Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Gruesome arithmetic

Tom Englehardt gives credit to Seymour Hersh for bringing America's savage air war in Iraq to widespread public attention with his New Yorker article in December, but Englehardt deserves credit himself for being one of the first to call attention to it fifteen months earlier and then in even greater detail in December 2004. That December article led me to The History of Bombing, which is still one of the best context-setting books for this horrific war.

As Englehardt himself points out, it's really quite shocking that American reporters in Iraq have basically refused to "look up, or even to acknowledge the planes, predator drones, and low-flying helicopters passing daily overhead." But that's the way it's been. So props to Sy Hersh and Englehardt for calling attention to this appalling blindness on the part of our press.

Today, on the tomdispatch site, Michael Schwartz takes a look at the de facto rules of engagement in Iraq today:

that the war should be conducted to absolutely minimize the risk to American troops; that guerrilla fighters should not be allowed to escape if there is any way to capture or kill them; and that Iraqi civilians should not be allowed to harbor or encourage the resistance fighters....

As one American officer explained to New York Times reporter Dexter Filkins, the willingness to sacrifice local civilians is part of a larger strategy in which U.S. military power is used to "punish not only the guerrillas, but also make clear to ordinary Iraqis the cost of not cooperating." A Marine calling in to a radio talk show recently stated the argument more precisely: "You know why those people get killed? It's because they're letting insurgents hide in their house."

This is, by the way, the textbook definition of terrorism – attacking a civilian population to get it to withdraw support from the enemy. What this strategic orientation, applied wherever American troops fight the Iraqi resistance, represents is an embrace of terrorism as a principle tactic for subduing Iraq's insurgency.

Schwartz concludes his piece by inviting us to ponder "this gruesome arithmetic":

If the U.S. fulfills its expectation of surpassing 150 air attacks per month, and if the average air strike produces the (gruesomely) modest total of 10 fatalities, air power alone could kill well over 20,000 Iraqi civilians in 2006. Add the ongoing (but reduced) mortality due to other military causes on all sides, and the 1,000 civilian deaths per week rate recorded by the Hopkins study could be dwarfed in the coming year.

The new American strategy, billed as a way to de-escalate the war, is actually a formula for the slaughter of Iraqi civilians.

Read the whole article...

It's lately become clear that the original estimated cost of the war is off by several orders of magnitude. I'm betting in months to come our media will be shocked—shocked!—to learn that they'll need to add a zero or two to the human cost estimates as well.

No comments: