin. The people I know who were against this war from the beginning had it right then. And it's still right now.

This is BAD foreign policy. It was impossible to get that point across then. Given the state of the country at the time, I can understand that.

Given the state of the country now, it's very important to drive that point. Especially now that you can point to all results of this very bad policy. One of which is the death toll. It's part of the arguement, but not the whole arguement.

But here's the odd thing... these arguements have already been made. Neighbor to neighbor, citizen to citizen. The President, who's only major policy (or really -public- policy) is this war, sits at a stunningly low approval rate. His party lost huge in the last election because of it.

Putting the death toll front and center or not. Who is this being put front and center to? Not the President, or the Republican party. They don't care. The Democrats? Do they really not know how they got elected? The electorate? We already know.

The country says one thing, but the goverment goes stead fast in the other direction. It's utterly baffling to me.

Posted by: Brendan on May 25, 2007 at 3:37 AM | PERMALINK

Rather, our primary focus should be on why this is a bad war and why our national security would be improved by getting out.

Well, let me rephrase some of my assertions as questions.

Whether in Iraq or not, is not our nation security seriously threatened by our dependence on Middle Eastern oil? If so, wouldn't we strengthen our security by developing independence?

If we "redeploy" out of Iraq but maintain large and expensive facilities in Bahrain, Dubai, and other places, does that not also weaken our security? Aren't Americans in the region always going to be targets, whether we have troops in Iraq or not?

People write about "energy independence" as though it's both foolish ("autarkic") and non-achievable, but it would be less costly than maintaining our military facilities in the Persian Gulf decade after decade. I mean less costly in cash and effort. It would for sure be less costly in lives.

Posted by: MatthewRmarler on May 25, 2007 at 3:52 AM | PERMALINK

The argument for not talking about the dead is actually persuasive. After all, we all know any mention of the dead will be twisted and taken out of context.

Instead, we need to concentrate on pointing out the impotence of Bush's occupation obsession. It harms American interests and Iraqi interests. Our armed forces and our coffers are being squandered on a failed bet, and we need to redeploy our troops to where they can do good.

Our troops are not being sacrificed, they are being wasted. They are not protecting the USA, nor anybody other than Bush's ego. We might as well order them to build a flood dam in the middle of the Sahara.

The USA needs to learn its lessons from Germany, ironically. The current German strategy in Afghanistan was been far more effective than the US one, a strategy of not trying to kill off the Taliban but to make them irrelevant, to behave like guests instead of as patrons. Unfortunately the aggression in the US policy us undermining even the German successes, as evidenced by the suicide bomber attack last week.

Posted by: Saint Fnordius on May 25, 2007 at 4:19 AM | PERMALINK

Of course the deaths of 100s of 1,000s of Iraqis and the entire devastation of THEIR country isn't a factor in any way. If it's in U.S. interest, THEY should be glad to pay any price.

Posted by: jeff on May 25, 2007 at 4:35 AM | PERMALINK

Kevin's "death is no big deal" idea.

Dubya's "surge" strategy is too little, too late. Iraq is in full civil war now.

Bush was told by the UN that he would destabilize the Mideast - and ceratinly Bush has done that, and Bush would like nothing better than to immerse the US into full all out WW III with the entire Mideast.

So that destabilization seems to be the real Bush surge strategy.

In the Bush scenario, we fight against national terrorist there in Iraq, and certainly there's is how some truth to this, since Bush has made a nice breeding ground for such terrorist, complete with uncontrolled oil pipelines to provide good money in order to fund terrorist activities and complete with Bush's corrupt Iraqi government.

Bush has no control over Iraq and it's getting worse and worse by the day. There simply is not enough manpower, not enough will from Americans to continue with Bush "terrorist exuberance" policies. This war is really about Bush's "cultivation of terrorism" ideas, so the more Americans see death, the thing that Bush tries so desperately to hide from Americans, the more real the horror of what Bush has done will driven home. It appears to me that Kevin wants to help Bush hide the worse parts of Bush's cultivation of terrorism war. I see no reason not to show Americans what the new butcher of Baghdad is doing to Iraq and Iraqis, and to our military troops.

Kevin seems to be more for Bush's war than ever. I don't think Kevin really is a liberal and I don't think Washington Monthly is really a liberal magazine. I bet, like that TNR twin rag, it's a mag owned by Repugs to try sway opinions of some Americans into helping Bush hide this war in Iraq. Sort of trying to pretend like this war in Iraq is not really happening and keep the horror of the war off the front pages of media as if Death is really no big deal.

But then Kevin has no child serving in Iraq whom must be repeatedly send back to Iraq time and again, as if Bush's soul intent is on making sure that no military member has any hope of getting out of Iraq expect to come back in a body bag or without one's limbs.

Posted by: Me_again on May 25, 2007 at 4:44 AM | PERMALINK

The Iraq War was conceived upon delusion, enacted with deception, waged in folly and thus destined for failure.

Our troops have done everything they could, given the administration's ever-shifting rationale for invasion and abject refusal to adequately define their mission beyond that of occupation.

It's long past time to bring them back home to their loved ones, and to instead offer up George W. Bush and Dick Cheney to the international war crimes tribunal in The Hague.

Posted by: Donald from Hawaii on May 25, 2007 at 4:54 AM | PERMALINK

Oh, and it's becoming more and more obvious that what happened at Walter Reed was no mistake.

We're hearing more and more of how the Bushies refuse to support Iraq military wounded. Bush never really supported the troops, he never really cared about those many flag draped coffins. Seems very odd to me, that Kevin would perfer to help Bush hide the real cost of this war.


Posted by: Me_again on May 25, 2007 at 4:59 AM | PERMALINK

This is sort of a rare occurrence, but I want to strenuously disagree with Swopa today.

I may frame this. It's nice to be disagreed with in such a flattering way. (Unless "rare occurrence" refers to "strenuously," as in you don't usually give a crap enough to express your disagreement.)

But to the main point. I completely agree about national security as the best reason for leaving Iraq; indeed, I was hammering on that very point dating back to 2005, and made a particular point of trying to emphasize it last fall.

In broad public terms, though, I think that argument has already been won -- not because Democrats argued it prominently, but as a simple matter of psychological self-protection. As people recognized that we were losing in Iraq, they also concluded that "winning" there wasn't essential to our national security.

The point of emphasizing the lives at stake -- importantly, not just those already lost, but those not yet lost -- is to give some urgency and salience to the withdrawal argument, pushing back against the Friedman Unit, "let's give the latest strategy a chance" argument. As I wrote in the post you linked to, noting that 2,000 more U.S. troops could die by January 2009:

What will have been accomplished by the loss of those 2,000 lives?
That's the question I want posed to anyone who thinks we should stay in Iraq any longer: What hard proof can you give me that six months or a year from now we won't be in exactly the same situation as now (which hasn't changed fundamentally in at least three years), except with several hundred more grieving families? It's the moral reasoning that gave rise to the Powell Doctrine -- you don't throw lives away based on "Hey, let's give this a shot, maybe it'll work."

As susceptible as Democrats have been to criticism for not grounding their policies in an overall vision of national security, they've also been vulnerable to making their arguments too bloodless and abstract (see Dukakis, Michael).

