Juan Cole On John McCain

McCain Checks into Cloud Cuckooland

Senator John McCain has contracted Rumsfeld’s Disease. This malady consists of a combination of bad temper, misuse of language to obfuscate reality, and a Panglossian optimism in the face of stubborn, sanguinary facts on the ground.

McCain, for instance, hailed that deployment of Iraqi brigades “at or above 75% of their programmed strength”! Put another way, a quarter of the Iraqi troops ordered to Baghdad technically speaking went AWOL instead! If a quarter of all US troops ordered to Iraq fled to Canada or refused to leave their home base, that would be a catastrophe. But McCain manages to deploy weasel words to make this incredible statistic seem a positive thing. Moreover, even his basic facts may be wrong. Last I knew, one of the Iraqi brigades ordered to Baghdad only came at half strength.

McCain alleged that only about 500 civilians were killed in political violence in Baghdad in February, down from December’s toll.

But McCain is wrong to look only at Baghdad. Here is what I wrote on March 1:

An Iraqi official leaked government figures on Iraqi civilians killed in January and February, and tried to spin the US press by saying that there had been a significant drop in such casualties.

But this official reported deaths for 1-31 January and compared them for the toll 1-27 February. Uh, the per day total isn’t that different, it is just that February is a short month and the figures were given through the day before it ended!

1990 divided by 31 is 64 per day.

1646 divided by 27 is 61 per day.

While human life is precious and a drop of 3 a day is welcome, I wouldn’t call that drop significant.

That is, the Iraqi government statistics for deaths in February were not 500 but 1646. And, as I pointed out, the decline in daily deaths is so far small. In addition, it would not actually be good news that 500 innocent civilians were slaughtered in Baghdad alone in February. Baghdad is a fourth of Iraq by population– that would be a monthly death rate of about 2000, some 24,000 a year (the Lancet study published last fall found that deaths from violence occur at a similar rate throughout the country). All the real numbers are much worse than the above discussion implies, since passive information- gathering is notoriously unreliable.

McCain ignores the incredible violence against Shiite pilgrims during Ashura, in which hundreds were massacred, mostly outside Baghdad. That is, concentrating on Baghdad is a fallacy. The indications are that the guerrillas are compensating for the higher cost of their operations in Baghdad by shifting some their activities to other cities, such as Baquba and Tal Afar. But they have by no means given up the fight in Baghdad itself, as anyone who followed violence there could tell you.

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