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October 19, 2008

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obama's sunday success is a huge deal. the fact that his campaign announced he got 150M bucks AND a colin powell endorsement within hours of each other will play well on the media for the next three days or so.

i bet mccain will come up with another ridiculous "tactic" today or tomorrow to stop the media momentum.

What's the opinion here of Colin Powell's endorsement? (And I mean in term of political influence; I thought Powell was quite eloquent.)

maybe it's time for McCain to suspend his campaign again?

The video clip ended with Powell's endorsement. Can we assume, however, that Brokaw felt compelled to then give his own endorsement to McCain? In the interest of fairness, that is.

Brokaw swallows....his r's. I'm seeing fund raising as a proxy for a plebiscite...for Obama.

What's the opinion here of Colin Powell's endorsement? (And I mean in term of political influence; I thought Powell was quite eloquent.)

I tend to agree with Atrios on this: it doesn't mean anything to me, because Powell left whatever credibility he had for a lot of people in a vial of white powder at the UN. But it's not an endorsement meant for me--it's for those people who are inexplicably still undecided, and Powell is, as Atrios put it, their first black friend, and he's saying it's okay for them to have a new black friend.

I'm with David Sirota on this one.

Powell stands condemnned as an inept liar who aided and abetted the disaster in Iraq. He is the epitome of the classic Enabler. Validating Powell just because he endorses Obama is to take a dump on what the progressive movement stands for, and validates him as Very Serious Person, one of the VSP's who got us into this mess to begin with.

http://www.credoaction.com/sirota/

This doesn't validate Powell, it just makes clear two things:

1. Colin Powell never was an insider with the Bush administration; he was the outsider who got dumped on, whose job it was to lie to the UN and who proved his sense of honor was not up to refusing the job or acknowledging what he'd done.

2. Colin Powell is a sane person.

I tend to agree with the criticisms of Powell as a VSP, but if rehabilitating Powell is the price to make sure that McCain doesn't get elected, I'm willing to take that. In fact, one should think about the list of people who may be rehabilitatable (if that's a word) and the ones you want to tie to the gunwales of the ship. I suspect that Obama's list will be a lot longer than mine, but again, I'm willing to live with that.

I think if Obama were to offer Powell a position inside his administration, that could be considered a validation. Accepting an endorsement--and that's all it is, because Powell won't be campaigning for him--doesn't quite reach that level, at least for me.

I don't see reporting that Powell endorsed Obama as a form of validation. I do think it was a very good endorsement, and as I said, I especially liked what he said about Muslim Americans, but that's unrelated to my or anyone's views on his role in the Iraq war.

Jesurgislac,
Nope. What it makes clear is that Colin Powell is a feckless sonofabitch willing to ingratiate himself with anyone in power. And you would have us believe Powell was an ingenue incapable of understanding in a contemporary fashion his repeated use as an unwitting dupe by one republican administration after another.

It really is worth watching, or at least skipping ahead to the part about Muslim-bashing (4:30 - 6:15 or so). I don't really give a shit that Powell endorsed Obama, but that bit really was both well said and something that needed saying.

TPM posted Powell's post MTP presser, that may be of interest

I don't know if its necessary to rehabilitate Powell within the DFH voting block. I personally don't have much respect for the guy. That said, I expect that Powell still has a fair amount of respect within the VSP voting block, which is the group that will never listen to the DFHs. To the extent that Powell is able to move the VSP in a way that the DFH can't, I'm glad for this endorsement.

Progressive voters were already going for Obama, but Powell still has a lot of credibility among Independents and certain middle of the road R's and D's. He speaks to exactly the people we need to get on board.
And if he's seeking a bit of redemption along the way, well , that's OK with me.

I have had a jaundiced view of Powell since long before he disgraced himself as Secretary Of State (and especially disgraced himself by not backing his longtime friend and aide Wilkerson when Wilkerson decided he could no longer carry the administration's water) - sometime in the early 90's, I listened to NPR's Radio Reader reading Powell's autobiography unabridged, and I felt his own book presented him as something of a nonentity; and around the same time I learned that his first important job was to lie about My Lai. So obviously my opinions aren't especially swayed by my learning what Powell thinks, on any subject. Still, this announcement, this news event, isn't about people like me, and with respect it isn't about people like BobbyP either. It's about Middle America, the huge numbers of poorly informed and weakly opinionated people out there. The Bush Swing voters of 2004. For them, unless this gets represented as being entirely racial, Powell is a trusted Republican figure who retains enormous prestige and gravitas. And he just endorsed Obama. I'll take it.