The philosophical argument matters. But the lives matter, too.

Posted by: Swopa on May 25, 2007 at 5:12 AM | PERMALINK

Of course the deaths of 100s of 1,000s of Iraqis and the entire devastation of THEIR country isn't a factor in any way.

Unfortunately, the reason Iraqi suffering isn't a factor in whether we stay or leave is that it's going to continue in either case.

Posted by: Swopa on May 25, 2007 at 5:16 AM | PERMALINK

What Clint said: Another big problem with focusing on the US death toll is that it creates the perception, among some, that Democrats are "rooting for" death and failure -- and indeed, that it ties political success to military failure.

I also disagree somewhat with Swopa's comment just above: While Iraqi suffering will continue in either case, I firmly believe that US presence in Iraq is increasing Iraqi suffering in the longer term. If we get out now, there will continue to be some bloodshed, but our presence is still feeding the violence. 18 months after a US withdrawal, Iraq will be a safer, less violent country than it would have been had we not withdrawn.

Posted by: Alex R on May 25, 2007 at 6:43 AM | PERMALINK

An excellent post, KD! I agree 100% that using the death toll as a justification just plays into the conservative mindset of "weak, defeatist" liberals. Bush-style conservatives are folks who think torture is A-okay. Not just okay, but something to relish, heh. A little bloodshed isn't going to change their minds. They are so inoculated that they will point to other wars and higher deathtolls as evidence of how feeble the bleeding-heart liberals are. And the idea that compassion or empathy are meaningful values??? Ha! That's just snortworthy laughable.

The reason to get out of Iraq is that our president sold this invasion of his, deliberately and even gleefully, with lies and misrepresentations. The conflict there is accomplishing the opposite of what was sold. Staying in Iraq is harming US and world security.

Leaving, however, will not remove American responsibility or eliminate problems. We will just have a different set of consequences to deal with. GWB has accomplished one of his goals: He has stirred up a hornet's nest. We are being stung now and we will continue to be stung by his failures as CIC. Repudiating policies based on aggressive, mean, ignorant conservatism is important (and polls suggest this is happening in the US). Repudiating GWB & Dick Cheney and trying them as war criminals would be a big step towards restoring some US credibility.

In addition, MatthewRmarler makes an excellent point: ""energy independence...would be less costly than maintaining our military facilities in the Persian Gulf decade after decade. I mean less costly in cash and effort. It would for sure be less costly in lives."

antiphone also makes a second excellent point: "... what about the word war? It isn’t really a war."

Posted by: PTate in FR on May 25, 2007 at 6:48 AM | PERMALINK

My view is that the Democrats should frame it this way: As things stand right now, the best way we can support our troops is to get them out of what has become (and maybe always was) a hopeless situation. That is why we need a (short) timetable for withdrawal.

Posted by: bummer on May 25, 2007 at 7:04 AM | PERMALINK

Kevin: the case has already succesfully been made that the war is wrong. Most Americans believe we should get out and/or we should never have gotten in in the first place. Most Americans now believe the war has been a mistake.

So, it seems to me focusing on the the huge cost of the war in stark terms is the way to go.

Posted by: anon on May 25, 2007 at 7:44 AM | PERMALINK

Kevin,
I agree with you. I consider myself to the left of the Democratic party, but I wouldn't trust a president who was not capable of sacrificing thousands of our troops, _when necessary_.
Do you remember the Good Kirk, Bad Kirk episode on Star Trek? A transporter malfunction (AKA plot device ex machina) splits Kirk into good and bad versions. The bad Kirk lives on an Enterprise where Spock is trying to assassinate him and take over. Good Kirk is a real sweethear, but incapable of making hard choices. In the end, the survival of the Enterprise depended on reuniting them.
Bush is Bad Kirk. He has no qualms about the deaths of thousands of American troops and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and this turns their sacrifice into a waste and even damages us.
If we emphasize these deaths too much, we become the Good Kirk. The nation needs leadership that fully understands the responsibility of sending men and women to the death (and injuries), but that is also capable of doing this, when and only when we really, really need to.
WW2 and the initial overthrow of the Taliban come to mind.
I suspect that most nations at most times will chose a Bad Kirk if the only alternative is the Good Kirk.

Posted by: Kevin Rooney on May 25, 2007 at 7:44 AM | PERMALINK

So, it seems to me focusing on the the huge cost of the war in stark terms is the way to go.

Sorry, to sound cold. The cost of dead soldiers is a huge individual cost - the highest (and not a single soldier should have been put forth to die for this fool's errand). But individual costs do not equal aggregate costs. The aggregate costs are the costs to American security and the costs in terms of American credibility and America's ability to get things done. The latter cost is staggering. I don't see any hope of full recovery and partial recovery can't even start until the U.S. is out of Iraq.

I think most people can see the difference between the individual and the aggregate and Kevin is totally right to focus on these aggregate costs.

Posted by: snicker-snack on May 25, 2007 at 7:58 AM | PERMALINK

Is anyone following the issue presently on WJ with Jerome Corsi (he of the SWIFT BOAT ad)? Gotta wonder how much credit to give someone who states that "as far as he knows he's never been registered as a Democrat or a Republican"...DUH...did someone else sign him up sometime or does he just work in a fog?...someone on now challenging him that his comments are NOTHING NEW...perhaps that's why the MSM didn't pick up his article...but, GOOD NEWS, he is considering a run for the presidency...YIPPEE!!!

Posted by: Dancer on May 25, 2007 at 8:15 AM | PERMALINK

Yes, indeedee do, it must be Friday - Cat Blogging later and a Repug on schmoozing with Brian Lamb on WJ. A true lovefest between Lamb and Corsi.

And, if you keep moving right, Kevin, perhaps Lamb will have you on.

The dead do matter - What have they died for? A bad policy - The two go hand in hand. By the way, Kevin, six more soliders were killed yesterday. What were their names, Kevin, what were their names?

Posted by: thethirdPaul on May 25, 2007 at 8:33 AM | PERMALINK

With apologies to Boronx, who said it first and better than I.

Posted by: thethirdPaul on May 25, 2007 at 8:36 AM | PERMALINK

I hate to break it to Drum, but death tolls are what sway the American people. Americans might not like "defeatism", but they won't go for withdrawal unless they think the war is unwinnable. As long as you ignore the death-toll, you ignore the strongest rationale for withdrawing.

Posted by: soullite on May 25, 2007 at 9:14 AM | PERMALINK

Kevin is absolutely correct.

But what pisses me off is to see those who disagree with his point twist his words around and say that Kevin is dismissing the importance of the deaths in Iraq. Kevin did not say that, he did not even imply that.

Twisting a person's words around to mean the opposite of what the writer wrote is very Republican, so cut it out.

Kevin's point is that it is better to argue that the war has no justification, and he is right. Deaths in war are a natural and horrible result of that war. But sometimes they can be justified by the cause (WWII, for instance). But when the war is being fought under false pretenses, when it being fought for a lie, it is the false pretenses and the lies that are the issues.

Posted by: Dicksknee on May 25, 2007 at 9:21 AM | PERMALINK

Yeah, Dicksknee, "Fought under false pretenses"

Now, there is a banner which will fire up the gentry.

