"We Don't Do Body Counts"
When General Tommy Franks uttered those words back in 2003, I don't think this is what people thought he meant by it:
The U.S. military's claim that violence has decreased sharply in Iraq in recent months has come under scrutiny from many experts within and outside the government, who contend that some of the underlying statistics are questionable and selectively ignore negative trends.
Reductions in violence form the centerpiece of the Bush administration's claim that its war strategy is working. In congressional testimony Monday, Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, is expected to cite a 75 percent decrease in sectarian attacks. According to senior U.S. military officials in Baghdad, overall attacks in Iraq were down to 960 a week in August, compared with 1,700 a week in June, and civilian casualties had fallen 17 percent between December 2006 and last month. Unofficial Iraqi figures show a similar decrease.
Others who have looked at the full range of U.S. government statistics on violence, however, accuse the military of cherry-picking positive indicators and caution that the numbers -- most of which are classified -- are often confusing and contradictory. "Let's just say that there are several different sources within the administration on violence, and those sources do not agree," Comptroller General David Walker told Congress on Tuesday in releasing a new Government Accountability Office report on Iraq.
Senior U.S. officers in Baghdad disputed the accuracy and conclusions of the largely negative GAO report, which they said had adopted a flawed counting methodology used by the CIA and the Defense Intelligence Agency. Many of those conclusions were also reflected in last month's pessimistic National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq.
The intelligence community has its own problems with military calculations. Intelligence analysts computing aggregate levels of violence against civilians for the NIE puzzled over how the military designated attacks as combat, sectarian or criminal, according to one senior intelligence official in Washington. "If a bullet went through the back of the head, it's sectarian," the official said. "If it went through the front, it's criminal."
There was a lot of chatter a couple of weeks ago about Bush's Vietnam analogy, but I think one of things that never quite made it into the discussion was the single most obvious comparison: cooking the books. In Vietnam the vaunted "body count" was inflated because they needed a way of showing "progress" in the middle of a civil war which the US was basically prolonging for its own reasons and in Iraq they are are underreporting the body count for essentially the same purpose. It's possible they even think they are observing "lessons learned" by lying in the opposite fashion --- they're that thick.
This report from A Man Called Petraeus will be a little bit more sophisticated and blatantly political than the old five o'clock follies, but there's not much difference in intent. And surprisingly, there is a good deal of contradictory information coming from other government sources. But when you get down to it, it's quite clear, as it was then, that the administration and the military are lying to the people about a "war" they can see with their own eyes and know in their own hearts isn't worth fighting. I can hardly believe we are doing it again in my lifetime.
I am a baby boomer and I'm not especially ashamed of it. We had a good time and we improved the world, we really did, in some substantial and important ways. (If you youngsters had known just how repressive and disgusting it was before we came along and wrecked the place, you'd thank us.) Having said that, I can only be grateful that we will not be running things for very much longer. My generation is intent upon fighting the same battles over and over and over again, amongst ourselves mostly, although we've dragged the next generation into our nonsense too. Perhaps those coming up behind will be a little bit wiser and actually learn some lessons from our experience. As a group, we certainly haven't been able to.
Here's a word of wisdom for the kids: When it comes to wars, no mulligans. It's just not a good idea.