Sarah Palin is Barrack Obama biggest fundraiser!

Oy. 's anyone? My dictation software isn't behaving.

Powell...LBJ...tent...pissing out...pissing in, etc.

I think giving Powell a good, visible, spot on the west front of the Capitol for the inauguration, and then whisking him off to the Hague is an acceptable compromise.

The part about the Muslims was fantastic. Does anyone have a link to the picture Powell was talking about, of the grieving mother leaning on her Muslim son's grave at Arlington?

I can't get that poor mother out of my mind. I can't shake the thought of what if it was me leaning on Fang Jr's grave, having to deal not only with the loss of my son, but the attacks on me and my son as not being real Americans because we're Muslims (or, in our case, atheists).

The “SARAH PALIN” EFFECT:

“Salt Lake Tribune said:

Then, out of nowhere, and without proper vetting, the impetuous McCain picked Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate. She quickly proved grievously underequipped to step into the presidency should McCain, at 72 and with a history of health problems, die in office. More than any single factor, McCain’s bad judgment in choosing the inarticulate, insular and ethically challenged Palin disqualifies him for the presidency.

Kansas City Star said, in endorsing Obama:

Despite his age and previous health problems, McCain chose a vice presidential candidate who is so clearly unqualified for high office that the thought of her stepping into the presidency is frightening.

That irresponsible decision casts serious doubt on McCain’s judgment at this point in his political career. And over the past eight years, Americans have come to know, all too well, the high price of carelessness and ineptitude in the White House.

the Tennessean:

Further, Obama demonstrated sound judgment in selecting as his running mate Sen. Joe Biden, whose experience and knowledge of foreign policy prepare him to step in if need be as chief executive. McCain’s selection of Gov. Sarah Palin, by comparison, may have shown political savvy, but at the expense of offering a vice president the country could rally around.

the Miami Herald:

A turning point came during the Republican convention, when he chose a long-shot for a running mate, Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska, out of an apparent need to appease the right wing of the party. For all of her rhetorical skills on the campaign trail — particularly in the attack mode — Gov. Palin appears to know little about the issues and simply is not qualified to be commander in chief.

the Oregonian:

Supporting her, McCain has offered the equally jaw-dropping claim that Sarah Palin knows more about energy than anyone else in the United States.

Having Palin a heartbeat from the presidency makes our own heart miss a beat.

The LA Times was scathing:

Indeed, the presidential campaign has rendered McCain nearly unrecognizable. His selection of Sarah Palin as his running mate was, as a short-term political tactic, brilliant. It was also irresponsible, as Palin is the most unqualified vice presidential nominee of a major party in living memory. The decision calls into question just what kind of thinking — if that’s the appropriate word — would drive the White House in a McCain presidency. Fortunately, the public has shown more discernment, and the early enthusiasm for Palin has given way to national ridicule of her candidacy and McCain’s judgment.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch:

Consider that while Mr. McCain selected as his running mate Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska, a callow and shrill partisan, Mr. Obama selected Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware. Mr. Biden’s 35-year Senate career has given him encyclopedic expertise on legislative and judicial issues, as well as foreign affairs.

The Houston Chronicle:

Perhaps the worst mistake McCain made in his campaign for the White House was the choice of the inexperienced and inflammatory Palin as his vice-presidential running mate. Had he selected a moderate, experienced Republican lawmaker such as Texas Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison with a strong appeal to independents, the Chronicle’s choice for an endorsement would have been far more difficult.”

And Now, the distinquished Colin Powell, has come out against John McCain! Why? Sarah Palin!

It's obviously of political value for a high-profile Republican to say:
- The party has changed in a bad way
- It is not addressing what is important to people
- I am concerned with John McCain's judgment
- I am impressed with Barack Obama's abilities
- I am not worried about his supposed connections.
This can help restore perspective for people used to voting Republican.

In the sidewalk press conference LJ points to above, Powell explicitly denounced the "nonsense" from "some Congresswoman from Minnesota". Good for him.

Still, Powell has never been a particularly noble figure for me. As JCS Chairman in the early days of the Clinton administration, he was famously quoted as saying: "We do deserts, we don't do mountains." That's about where he lost me.

--TP

It's obviously of political value for a high-profile Republican to say: - The party has changed in a bad way - It is not addressing what is important to people - I am concerned with John McCain's judgment - I am impressed with Barack Obama's abilities - I am not worried about his supposed connections. This can help restore perspective for people used to voting Republican.