Posted by: thethirdPaul on May 25, 2007 at 9:26 AM | PERMALINK

I agree with Kevin. The biggest reason why America needs to get its troops and mercenaries out of Iraq is that the occupation is hurting America's security rather than helping. Our army is stuck there, accomplishing nothing and disintegrating. Our allies are turning against us. Our enemies are gaining sympathy, funding, and recruits. As long as America keeps its troops in Iraq, all these problems will continue to grow.

Posted by: Gary Sugar on May 25, 2007 at 9:33 AM | PERMALINK

I see where you're coming from as far as a skewed focus but it is still extremely important that whatever plan we come up with needs to be voted on an applied ASAP!


Curious? Check out Christopher Ruddy

Posted by: ShelbSpeaks on May 25, 2007 at 9:36 AM | PERMALINK

Wrong. National security IS keeping preventing Americans from dying for no good reason. No amount of solidiers dying will improve the situation in Iraq.

Posted by: charlie don't surf on May 25, 2007 at 9:37 AM | PERMALINK

For the next election, the Dem brand must certainly switch to 'we have a better plan, a better way of doing business, we will do better'

The anti-Repub sentiment will help of course, but we're sort of moving beyond that now, beyond that being the main course

There will be a growing sense of void in leadership and the issue will be who fills that and who does so best

Who understands the world we are living in the best and can make a clear and simple presentation of a plan and way of doing business that is better

Something like saying
'Every troop's life is sacred
And every sacrifice is honored; no life of our warriors is wasted
But what our leadership in Washington must do is guarantee that these lives and this patriotic force is deployed behind the best and most effective strategy we can muster
We must demand the best and highest standards in judgment from our civilian leadership in order to best honor the noble service of our troops'

Posted by: Jim on May 25, 2007 at 9:37 AM | PERMALINK

Clearly the death toll should not be the main argument against George Bush’s Ego Folly in Mesopotamia for the reasons stated here. To use it as the main rhetorical weapon would be to reject the war merely on moral grounds (read Culture War). Although the morality of the war is important it is the practical matter of failure of leadership, incompetence, lies and the abuse of power of the Bush administration that speaks so loudly and ranges so far. And here we have it. Moral arguments and culture war are tactics used to distract. They leave leadership unaccountable because posturing on emotional issues- which requires no results just partisanship- is substituted for leadership. But questions of substantive leadership can compromise, not just a president, but his entire party. So the attack has to be made on all fronts.

This is the main problem for elite Republicans. They are so ideologically stagnant, incompetent, corrupt and power hungry and their interests are so at odds with average Americans that they must bully, deceive and use the distraction of culture war to get elected. If the opposition can keep the life of Americans and the needs of the Republic front and center and undermine the Republican noise machine they can win.

Posted by: bellumregio on May 25, 2007 at 9:37 AM | PERMALINK

It isn’t really a war. Maybe it’s not a productive thing to spend energy on but it’s not a war. It’s either an occupation or a Nation building effort or something…

No, it's a war. The fact that we've caused the death of over 600,000 Iraqis and the wounding and maiming of millions more argues rather strongly for the fact that it is, indeed, a war.

Moreover, an occupation and a war are not mutually exclusive. The Soviets, for example, occupied Afghanistan from 1979 to 1989 but no one argues that that wasn't a war.

Posted by: Stefan on May 25, 2007 at 9:39 AM | PERMALINK

If we "redeploy" out of Iraq but maintain large and expensive facilities in Bahrain, Dubai, and other places, does that not also weaken our security?

No.

Aren't Americans in the region always going to be targets, whether we have troops in Iraq or not?

How many troops a day were we losing in the region before we invaded Iraq? About zero, wasn't it?

The fact that some Americans may be targets in the region is hardly an argument for tying down our entire active-duty Army and Marine Corps combat power in the region. After all, Americans in Pakistan are always going to be targets as well, but I don't see anyone clamoring for us to invade them.

Posted by: Stefan on May 25, 2007 at 9:44 AM | PERMALINK

Dicksknee, theThirdPaul: It's not clear to me why this has to be an either/or proposition. I re-read Kevin's post and I agree with Dicksknee, Kevin is not saying the deaths don't matter. So let's look at the two principal points.

a) death in war is always terrible. Some wars, alas, are necessary e.g. the war against Fascism.
b) the Iran war was (pardon the elitist vocabulary here) based on false pretenses or, if you prefer one-syllable words, a lie.

Why are we against the war? Repeat after me, kids!
your sons and daughters are dying for a lie!

Was that so hard? Can we stop bickering now about the reasons for opposing a war that we agree is fucking horrible?

Posted by: thersites on May 25, 2007 at 9:44 AM | PERMALINK

Kevin, the american people have already decided the war is unwinnable and we should withdraw ASAP.
The nuanced argument you are making is irrelevant.
Putting the human cost of this war front and center everyday will get the people to kick their representatives in their collective asses.

Posted by: GOD on May 25, 2007 at 9:46 AM | PERMALINK

The Democrats are just as complicit as the GOP in the funding of this war, so talking about the number of deaths won't help the Democrats politically.

But the American people have already decided that the war is not worth it -- they don't need more convincing. What they do need is to be constantly confronted with the costs of this war, and the deaths of American soldiers is the most obvious and effective way of communicating those costs in "sound bite" fashion.

(I despise the way that Pelosi has dealt with this.... the least she could have done is require Bush to attend the funeral of every soldier killed in Iraq in order to keep the money coming---make a point of FORCING him to confront the deaths he is causing.)

Posted by: p_lukasiak on May 25, 2007 at 9:51 AM | PERMALINK

I deeply disagree that highlighting the number of lives that will be lost going forward is a bad strategy.

The premise is that the War in Iraq is, at this point, an abject failure, and the overwhelming majority (and growing) of the American people agree. If that's true, then every soldier lost from that decision point forward is one who is dying for said failure. In other words, a needless and pointless loss.

The American people get that and that's why the same overwhelming majority (and growing) support a timetable on withdrawal. There is no political reason to run from this at all. In fact, just the opposite.

However, the decision not to highlight the true costs, both in blood and treasure, of the President's decision to continue this war is not a question of political judgment anymore (if ever it was). It's a moral imperative.

Posted by: degnan on May 25, 2007 at 9:56 AM | PERMALINK

What distinguishes Iraq from Vietnam is the how,
without a draft, compartmentalized the US has become. The volunteer force wants to be there, we hear and read it after every casualty. They know they are doing the right thing. They are brave, honorable, committed and have a huge social support
structure that is a nation onto itself. They don't need us, they own their dead. They are the growing warrier class.

Today war is extreme sports. Like climbing mountains this practicing free will.

The Iraq adventure, the Bush War, has not reached its highest level of catastrophe just yet. But everyone who has to get elected can smell this moment coming. That's why there is no challenge to the President. Democrats and Republicans are all
paralyzed with fear. Fear of the warriers and
the warriers clan.

What is our responsibility? Hang on and scream really loud till we hit bottom in 2008.


