Wednesday, December 14, 2005

The numbers racket

Something has been bothering me for some time now, and that's the game the politicians are playing with numbers, in several different ways.

The first concerns the death toll in Iraq. On one hand you have democrats making it a magic number. As soon as it hit 2000 US troops killed, the bells started tolling. Is there something significant about 2000? Who decided that 2000 was a serious benchmark?

And the Republicans answer by showing how this war is actually cheap, compared to other wars. And looking at the stats, they are right. Compared to the horrorific death toll of WW2 and the Civil War, Iraq even at double the current death rate would have go centuries to achieve parity. But at the same time they also trivialize the deaths of people, by making it sound like no big deal. I don't think this is necessarily an intentional act, but the result is that a couple thousand lives is ok compared to freeing millions. Maybe that is indeed true, but even one life lost is still a loss.

A liberal debate board I post to saw the following comment recently:

"...Before you start waving the bloody flag about the 367 casualty video-game war you are a veteran of... "

The context was actually just a shot across the bow from a liberal poster to a conservative who was a Gulf War vet, but the implication is clear: not enough people died in Desert Shield/Storm to qualify it as a real war, and make it worthy of claiming. Now I don't know if the person this was directed at had ever used his service to make a point, but the fact is that people still died there, and they and those who fought deserve a little respect. Should the 14 people killed on the USS Cole be forgotten because their deaths were smaller in overall tragedy then 9/11?

To me, in evaluating the war in Iraq, the measure of the value of the human lives spent there is based not on some sensationalistic raw numbers, but on comparison to the value achieved. Here the democrats contradict themselves because the seem to deny any value given to anyone for the lives lost. The lives were wasted, they claim, even as the soldiers and Iraqis seem to have a different opinion. Shouldn't those being asked to put their lives on the line, and the ones they are fighting for have a say in this?

The recent polls or soldiers on the ground in Iraq show consistent support for the war, but a stronger number is the amount of troops both enlisting and reenlisting recently. Troop strength is not suffering as is being reported. Those are the survey results of the soldiers: Their continued voluntary service.

There is also an ABC News poll showing that the Iraqi's indeed have strong feelings about the US occupation.

Both sides take the same poll and cherry pick their numbers that they claim represent the facts on the ground in Iraq.

Republicans cite:

"Despite the daily violence there, most living conditions are rated positively, seven in 10 Iraqis say their own lives are going well, and nearly two-thirds expect things to improve in the year ahead."

while Democrats crow:

"Fewer than half, 46 percent, say the country is better off now than it was before the war. And half of Iraqis now say it was wrong for U.S.-led forces to invade in spring 2003, up from 39 percent in 2004. "

Republicans counter:

"There are positive political signs as well. Three-quarters of Iraqis express confidence in the national elections being held this week, 70 percent approve of the new constitution, and 70 percent including most people in Sunni and Shiite areas alike want Iraq to remain a unified country."

Democrats respond with:

"Two-thirds now oppose the presence of U.S. and coalition forces in Iraq, 14 points higher than in February 2004. Nearly six in 10 disapprove of how the United States has operated in Iraq since the war, and most of them disapprove strongly. And nearly half of Iraqis would like to see U.S. forces leave soon. "

The Republicans retort:

"Specifically, 26 percent of Iraqis say U.S. and other coalition forces should "leave now" and another 19 percent say they should go after the government chosen in this week's election takes office; that adds to 45 percent. Roughly the other half says coalition forces should remain until security is restored (31 percent), until Iraqi security forces can operate independently (16 percent), or longer (5 percent)."

After a while my head hurts.

What I can say definitively is this: This poll, when the raw data is examined could pretty support anyone's position, and both sides display the same measured focus on what they like about it to project their political agenda.


Meanwhile they are voting in Iraq today. Their 3rd democratic election in less then 12 months.

That to me is a slightly more impressive set of numbers, and one that is hard to confuse, spin or ignore.