I have absolutely NO PROBLEM if Republicans and the Republican party heeds this.

It returns the party back to the control of adults.

"Second, Colin Powell just endorsed Obama:"

Second?

When I heard that Powell might be endorsing Obama, my reaction was that it would be the final nail in McCain's coffin.

Perhaps I was overreaching.

Once it was official, I thought it would be the noon lead on NBC/MSMBC rivals CNN and FOX. But no -- it was business as usual with their regularly planned Sunday stuff.

Then I clicked on here just now, thinking it would be worthy of an entire post, not a "second." So maybe my initial reaction was wrong.

But I still say it's the end for McCain -- and it will get bigger play as a Day 2 story on Monday.

For that matter, not surprisingly, MSNBC is milking it for a special Sunday edition of "Hardball" -- I believe at 5 p.m. and no doubt replayed later, although with NFL football and Game 7 of the ALCS (I wil be hitting the couch right after I hit the "post" button, having finished our fall mulching this morning), only Chris Matthews devotees and non-sports fans will be tuning in.

Cardinal Fang asked for a link to the picture. Here is the grave marker and this is a blog post that has the picture, though it wasn't what I expected (I was expecting a more 'natural' picture), though given that Powell says it was from a 'photo essay', this is probably the one.

Powell may not carry much sway with the readers of this blog (admittedly more liberal than that average population). But Powell still has influence in the moderate wings of the republican party and with conservative independents.

I suspect my buddies in the military will be swayed by Powell's endorsement.

And here is a link to the New Yorker with the slide show

Thanks, liberal japonicus. I just came back here to post that link, and see you beat me to it.

Here is the link from the New Yorker photo essay where the picture originally appeared.

Regardless of what anyone might think of Powell's role in both Gulf Wars, his statements this morning were as powerful as they were thoughtful and dignified.

Again, regardless of what we may think of his past, particularly in W administration, this morning was well done and it spoke well of him as an American statesman.

mojo sends

Haven't logged off just yet -- that's good news, Gerbal, and I suspect you are right. I thought Powell's was the only endorsement out there that really meant something -- especially since he is crossing party lines, plus the military angle -- and serves as a powerful validation of Obama's candidacy.

Should add that -- coupled with the things he said -- Powell's endorsement also works as a pretty strong denouncement of McCain and, especially, his campaign.

Hilzoy: Powell is right: saying that someone is a Muslim should never be a slur. Not in my country.

So, in which country is it appropriate for it to be a slur to say someone's a Muslim?

Oh, and for light relief, the election as D&D campaign.

The bit that cracked me up:

KUCINICH: IM A BARD

OBAMA: That's nice.

KUCINICH: MY FAMILIAR IS A PURPLE SNOW LEOPARD

MCCAIN: Oh, Jesus. Here we go.

Was writing before I saw Vanmojo's comments, which I echoed, and might add: I think it takes a particular kind of courage for a high-profile figure to cross party lines the way Powell did this morning.

I put Joe Lieberman in a different category, by the way; among other things, he did not become an "Independent" until it was politically necessary. Plus, as far I know, Powell is still a registered Republican.

To be fair to Powell, the director of intelligence personally swore to him that the information in his UN presentation was good, and Powell did dump a lot of stuff from the original file they gave him.

I think he was more of a patsy than dishonest. Sure he had misgivings, but I don't blame him for not expecting his president and his national security colleagues to send him in for his Adlai Stevenson moment with a folder full of total BS.

Everyone I met in the State Dept loves the guy, apparently he really took care of them. So it wouldn't surprise me if there are a lot of military types out there with similar feelings.

I also thought the 'He's thinking that all villages have values, all towns have values, not just small towns have values.' comment was nice.

I've seen the argument that Powell is somehow "bandwagon jumping" by waiting til this late to endorse. I don't see it that way. Obama has been pretty canny this entire cycle, from primary on, about how to time the release of these big news items for natural effect.

My best guess is that Powell made his decision a few weeks back (after the VP debate perhaps?) and the Obama campaign was like "great, how does Oct. 19 sound?"

bedtime: the 'second' wasn't because I thought it was less important. I woke up, did some stuff, checked the news, saw the fundraising numbers, thought 'holy sh!t!', started to write, and then saw the Powell endorsement. So it's a temporal 'second'.

Pooh is right: Powell's endorsement this close to the election -- with the ability to sway Independents and Undecideds -- is great timing.

Also, Powells endorsement works for Dems who were hedging even in the slightest about voting Obama.