Posted by: Utah Guy on May 25, 2007 at 9:58 AM | PERMALINK

I agree that the American death toll should not be the focus of political (or even moral) arguments for removing our troops from Iraq; but the American death rate and the talley of our wounded remain profound metrics for the utility (or futility) of keeping American troops in Iraq. So long as those rates remain high, force protection will necessarily remain the primary concern of military commanders; the resultant reliance on aerial strikes and firepower will continue to wreak havoc on Iraqi civilians and neighborhoods; and our actions will continue to convince Iraqis that we value American lives and safety more highly than theirs. Until those rates come down, our troops' latitude for doing any real good in Iraq will continue to shrink, and the point of it all will prove ever more elusive.

Posted by: Vince Canzoneri on May 25, 2007 at 10:07 AM | PERMALINK

thersites at 9:44 AM

I meant the Iraq war, of course. Hopefully I am not prescient.

Posted by: thersites on May 25, 2007 at 10:22 AM | PERMALINK

But just some context - I recall "right wing radio" endlessly bashing Clinton about the 19 (?)dead in the "Blackhawk Down" incident (and blaming it on Clinton as if he ran the operation) during the 90's.

Posted by: Robert on May 25, 2007 at 10:26 AM | PERMALINK

Utah Guy,
Although there is something to what you say, I don’t share your fears. But this thing of autonomy is what disturbs me about war during the Cheney Regency (it is a pattern that goes back at least to the Nixon White House). There is a broad denationalization and privatization of the most grave function of the state. I believe it is intentional avoidance of accountability to the bureaucracy and to the people. It is a combination of imperial profiteering and messianic ideology. The Iran-Contra affair was a clear manifestation of this tendency. The irony is that the very same polity that votes Republican and consents to this is also the same group that celebrates the virtues of American military culture. But the bunting and the patriotic hymns are not so much symbols of America and its traditions as they are stage settings for private men who merely manufacture consent to cover a caper.

Posted by: bellumregio on May 25, 2007 at 10:32 AM | PERMALINK

Substantively it's wrong because the death toll isn't the reason we should withdraw from Iraq.

Certainly, it is a key component of the reason.

After all, if fighting in Iraq really were critical to our national security, we'd be willing to make the sacrifice in lives and treasure that we're making.

Sure, but saying the death toll isn't the reason we should leave because that is true is like say that the fact it has a $300,000 price tag isn't a reason not to buy a quarter-acre vacant lot, because if it had a well-built house on it you would be more than willing to pay the price.

The reason that we should get out of the war is that the costs—and a pretty important one of those is the death toll—are not justified by any purpose. Both the cost—including the death toll—and the absence of a good purpose served are essential components to making that argument.

And the costs are the most important one, because people are already convinced to oppose the war, the only thing that needs done is convincing them that it is something to strongly oppose, enough to compel the government to act on their opposition. Since they are already convinced the policy is undesirable, the key is to convince them it is utterly unacceptable—and that means to focus on the intolerable costs, as they already accept the absence of benefit.

Posted by: cmdicely on May 25, 2007 at 10:36 AM | PERMALINK

"the death toll isn't the reason we should withdraw from Iraq."

I basically agree with Mr. Drum. This is also why all those "competence" arguments against the war, which "liberal" hawks were so fond of (to straddle the issue, and also to excuse their own support of it) so pissed me off. If the war was necessary - in self defense or to save a popluation being actively slaughtered - then competence would NOT be the top issue.

Rumsfeld's "you go to war with the Army you have" would actually make sense, if this were WWII.

Posted by: luci on May 25, 2007 at 10:41 AM | PERMALINK

We should focus on how continuing the war in Iraq is detrimental to US nat'l. security. Al Qaeda is getting stronger from the cash they get from hijackings, rackets, kidnap rings in Iraq and are rebuilding in Pakistan and Afghanistan. We're going to lose thw ar in Afghanistan soon if we don't get out of Iraq and put more units there.

The fact of the matter is unless we get 67 senators to override a veto we don't have enough votes to get us out of Iraq. It can be done but the people we have to pressure are Republicans. Here are some suggestions and a link to little
a primer I wrote on how to get in to see these guys. If anybody has any other good ideas I'd like to hear them.

http://www.dailykos.com/comments/2007/5/22/121834/274/878#c878

As I see it Bush just forced Dems to pass out cups to his party for the poison kool aid he's making them. The surge is a whackamole joke. There's not only no chance there's going to be "progress" in Iraq by the end of September but there's a 50/50 chance Maliki's government will collapse.
Come the fall Republicans can either vote with Bush and make plans to leave office when he does or they can break with the boyking and try to save their careers.

The pressure has to come from us. Repubs in congress don't listen to Dems, they're the opposing team. We the people are the ticket buying public AND the refs.

Posted by: markg8 on May 25, 2007 at 10:49 AM | PERMALINK

The Dems don't have to keep the death toll front and center: the media will do it for them. American deaths will always be big news. If American deaths are down, the media will focus on Iraqi deaths. If Iraqi deaths are down, the media will focus on specific grisly attacks.

There would be more support for the war if the media focused instead on the details of how evil our enemies are, like this report from the Smoking Gun:

Torture, Al-Qaeda Style

Drawings, tools seized from Iraq safe house in U.S. military raid

MAY 24--In a recent raid on an al-Qaeda safe house in Iraq, U.S. military officials recovered an assortment of crude drawings depicting torture methods like "blowtorch to the skin" and "eye removal." Along with the images, which you'll find on the following pages, soldiers seized various torture implements, like meat cleavers, whips, and wire cutters. Photos of those items can be seen here. The images, which were just declassified by the Department of Defense, also include a picture of a ramshackle Baghdad safe house described as an "al-Qaeda torture chamber." It was there, during an April 24 raid, that soldiers found a man suspended from the ceiling by a chain. According to the military, he had been abducted from his job and was being beaten daily by his captors. In a raid earlier this week, Coalition Forces freed five Iraqis who were found in a padlocked room in Karmah. The group, which included a boy, were reportedly beaten with chains, cables, and hoses. Photos showing injuries sustained by those captives can be found here.

Posted by: ex-liberal on May 25, 2007 at 10:53 AM | PERMALINK

I agree with Kevin's point, but I think the Dems can also emphasize the NEEDLESS death of each soldier. With the proper framing, the two approaches complement each other.

Posted by: astrid on May 25, 2007 at 11:11 AM | PERMALINK

Frank Luntz found in his focus groups that when the al Qaeda theme is substituted for the War in Iraq theme folks go along with Republicans. It is for this reason alone the meme is pushed. The opposition would be better off emphasizing the vulgarly-expensive-Republican-mess-in-the-desert-that makes-America-less-secure theme. We don't need to focus-group it 'cause its true, unlike the usual Republican bamboozle. I know Mr. Luntz has helped build Republican success by appealing to irrational emotion and he warns us against appealing to the brain, but after years of Republican misrule America is in need of some brains.

Posted by: bellumregio on May 25, 2007 at 11:15 AM | PERMALINK

Republican voters have reptilian brains.

Posted by: astrid on May 25, 2007 at 11:23 AM | PERMALINK

We will never leave.

How do you invision our dozens of military bases (in Iraq, built since 2003) being dismantled?

Folks on the "antiwar" side of the spectrum don't seem to grasp the plans our administration has in place for ALL of the Mid-East.