Pooh: I had that thought as well: that the reason Powell didn't endorse earlier might have been because the Obama campaign wanted it now. Interesting.

Yeah, I thought that could be the case, Hilzoy. Sorry about that -- the "second" wording worked into my mentioning that FOX and CNN didn't lead the noon hour with the Powell announcement. Sorry, again.

When my wife woke me up -- even though I had heard talk of a Powell endorsement Friday night on the cables -- I, too, still had that "Holy Sh!t!" reaction. (A happy start to the day, seeing a big-name, well-respected Republican come to our side.)

Hil: Re-reading your comment, I see our "Holy Sh!t!" reactions may have been about different items (yours the fundraising, mine Powell).

(:

I think he was more of a patsy than dishonest. Sure he had misgivings, but I don't blame him for not expecting his president and his national security colleagues to send him in for his Adlai Stevenson moment with a folder full of total BS.

That doesn't excuse his refusal to walk out of the principals meeting where they had torture--excuse me, "enhanced interrogation techniques"--demonstrated to them in the White House and straight to the media, announce his immediate resignation and give the reason why. Everyone who was remotely connected with that deserves jail time, as far as I'm concerned.

Incertus, I agree that was bad, but it wasn't the first time he had the opportunity to be a whistleblower. Colin Powell knew that Bush and Cheney were lying the US into war with Iraq - a war that Powell must have known the US could not win, given the administration's unwillingness to commit the number of troops needed.

Powell was willing to have hundreds of prisoners tortured rather than speak out, and that is a clear moral wrong. He was also willing to have the US start a war of aggression on false premises, despite his personal experience of the war in Vietnam. In the scale of human suffering, which is worse?

OTOH, if it sways some "Undecideds", the larger the scale of victory, the less chance of electoral rigging succeeding.

I think Powell is the consummate soldier, albeit perhaps to a fault. When faced with a bad situation, his instinct is to make the best of it, rather than to grandstand and resign. I think he also believed things would be worse with him out of the loop than with him in it. Regarding the torture/human rights stuff, I think it's also very understandable that he might have thought resigning and calling attention to those issues would simply have hurt the country and, especially, the military. That stuff certainly does potentially expose US soldiers to the danger of torture etc.

I've judged him harshly myself in the past, especially over his caution with regard to Bosnia. But I don't think it's fair or realistic to expect him to make the same calculations a proper politician or elected official might. Most of those who resign out of principle certainly have their electoral interests in mind.

I think the real importance was pointed out by one of the people later in the program: Powell's opinion still carries a lot of weight with people in the military or retired from the military. In states that have a large military population where things might be close or are trending in Obama's favor -- eg, Colorado or Florida -- it's another little thing that might help. I'll applaud all the little things that the Dems get this year.

I might have been cynical about Powell and his endorsement, except for how he went out of his way to say that it shouldn't matter if Obama really *was* Muslim. This is true, moral, and something no-one else so high-profile has been willing to say. He goes *way* back up in my esteem because of it.

bedtime: I had pretty similar reactions to both. To the extent that my reaction to the first was stronger, which I'm not sure it was, it would be because I have assumed for some time that Powell was supporting Obama, but I never imagined that anyone would raise that much money.

Guilt at the number of Muslims Powell allowed to be tortured by the US military, and the number of Muslims and people of other faiths killed because Powell did not - still hasn't - blown the whistle on the administration lying the US into war with Iraq?

Guilt at the number of Muslims Powell allowed to be tortured by the US military, and the number of Muslims and people of other faiths killed because Powell did not - still hasn't - blown the whistle on the administration lying the US into war with Iraq?

Gotta start somewhere.

Irreedemable sin is a kinda religious right concept, hm?

Gotta start somewhere.

True.

Irreedemable sin is a kinda religious right concept, hm?

Over a million Iraqis have been killed since the US attacked Iraq. While it's true the central responsibility for those deaths lies with George W. Bush, damn right the next circle of responsibility falls on Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfwowitz, Tony Blair... and yes, on Colin Powell. They all knew, they all had the ability to say in public, they all had the authority to be listened to, that the claimed reasons for launching an attack on Iraq were lies.

Only one person that I knew personally has been killed in Iraq. Who am I to think that the people responsible for so many deaths could be redeemed?

All I can say is; public support of Obama does not raise Colin Powell in my estimation, does not redeem him for his crimes. Coming forward to give evidence against his co-conspirators would do so: though even then, he could have done so when it might have saved lives, instead of waiting until it would further his career.