We're like chaperones at a middle-school dance party; the dancers resent our presence and, despite efforts to the contrary (by the adults) still try and engage in risky behaviors. The chaperones somehow think their presence is a "stabilizing" force.

Resentment builds, pot gets smoked, kids have sex in the bathrooms. The adults react by surging MORE chaperones at subsequent dances, the end result being an uneasy detente in which neither side "enjoys" the dance.

But. But it's crucial that WE BE THERE to make sure the kids aren't really having the fun that some of them desire.

America has evolved into a global chaperonal force, resented by more and more folks who just want to be left alone.

I know this analogy is weak. My point is talking about withdrawal is pointless when WE PLAN TO STAY (in some manner).

The reality of it all is that we are up against the limits of military solutions to this situation. We're too weak as a nation to admit that warmongering is the heart and soul of our economy.

The cycle of death will go on as long as humans ignore the fact that peace is more than the absence of war....

Posted by: Tom Nicholson on May 25, 2007 at 11:25 AM | PERMALINK

Americans may have no say in matter. Men like Al-Sadr are posturing for a long nationalist struggle to oust the invader and it is hard to image any Iraqi in any faction keeping their heads if they are seen as collaborators. Even if Americans withdraw to their fortified bases or somehow come to terms with the government there will still be great resistance to the infidel invader. These are an ancient people, they are very brave, and they have all the cultural capital necessary to resist the will of the outsider.

Posted by: bellumregio on May 25, 2007 at 11:43 AM | PERMALINK

When a war began, there was a Representative who remained silent because he did not know for certain, whether the President's position was correct. However, 20 months into the war, he stood before Congress and said, in part,as follows:

"But soon he falls into doubt of this too; and drops back on to the already half abandoned ground of "more vigorous prosecution". All this shows that the President is, in no wise, satisfied with his own position. First, he takes up one, and in attempting to argue into it, he argues himself out of it, then seizes another, and goes through the same process; and then, confused at being able to think up nothing new, he snatches up the old one again, which he has some time before cast off. His mind, tasked beyone it's powers, is running hither and thither, like some tortured creature, on a burning surface, finding no position on which it can settle down and be at ease.

Again, it is a singular omission in this message, that it, no where intimates when the President expects this war to terminate. At it's beginning, General _____ was, by this same President, driven into disfavor, if not disgrace, for intimating that peace could not be conquered in less than three or four months. But, now at the end of 20 months, during which time, our arms have given us the most splendid successes - every department, and every part, land and water, officers and privates, regulars and voluntary, doing all than men could do, and hundreds of things which it had ever before been thought men could not do, after all this, this same President gives us a long message, without showing us, that, as to the end, he himself, has, even an imaginary conception. As I have before said, he knows not where he is. He is a bewildered, confounded, and miserably perplexed man. God grant he may be able to show, there is not something about his conscious, more painful than all his mental perplexity."

But, for someone to stand in the well of Congress and address it, the way Representative Abraham Lincoln did on January 12, 1848. The blank for the General, was for General Scott - Could easily have been Shinseki.

Yes, we did win that war and we have fifty one foot ladders towering over fifty foot fences. But, the Dallas Cowboys won the Super Bowl several times.

Posted by: thethirdPaul on May 25, 2007 at 11:44 AM | PERMALINK

The death toll -- among our men and women, that is -- is ALL that matters. Without that, the American people don't care how long we are in Iraq because it isn't costing them anything.

Once again, Drum gets it COMPLETELY wrong. Kevin, the policy wonk thinks Americans give a shit about policy. THEY DON'T!

Pull your head out of your ass!

This is why I rarely read this blog any more. SO STUPID.

Posted by: EconoBuzz on May 25, 2007 at 11:44 AM | PERMALINK

Kevin: more persuasive to whom? The American people already think the war is a mistake. The question is how to persuade congresspeople that voting to continue to fund the war is toxic. What will persuade them? How about this: do you want to face a primary challenge from your left by someone who says, "Long after it was clear that Bush's Iraq war was senseless, [X] approved the money for it -- without demanding a timetable to get the troops out. While 2000 more American troops died for no good reason, [X] did nothing to save them."

The Presidential candidates, Clinton and Obama, already know they can't put their signatures on a war funding bill without a pullout date. They can see that by summer of 2008, such a vote will be toxic to them. If it becomes toxic to every Democratic and half the GOP members of Congress, it will become impossible for the White House to get its funding. To shift that vote into toxic territory, focusing on how many American soldiers your vote killed is a better way to go than the abstract "the war is bad strategy" position. Even though the latter question is, in fact, more important.

Posted by: mattsteinglass on May 25, 2007 at 11:46 AM | PERMALINK

Score one for Kevin.

Posted by: AJL on May 25, 2007 at 12:07 PM | PERMALINK

luther wrote (regarding letting generals call the shots):

"You mean like Gen. Shinseki?"
___________________

General Shinseki graduated from West Point in 1965. That means he passed the normal mandatory retirement point in 2000, but was kept on active duty until 2003 to serve as Army Chief of Staff. He certainly wouldn't be around now anyway.

Posted by: Trashhauler on May 25, 2007 at 12:26 PM | PERMALINK

it's not like the death toll from the war and the overall war policy being bad are separate things people. As Vince Canzoneri said earlier: "I agree that the American death toll should not be the focus of political (or even moral) arguments for removing our troops from Iraq; but the American death rate and the tally of our wounded remain profound metrics for the utility (or futility) of keeping American troops in Iraq."

The point is not to hammer "death toll, death toll, death toll" alone-that i think is unnecessary at best & without being placed in the context of a mistaken, unnecessary and futile policy, politically stupid. It creates a platform for war supporters to say heroic sounding things about "sacrifice" and "honor" and "freedom", platforms that folks trying to keep from facing up to this huge fiasco will continue to cling to.

This is not to say that the death toll should be left alone as an issue, or allowed to drop from view. Bush, etc. will try to downplay and conceal it & those efforts should be brought to light. It is, as Vince says, a profound metric, but we need to make sure people understand what's being measured.

As, of all people, ex-liberal pointed out, (in an otherwise pointless post: nobody said these were nice people & "they torture too" is hardly a valid moral or tactical argument) death makes for compelling news. It won't go away. Especially on the local level, where small town papers here in the midwest regularly and sadly post the names of local boys (and girls) who've just died. People will be conscious of the toll of this war: what's increasingly up for grabs now is what that toll means. For many folks who have lost friends or loved ones it's been easier on their psyches so far to see that loss as heroic sacrifice for a good cause, a rationalization that's becoming harder and harder to make, but which is still hard to let go of because the alternative view, the reality, brings so much anger and disappointment.

the death toll is a powerful symbol for those of us who already knew that this war was a tragic mistake,and has been making us less secure at a terrible cost. i think that's why so many very smart folks on this board seem to be missing the point that i take from Kevin's post: we, who opposed the war beforehand, already have the context to put that toll in, & we know that it's not " the cost of freedom" or somesuch blather. But people who are just coming to grips with this are still vulnerable to appeals to blind patriotism, to rationalizations that make their losses easier. We can't make it harder for them to accept reality by raising a din about the cost of the war without at the same time pointing out tht it's an unecessary cost, one that won't make us any safer. Any perception (or for that mattter, reality) that we are would be unable to face the loss of life if the cause were good only plays into the war supporter's hands and allows their deceit to continue.