Over a million Iraqis have been killed since the US attacked Iraq.

That's not even close to being true. The only numbers that even get close to that ballpark are certain epidemiological-type estimations which, even if you agree with their conclusions, are fundamentally not casualty estimations.

Jes, you're conflating two separate things. The Bushies, including Powell, bear responsibility for all the horrors you name that befell Muslims. A case could be made that as the most sane and most widely believed man among them Powell bears special responsibility. But that doesn't mean that Powell's reasons for complicity in all these horrors had any thing to do with the Islamic faith and heritage of their victims. Powell tried to cover up My Lai, he worked on national security under Reagan when that meant supporting one or another side of Dirty Wars in Central America and vicious guerilla wars in Africa, and even siding with Islamists in Afghanistan. Indeed, he has a lot of blood on his hands - but it's not fair to say that any of his militarist actions were inspired by racism or simple bigotry, especially directed against Arabs or Muslims.

I tend to agree with Atrios on this: it doesn't mean anything to me, because Powell left whatever credibility he had for a lot of people in a vial of white powder at the UN.

No one who knew anything about Powell's military career could attribute any credibility to him by the time of his testimony to the UN.

His career in the military was based on his ability to tell any lie demanded of him and do it with a serious and earnest tone. Anyone familiar with the assistance he provided in covering up war crimes in Vietnam would not have expected anything but lies from his testimony at the UN.

That said, I don't think Obama needs to do anything one way or the other about his endorsement - he can't control what scumbags say about him one way or the other and he has better things to do than try. But let's not add to the myth that Colin Powell is somehow better than the monsters for whom he carried water.

byrningman: That's not even close to being true.

It's just the facts, kid. I know it doesn't fit in with the quasi-religious faith that somehow both the Lancet report and the Opinion Research Business report, carrying out independent research, got it wrong - but those two studies both result in one million plus casualties in Iraq since the US invaded in 2003, and all the claims that they both got their figures wrong were politically based, not scientific.

Actually, I don't think you understand what they are trying to calculate, they are not trying to calculate casualties. Go read them again.

Whether or not we consider him rehabilitated doesn't get Obama to the White House. It is just a damn important thing that happened today, Powell said all the things that have needed to be said by somebody, at last at last. He decried the baby McCarthyites, he slammed the Robocalls and the limited Ayres connection, and he reached out to include Muslims, something Obama has been wary of doing.
Powell has the cover of having been a good soldier--too good a soldier, to us--- the way Nixon was able to go to China, the way McCain can use his cover of being a POW to vote down Veterans' bills. The manner in which events change the status of somebody's choices is never more clear than in the way Obama benefits from Powell having behaved exactly the way he did, right up to now. Now his endorsement matters, his statement of conscience concerning the current alarming direction of the Republican party matters.

Warren Terra: Indeed, he has a lot of blood on his hands - but it's not fair to say that any of his militarist criminal actions were inspired by racism or simple bigotry, especially directed against Arabs or Muslims.

(Fixed that for you.)

Quite possibly not, for Powell. But notably: all the people being kidnapped and tortured, and most of the people about to be killed in Iraq, were brown-skinned Muslims, just like the people in the US targeted by the US government for harassment, torture, and deportation post-911: and yeah, I do think that anti-Islamic bigotry and simple racism underwrote a lot of the belief that what they did to "those people" didn't really matter. Maybe listening to his criminal co-conspirators has made Powell realise that if he hasn't got the guts or the honor to speak out against the crimes he was partly responsible for, he can at least say that anti-Islamic bigotry is a bad thing.

But it still doesn't redeem him.

"Over a million Iraqis have been killed since the US attacked Iraq."

"That's not even close to being true. The only numbers that even get close to that ballpark are certain epidemiological-type estimations which, even if you agree with their conclusions, are fundamentally not casualty estimations."

I don't know which numbers are right, but you are simply wrong about the studies, byrningman. Lancet 2 specifically claims that "of the post -invasion deaths, 601,027 (426,369-793,663) were due to violence, the most common cause being gunfire."

Now that's up until June 2006, so if one believes this figure (I'm agnostic on it), it's reasonable to project over one million deaths by now.

As for the ORB number, which is over one million, they asked specifically about violent deaths.

So anyway, Jes was right about the studies.

Last I looked (several weeks ago), wikipedia had a pretty good article on all the studies and controversies involved in determining Iraqi civilian casualties.