Posted by: URK on May 25, 2007 at 12:41 PM | PERMALINK

Very good Kevin

Since the Democrats are now funding this unnecessary
war they are also responsible for each death from this point on. So you want to downplay the deaths. Thats great politics. Rove couldn't do it better.

Of course it does show that the Dems don't care about the troops it's just politics.

Posted by: TruthPolitik on May 25, 2007 at 12:42 PM | PERMALINK

" I hate to break it to Drum, but death tolls are what sway the American people."

Don't think so, especially because the forces are not drafted. It is a factor, but not a sway one.

Posted by: Bob M on May 25, 2007 at 12:52 PM | PERMALINK

Incidentally, I wrote a medium-long comment responding to Kevin's objections last night, but it seems to have vanished into "moderation" limbo.

Posted by: Swopa on May 25, 2007 at 1:22 PM | PERMALINK

shorter me: it's not the death, it's the unnecessary death. don't make it harder for people to come to the light on this by allowing ourselves to be seen as afraid of ANY war or as exploiting tragedy. Keep the context of a mistaken policy central to any discussion of death tolls, which have their own gravity & will find public consciusness.

& to be clear: I am personally anti-war in general myself, but i don't expect the American electorate to embrace a party that holds this position.

Posted by: URK on May 25, 2007 at 1:42 PM | PERMALINK

Saddam was not worth one American life nor one American dollar. It would be disrespectful not to call attention to the sacrifice some are making for Bush's war which profits his corporate cronies to the detriment of American national interests.

…is not our nation security seriously threatened by our dependence on Middle Eastern oil?…MatthewRmarler at 3:52 AM

It has be a stated goal of RepubliConTaria policy to undo every attempt instituted during the Carter Administration that was designed to do exactly that. Most of the renewable energy subsidies have been eliminated. The 55 speed limit has been revoked. Current CAFÉ standards are a joke.
…Ronald Reagan's first official acts of office included removing Jimmy Carter's solar panels from the roof of the White House, and reversing most of Carter's conservation and alternative energy policies. …
Meanwhile, Bush brings us an energy bill that includes eight billion dollars in welfare payments to the oil business, just as the nation's oil companies report the highest profits in the entire history of the industry. Americans struggle to pay for gasoline, while the Bush administration refuses to increase fleet efficiency standards, stop the $100,000 tax break for buying Hummers, or maintain and build Amtrak…

….President Bush. Don't you hate hearing that? G.W. Orwell at 9:55 AM

Yup, it's a huge embarrassment to American international prestige.
…. There would be more support for the war if the media focused instead on the details of how evil our enemies are… ex-lax at 10:53 AM

I should hope the news still reports on the sacrifice some Americans are making and not, like the Bush regime, try to hide images of the dead. I should also hope that Americans would have a higher moral standard and not adopt the same methods of their opponents. It is no surprise that you agree with the Bush Administration on both actions.

Posted by: Mike on May 25, 2007 at 2:08 PM | PERMALINK

Here's a different approach to getting America to withdraw from Iraq:

Al-Sadr Unveils New Plan to Humiliate Bush
by Scott Ott

(2007-05-25) — After several months in hiding, reportedly in Iran, radical Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr emerged south of Baghdad yesterday to tell his Mahdi Army to avoid shooting at Iraqi forces because the U.S. uses that as a justification to continue its illegal occupation of Iraq.

In a fiery speech to the faithful, Mr. al-Sadr said he is committed to “removing every last excuse that the Bush administration has for keeping infidel troops on Allah’s blessed soil. We will humiliate George Bush, forcing him to retreat because his troops have become utterly useless.”

In addition to a ceasefire against Iraqi troops, the Islamic cleric’s fatwa seeks to demoralize American forces by demanding that Shiites …
– Avoid shooting anyone for any reason
– Register to vote and respect the Iraqi constitution and governing authorities
– Locate and disable all previously-deployed roadside bombs
– Re-shelve all explosive vests and large caliber automatic weapons in their original locations at local mosques
– Release any living hostages into the custody of the United Nations
– Patrol communities to pick up garbage, repair buildings and roads, and restore utility services
– Stop ranting like maniacs and go back to work
– Take a moment today to thank a U.S. soldier, Marine or airman for your freedom

“We will brutally cut off Bush’s rationale for staying in Iraq,” said Mr. al-Sadr. “Our day of triumph is at hand. The Great Satan will march back home in tickertape parades of shame. Allah be praised.”

Needless to say, this is a spoof.

http://www.scrappleface.com/?p=2602

Posted by: ex-liberal on May 25, 2007 at 2:09 PM | PERMALINK

Funny that the closest thing to a credible link that current-liar has ever posted is from a parody site. Bloody fucking beautiful.

Posted by: Isle of Lucy on May 25, 2007 at 2:22 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin's point my be unimpeachable in the theoretical sense, but it seems to be uncharacteristically tone deaf to the importance of political messaging.

Yes, of course there are wars worth losing 3000 American lives for, but by and large the public has already decided this isn't one of them. Continuing to argue that point, as though you're going to convince the last 30% who still buy that Saddam was a threat on the order of Hitler, is fruitless. The "benefit" of the war has already been established, or at least narrowed down to one of {scant, zero, negative}. But the cost keeps growing, so keep hammering away at the GOP on the cost.

The narrative is simple enough: The Republicans started a pointless war and even as the causalties mount in the thousands, don't want to impose any accountability on the President. It's that simple. Don't clutter the soundbites with nice but irrelevant musings on Just War Theory or speculation on when war is in our national interest. No one cares right now.

Posted by: Philip the Equal Opportunity Cynic on May 25, 2007 at 2:23 PM | PERMALINK

"...What distinguishes Iraq from Vietnam is the how, without a draft, compartmentalized the US has become. The volunteer force wants to be there, we hear and read it after every casualty. They know they are doing the right thing. They are brave, honorable, committed and have a huge social support structure that is a nation onto itself. They don't need us, they own their dead. They are the growing warrier class.

Today war is extreme sports. Like climbing mountains.."
Posted by: Utah Guy on May 25, 2007 at 9:58 AM

I agree with Kevin on this one that putting the death toll front and center all the time wouldn't be very effective---unless you've got conscripts fighting it. The volunteer force is very professional and proud. What they want is to WIN this thing-despite a lot of evidence that it is unwinnable. The administration is obliging this wish by putting in new and additional coaches into the game trying to make progress in the 4th quarter to overcome the odds. The families of dead soldiers do not want their lives to have been lost *in vain*. It is quite sad, but only a reality check of just letting Bush .. lose this thing is going to end it I'm afraid.

Posted by: Doc at the Radar Station on May 25, 2007 at 2:28 PM | PERMALINK

There would be more support for the war if the media focused instead on the details of how evil our enemies are, like this report from the Smoking Gun

Wow, that sounds about as bad as the torture that the democratically elected government of Iraq - you know, those modern-day Washingtons and Jeffersons -- was committing on people in multiple torture chambers.