To speak in favor of justice, or at least forbearance, for Colin Powell for a moment, I remember the United States months after 9/11. Maybe I remember it more clearly because I came home at the end of '01, so I haven't had the same experience of life in the US that many of you have. I remember the focus on unity and patriotism of the period. I can only imagine the way that must have played out in the cabinet room, particularly to someone with Colin Powell's military experience.

Besides that, I think sometimes the past five nightmare years of a botched and bloody occupation have blinded us to just how bad a record Saddam Hussein had. I opposed the Iraq campaign from the beginning, but I had to work to talk myself into demonstrating, because I did not want to do anything to support a man like Saddam. Colin Powell may have stretched the truth, but let us always remember that he did not slander an innocent man.

So while I agree Colin Powell made, at minimum, some bad mistakes, I see no reason to define him as a war criminal or a political leper.

" Colin Powell may have stretched the truth, but let us always remember that he did not slander an innocent man.

So while I agree Colin Powell made, at minimum, some bad mistakes, I see no reason to define him as a war criminal or a political leper."

It's not a question of slandering Saddam Hussein. Part of the problem back in 2002-2003 was precisely the defensive cringe that some antiwar people thought they had to adopt then. Saddam Hussein was unquestionably an evil man (though no worse than some of our other allies), and so anyone who opposed the war was assumed to be saying something in his favor. Well, no--the issue was whether there was a legitimate reason to go to war, not whether Saddam was a nice guy.

Colin Powell is being accused of lying about the evidence for going to war, not of slandering an innocent dictator. And as others have pointed out, his past record suggests a man who tells his superiors what they want to hear, at least in the case of My Lai. What I think he's doing now falls under the category of "rat deserting a sinking ship".

Without jumping into the larger discussion about Powell's stature/legitimacy/criminality, I think Mrs. Polly (7:24 p.m.) summed up the significance of his endorsement best.

"We do deserts, we don't do mountains."

Unfortunately, I do not know the context behind this, but it seems to be rather correct. The US has waged two very successful campaigns in Iraqi deserts, but the campaign against the Taliban in the mountains of Afghanistan is not working, although the whole NATO is fighting that conflict. Utilizing ultimately superior firepower is not as easy in the mountains as it is in a desert. So, if this quote is about military tactics, it seems very sound to me.

If the quote is philosophical, it is also correct. Military power can make any place a desert void of life but it cannot raise mountains. Neither mountains of human achievement nor actual geographical mountains.

John Spragge: Maybe I remember it more clearly because I came home at the end of '01, so I haven't had the same experience of life in the US that many of you have. I remember the focus on unity and patriotism of the period. I can only imagine the way that must have played out in the cabinet room, particularly to someone with Colin Powell's military experience.

Which, as we know, includes covering-up for My Lai. You may be right that a large part of Colin Powell's motivation in not speaking out about torture, not speaking out as the US was lied into war, was the need he brought with him from the military to cover up for his buddies. That's an explanation for his motivation: it's not in any way an excuse.

You may be right too that another part was the collective bloodthirstiness that many Americans expressed strongly after 9/11 - I wasn't in the US then, I visited in February 2002 - that they wanted to see buildings fall and people die and believe that they were doing something to punish the people responsible. (That Afghanistan, as a country, had nothing to do with 9/11 and that the Taliban government could not have prevented the attack on America, is a topic that has been rehashed over and over again.) This too would be an explanation for his motivation, not an excuse for it.

Maybe Colin Powell did share the collective feeling in the US that a country ought to be hurt after 9/11. So what? I can see where the arguments were coming from that it should be Afghanistan, however contemptible I find them: but the Bush administration believed they could ride the wave of bloodthirsty feeling all the way to Iraq, pumping it higher when it seemed to faily by telling the US public lies about how Saddam Hussein was responsible for 9/11 and the presence of WMD in Iraq.

Colin Powell knew these were lies when he heard them mouthed. He knew that he was lying when he told the UN that there were WMD in Iraq.

I didn't mean to single out Colin Powell for blame: he was responsible, but he was no more responsible than anyone else in that group of people who lied the US into war. But he can no more be redeemed by endorsing Obama than Dick Cheney could be.

Except that if Cheney endorsed Obama, we'd be more confident there was something wrong with Obama...

If the quote is philosophical, it is also correct. Military power can make any place a desert void of life but it cannot raise mountains. Neither mountains of human achievement nor actual geographical mountains.

Actually some mountains were raised after WW2 using the debris created by the war. The highest elevation of Berlin (the Teufelsberg) was made that way, it tops the highest natural one (the Kreuzberg). Not yet the Alps but that's just a matter of time ;-).