I agree: we should keep focusing on how bad torturers are, particularly if they are government entities tasked with being humane and civil. For once you're right, ex-asperating, we should either go to war with the "evil" government of Iraq that runs death squads and embezzles oil or we should just pull out and call it a day.

Which do you recommend?

Posted by: trex on May 25, 2007 at 2:47 PM | PERMALINK

"It would be disrespectful not to call attention to the sacrifice some are making for Bush's war which profits his corporate cronies to the detriment of American national interests."
_______________________

I've always been curious about this. Which corporate profits are we talking about? If the primary objection is American companies making profit, whoever they are, would the war be less objectionable if everyone lost money on it? Or if only foreign companies made money?

Is there anything that shows this profit argument is more than just a modern rehash of the old, 1930's "Merchants of Death" argument?

Posted by: Trashhauler on May 25, 2007 at 3:01 PM | PERMALINK

Bob M,

Have really, really tried to find - Have Googled, Ask Me-ed, and even the pathethic MSN search engine. Can not seem to find the breakdown between RA deaths and US deaths in either WWII, Korea, or VN. But, I guess families only put up their Gold Stars if their son or sons had been drafted and, thus, an US. RAs did not really matter, did they, as they volunteered.

A death is a death is a death. Matters not one iota, if the person enlisted or, in a time of a draft, was taken into the service that way. Most US personnel were just as patriotic, loyal and brave as any RA. And I knew many whose GTs were not as high as some the RAs on base, so don't come back with a "Oh, but they were more intelligent" response.

Posted by: thethirdPaul on May 25, 2007 at 3:19 PM | PERMALINK

me_again wrote:

"Iraq is in full civil war now."
________________________

It is? How do you define full civil war? What is the fault line between the opponents? It's no longer simply Sunni vs Shiite if Sunnis are cooperating with the government and the coalition.

Posted by: Trashhauler on May 25, 2007 at 3:20 PM | PERMALINK

thethirdPaul: "A death is a death is a death." I agree totally, and I don't wish to denigrate anyone. Sorry for the miscommunication.

My take is that politics is politics. It can be tough as war, if taken to the limit.

I just comment on the logic of things. No insult meant to anyone, that's for sure. I'm just trying to understand the logic of politics in the near and medium future. I am appalled by what I see, as I think most people are.

Posted by: Bob M on May 25, 2007 at 5:41 PM | PERMALINK

trex: Wow, that sounds about as bad as the torture that the democratically elected government of Iraq

Actually, bad as the Iraq government torture is alleged to be, the al Qaeda torture is even worse. Your cite says of the current Iraqi government:
Methods of torture cited by detainees include routine beatings to the body using cables, hosepipes and other implements. Detainees report kicking, slapping and punching; prolonged suspension from the wrists with the hands tied behind the back; electric shocks to sensitive parts of the body, including the earlobes and genitals; and being kept blindfolded and/or handcuffed continuously for several days. In several cases, the detainees suffered what may be permanent physical disability.

Detainees also reported being deprived by Iraqi security forces of food and water, and being crammed into small cells with standing room only. Numerous detainees described how Iraqi police sought bribes in return for release, access to family members or food and water.

That's bad stuff, but it isn't as bad as the descriptions in the al Qaeda manual, which includes "blowtorch to the skin" and "eye removal" ...various torture implements, like meat cleavers, whips, and wire cutters.

I think it's fair to conclude that every

Posted by: ex-liberal on May 25, 2007 at 6:03 PM | PERMALINK

sorry for the missing words above.

I think it's fair to conclude that every prisoner tortured by al Qaeda suffered permanent physical harm, or, more likely, was killed. HRW claims that the prisoners tortured by the Iraq government suffered "what may be" permanent physical disability. Apparently HRW has no evidence of permanent physical harm other than the words of the detainees -- people who have every incentive to exaggerate or lie about their treatment.

Also, this discussion puts Abu Graib into context. Some prisoners there had panties put on their heads, were frightened by menacing dogs, and some other improper things. But, not physical harm. Due to misleading media coverage, many people wrongly think that the misdeeds at Abu Graib (and at Gitmo) compare to the misdeeds by our enemies.

Posted by: ex-liberal on May 25, 2007 at 6:11 PM | PERMALINK

I have to agree with Kevin Drum on this; although he could have phrased his opposition to focusing on US casualties better.
Unfortunately, no matter how we phrase it, the military personnel dying in Iraq are being wasted. Also unfortunately, if we base any political campaign on, or mostly on, that wastage, we will be left wide open to the right-wing slime machine.
As far as I can make out, the best way to handle this would be to place the death toll at the end of every speech about how Iraq is harming our national security ("...and besides these points, we have lost ..... of our troops in the fruitless pursuit ...etc").
This would keep the deaths fully in the picture, but would also not hang our opposition to the war in Iraq totally on them.
D.E. Stamate
USN (ret)

Posted by: Doug on May 25, 2007 at 7:01 PM | PERMALINK

Yeah, well, nice try, but once again you're completely wrong:

Torture may be worse now in Iraq than under former leader Saddam Hussein, the UN's chief anti-torture expert says.

Manfred Nowak said the situation in Iraq was "out of control", with abuses being committed by security forces, militia groups and anti-US insurgents.

Bodies found in the Baghdad morgue "often bear signs of severe torture", said the human rights office of the UN Assistance Mission in Iraq in a report.

The UN report says detainees' bodies often show signs of beating using electrical cables, wounds in heads and genitals, broken legs and hands, electric and cigarette burns.

Bodies found at the Baghdad mortuary "often bear signs of severe torture including acid-induced injuries and burns caused by chemical substances".

Many bodies have missing skin, broken bones, back, hands and legs, missing eyes, missing teeth and wounds caused by power drills or nails, the UN report says.

So on the one hand you have an alleged Al Qaeda manual on torture -- and on the other you have actual severely tortured and mutilated bodies known to have abused by security forces and government entities.

How does it feel to be so wrong all the time?

Also, this discussion puts Abu Graib into context. Some prisoners there had panties put on their heads, were frightened by menacing dogs, and some other improper things. But, not physical harm.

Yes, except for all the rape, sodomy, and murder, it was nothing but panties-on-the-head hijinks:

NEW YORK A federal judge ruled today that graphic pictures of detainee abuse at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison must be released over government claims that they could damage America's image. Last year a Republican senator conceded that they contained scenes of "rape and murder" and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said they included acts that were "blatantly sadistic."
Posted by: trex on May 25, 2007 at 7:17 PM | PERMALINK

"Also, this discussion puts Abu Graib into context. Some prisoners there had panties put on their heads, were frightened by menacing dogs, and some other improper things. But, not physical harm"

You are predictably and completely wrong in your assertions. People were killed at Abu Ghraib; I'd say that's pretty serious evidence of "physical harm." Come back when you've done your homework because right now, you're being laughably stupid.

Posted by: PaulB on May 25, 2007 at 7:31 PM | PERMALINK

"Is there anything that shows this profit argument is more than just a modern rehash of the old, 1930's "Merchants of Death" argument?"

Yup. The disgraceful behavior and complete lack of accountability by Halliburton and the new oil law that the Bush administration is trying to ram through the Iraqi parliament.