I don't know which numbers are right, but you are simply wrong about the studies, byrningman. Lancet 2 specifically claims that "of the post -invasion deaths, 601,027 (426,369-793,663) were due to violence, the most common cause being gunfire."

Now that's up until June 2006, so if one believes this figure (I'm agnostic on it), it's reasonable to project over one million deaths by now.

As for the ORB number, which is over one million, they asked specifically about violent deaths.

I wasn't aware of the ORB study, but I'm not surprised nobody takes it seriously. I don't know what they did wrong, but it's very hard to believe that there have been a million violent deaths in Iraq since the invasion. For that matter, I thought the Lancet study was a population-differential type analysis. It would be more credible if it was, for even 600k violent deaths seems pretty outlandish. Compare these kinds of numbers to other wars in the twentieth century, both conventional and civil, to see how unlikely they are to be true.

I don't think it does us any favours in criticising the war if we disingenuously tout dubious statistics like these. There's enough wrong with Iraq as it is, it's simply not a country comparable to Congo or Somalia in terms of devastation. Heck, one million violent deaths is a good chunk more than died in the Algerian War of Independence, which was a substantially larger and longer (thus far) conflict, with systemic napalming of Muslim villages and in which two million Muslim peasants were rounded up into guarded camps. Not to mention the inter-Muslim violence.

The Lancet study would have to be the upper bounds of what's possible, the latter one seems a little too eager to reach that publicity-guaranteeing one million number.

Byrningman, you appear to have missed nearly all the debates over the numbers and what we might or might not know about the death toll in Iraq. I find the very high numbers hard to believe, but only by a factor of three or so--there was a more recent study in the NEJM conducted by the Iraqi government (they even told the responders they were from the goverment, which to my mind gives people reason for paranoia) which found 150,000 violent deaths by June 2006, 4 times lower than Lancet2 and three times higher than Iraq Body Count. The most violent period in Iraq came afterwards, so a reasonable extrapolation (carried out at Tim Lambert's Deltoid site) is about 300,000 or so. I find the very low figures in the media (from IBC) at least as implausible as the highest numbers.

Comparisons to other wars don't mean much--I don't think the Algerian War saw so much Muslim-on-Muslim violence, though of course there was a great deal of it. But in the Iraq war the interethnic fighting may be the prevailing cause of death. And anyway, in my reading about Algeria there's a fairly wide range of casualty estimates. Alistair Horne goes through the French-supplied figures, which are conveniently precise for the number of people killed by the FLN. Estimates for the number killed by the French are much vaguer since the French didn't track those (except for insurgents, I think)and the Algerian government claims that nice round one million figure.

byrningman: but it's very hard to believe that there have been a million violent deaths in Iraq since the invasion.

Oh, well, that settles that, then. Since you find it hard to believe, two separate and substantive works providing figures that independently corroborate each other must have "got it wrong".

I don't think it does us any favours in criticising the war if we disingenuously tout dubious statistics like these.

Because you doubt these statistics because you don't like them, does not make them dubious statistics. Because the war supporters attacked both of these reports on political grounds does not make them dubious statistics. Because you are unaware of the past extensive discussions that have taken place between those who disbelieve for political purposes and those compelled to take the facts as they are, does not make reference to the facts "disingenuous".

The US media has chosen to surrender, absolutely, to the objectionable people who do want to believe that the war of aggression in Iraq has killed over a million people. I find it understandable, given what has happened to journalists in the past who have tried to make Americans aware of what the situation is actually like in Iraq, but if you know you cannot trust your mainstream media to inform you, go do your own research before trying to claim that your ignorance trumps other people's information.

The Lancet study would have to be the upper bounds of what's possible

The 655 000 casualty figure provided by the Lancet was for the period March 2003 to July 2006. This was calculated by cluster sampling, a method which will always tend to give a reliable undercount. So far from being "the upper bounds", the figure of 655 000 can be regarded as a reliable lowball estimate of the actual casualty figures.

The ORB report covered casualties between March 2003 and August 2007. It's estimate was based on multi-stage random probability sampling, in fifteen of Iraq’s eighteen governorates (3 were omitted because they were considered to be too dangerous for the interviewers). Their figure was of the order of 1,033,000: estimated range of margin of error between 946,000 and 1,120,000.

Project the Lancet data on 13 months, and the death toll reported by the ORB in fact corresponds to the Lancet report. The two corroborate each other.

Disbelief of the data is political, and perhaps personal. But it's not dubious information. It's just not nice information.