Posted by: PaulB on May 25, 2007 at 7:34 PM | PERMALINK

Which corporate profits are we talking about? - Trashhauler

Have you been asleep? It's not particularly charming or convincing to pretend ignorance of well-known information that everyone with half a brain has been perfectly aware of since late 2003

THE NATION, March 12: "There's a $400 million question facing the Pentagon's largest contractor, KBR, the former Halliburton subsidiary responsible for more than 50,000 personnel in Iraq and billions in government contracts: Will the mammoth corporation be forced to repay the government nearly half a billion dollars because it hired private security forces in Iraq, including Blackwater USA, when the Army itself was supposed to be providing it with protection?"

Halliburton stock price, March 2003: $10/share
Halliburton stock price, March 2006: $40/share
Halliburton revenue in Iraq, March 2003-06: $16 billion

July 16, 2006, "Halliburton's Hella Good Deal": "Last week, the Army announced with much fanfare that it was canceling the monopoly logistics contract that Halliburton/KBR has used to bilk U.S. taxpayers since the occupation of Iraq began... It is well known that Halliburton received its first oil contract (RIO I) as the result of a dubious no-bid contract ordered by top Pentagon officials (including Paul Wolfowitz)..."

The Virginian-Pilot, Feb. 20, 2007: "Last week, federal investigators identified $10 billion they said has been squandered in the war because of contractor overcharges and unsupported expenses. More than a quarter of that amount, $2.7 billion, was charged by Halliburton."

The 4 private security guards killed in Fallujah in Feb. 2004 were working for Blackwater. Blackwater was subcontracting for another company, which was subcontracting for another company, which was subcontracting for KBR/Halliburton. Blackwater billed $2.3 million for the contract. By the time KBR passed the bill on to the US government, the fee was $19.6 million.

So these are the profits we're talking about -- many tens of billions of dollars. "Aw, gee, what profits? I didn't know US corporations profited from the Iraq war!" Genius.

Posted by: mattsteinglass on May 25, 2007 at 10:58 PM | PERMALINK

These last six years have been like a nightmarish textbook illustration of Eve Kosofsky-Sedgwick's argument, in "Epistemology of the Closet", that deliberate ignorance is power.

Posted by: mattsteinglass on May 25, 2007 at 11:06 PM | PERMALINK

No one gives a rats ass about the soldiers and their sacrifices, unless it is a friend or family member. What everyone cares about is how much it going to cost them. Forget the death toll, American credibility, middle east instability or even high gas prices; it's the amount of the debt that is assigned to each taxpayer. $500 billion is $5K for each taxpayer, assuming 100 million. That is something that even the greediest, self centered, narccistic right wing wacko understands and finds unacceptable.

Posted by: William Jensen on May 26, 2007 at 12:49 AM | PERMALINK

This is a bad war, and it is lost. I just re-read a special report by Chitra Ragevan "Who Lost Iraq? Success Has Many Fathers. The Mess in Baghdad Has A Lot More." With research from Danielle Burton and Stephanie Salmon. Recommended.

Posted by: consider wisely on May 26, 2007 at 1:23 AM | PERMALINK

mattsteinglass wrote:

"So these are the profits we're talking about -- many tens of billions of dollars. "Aw, gee, what profits? I didn't know US corporations profited from the Iraq war!" Genius."
_____________________

Nowhere in your list of cites is the word "profit" mentioned, matt. You just used a lot of large numbers and assumed they meant large profits. Halliburton stock has risen because of its overall success around the world, not that of KBR in Iraq.

And by the way, PaulB, if anyone cared to check how such Indefinite Delivery, Indefinite Quantity (IDIQ) based contracts are usually managed, it is quite normal for large contracts to be overcharged and then adjusted by the government. Big contract charges are routinely audited and corrected with no penalty, often by huge amounts. Not surprising, then, that most of the headlines about so-called scandalous overpayments are the result of normal government press releases. But then, I don't suppose you have much experience in Federal Acquisition Regulations.

You fellas ought to take it a bit easier on Halliburton - one assumes you will want any deployments under the next President to be equally well supported. That means you'll be wanting to keep the LOGCAP contract system and Halliburton seems to win that competition routinely - as it did under President Clinton.

So again, geniuses, what profits and why is it bad for an American company to make a profit during war? Is it just wingnuttery, or is there some overarching principle at stake?

Posted by: trashhauler on May 26, 2007 at 2:42 AM | PERMALINK

There's another take on your argument disagreeing with Swopa, Kevin. Most Americans already have accepted that Iraq is a failure. The only thing now is when we're going to do something about it. If we keep putting it off, hoping for a miracle, friends and family die.

The death toll should be duly noted, and made clear, so that both politicians and citizens realize the real and most important cost of cowardice and inattention.

While we allow this to continue, our friends and family members die.

Sure, if we could win, or succeed, this would be tempered somewhat, and we could push on, but most Americans have given up on that, so for our leaders to continue to consent to the deaths of our loved ones because Bush is a stubborn idiot who waited too long to change strategy and get our asses out of there, is really just a kick in the groin.

The country is over Iraq, it's time we made sure our loved ones were too and no longer at risk over there.

Posted by: Jimm on May 26, 2007 at 6:50 AM | PERMALINK

Kevin doesn't have much of an ear for PR, does he?

The death toll -- and the never-ending stream of specific stories about deadly incidents -- is probably the most important factor driving negative sentiment against the war.

Posted by: Disturbance on May 26, 2007 at 8:32 AM | PERMALINK

Drum is right. If it was smart to be there, the death toll wouldn't matter (as much as it sucks, for a war it is very, very small).

If it is dumb to be there, the relative parcity of deaths in a 4 year war wouldn't matter. It'd still be dumb.

To position yourself such that a suicide bomb blowing up "inside the wire" and killing 20-30 servicemen can be seen as forwarding your position is pure stupidity. To too many people, it will be seen that you are using the carcasses of volunteers as political pawns.

Posted by: Al Nonymous on May 26, 2007 at 9:55 AM | PERMALINK

This is more and more looking like Vietnam all over again. The main differences: the death toll (among American troops) is lower; Iraq has considerably more geostrategic importance.

The dilemma is ultimately the same, however. We can "win" militarily if we're willing to utterly destroy the place, but in these cases military victory is not equivalent to political victory.

We look back at WWII as a war in which we pulled out all the stops and (seemingly) didn't care how many Germans or Japanese we killed, including civilians. This is how we wish all wars could be; kill the enemy and put an end to it.

Yet even in that case, it has become clear that those running the war were, even as the war effort was in high gear, looking ahead and envisioning the confrontation to come with the Soviet Union. The idea of postwar Germany as a bulwark against Russia conditioned our conduct of the war, the WWII equivalent of "winning hearts and minds".

So: there is no escaping the fact that war is essentially a political process, and that the objective of war must and will always be some particular political outcome. This being the case, actions that makes sense militarily cannot be allowed to occur if they compromise the ultimate (political) objective. Wars end; politics never does.

Posted by: chloe on May 27, 2007 at 9:52 AM | PERMALINK

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Posted by: Devin on March 23, 2010 at 8:05 PM | PERMALINK




 

 

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