Sorry, I meant to add in the link to the ORB report.

I find the very high numbers hard to believe, but only by a factor of three or so--there was a more recent study in the NEJM conducted by the Iraqi government (they even told the responders they were from the goverment, which to my mind gives people reason for paranoia) which found 150,000 violent deaths by June 2006, 4 times lower than Lancet2 and three times higher than Iraq Body Count. The most violent period in Iraq came afterwards, so a reasonable extrapolation (carried out at Tim Lambert's Deltoid site) is about 300,000 or so

150k-300k would be the ballpark I think most would agree on.

if you know you cannot trust your mainstream media to inform you, go do your own research before trying to claim that your ignorance trumps other people's information.

Actually, researching these questions is my job, specifically the case of Algeria, but in investigating the difficulty of estimating casualties for Algeria in 1950s-60s, and then again in the 1990s, I have became fairly well-acquainted with how these debates play out and the issues involved. I also have a basis for comparison, and that basis for comparison leads me to find one million killed directly as a result of violence, or even 600k, hard to believe. That is a LOT of people. That kind of death toll would typically be found in a situation of extreme physical and social destruction, on a scale even worse than seems to be the case in Iraq. Congo, Somalia, Cambodia, I don't where else, are approximates.

I think Iraq is plenty screwed up without recourse to exaggeration, and I think a quarter-mill plus deaths, directly as the result of violence, is already plenty to be upset about without engaging in death inflation (which does have, btw, racist tones itself).

The Lancet and OBR studies are certainly not "facts", as you seem to believe, simply because they have a scientific methodology. It was my understanding that the original Lancet study was also trying to include indirect deaths in its figure, a figure that I found quite plausible at the time. They seem to have then quickly doubled that figure and attributed it all to direct violence.

I don't know anyone who has worked in Iraq, for a variety of governmental and non-governmental interests, who thinks the death toll comes close to that scale

My gut would say about 200k-300k direct deaths, which is plenty. Obviously I don't know, but I am simply advising people to be wary of numbers like one million. That's Khmer Rouge-type stuff, that's simply an immense amount of corpses on the landscape.

What did Lancet/OBR do wrong? I dunno, but I would start by checking the language of their questionnaire. You'd be surprised by how often I see poor translation skills making a farce of things in the field. Bad data often begins with these simple screw-ups.

It really doesn't matter that Powell supported Obama -- he just did so because they're both African-American. All the VSP have said so, so it MUST be true!

saying that someone is a Muslim should never be a slur. Not in my country.

Not in any country.

Thanks for that Hilzoy...and thanks to General Powell.

My gut would say about 200k-300k direct deaths, which is plenty. Obviously I don't know, but I am simply advising people to be wary of numbers like one million. That's Khmer Rouge-type stuff

No, not even close. The Khmer Rouge are estimated to have caused the deaths of one quarter of Cambodia's population. A comparable figure for Iraq would be 6-7 million dead. You're way out.

What did Lancet/OBR do wrong? I dunno, but I would start by checking the language of their questionnaire.

The Lancet report didn't use a questionnaire as such: Iraqi physicians recruited via a Baghdad university visited over 1800 randomly selected households that had an average of seven members each: and asked one person in each household about deaths in the 14 months before the invasion and in the period after. The majority of deaths reported were backed up by death certificates, making it highly unlikely that the problem was that of translation. You assert you have some experience in assessing death tolls, so you'll already be aware that cluster sampling of the sort the Lancet carried out produces underestimates, not overestimates.

The ORB survey was also carried out by Iraqis, at face-to-face interviews. The ORB survey does not mention asking for death certificates.

You will have to explain how two separate groups of Iraqis, working for two separate research organisations, somehow managed to err terribly and yet come up with results that corroborate each other. I've provided the links, go ahead.

By the way: both research organisations are achieving results with the same methodology which are not disputed by the same governments who do dispute - or ignore - the casualty counts. The dispute is political, not scientific.

Actually, researching these questions is my job, specifically the case of Algeria, but in investigating the difficulty of estimating casualties for Algeria in 1950s-60s, and then again in the 1990s, I have became fairly well-acquainted with how these debates play out and the issues involved.

With respect byrningman, your experience doesn't sound relevant to disputes about the Lancet and other studies. Algeria happened half a century ago. The nature of the conflict was very different. Access to small arms was far more restricted. There have been real debates between scholars about the accuracy of the two Lancet teams' numbers. I'd suggest you look at those debates. See if you can find demographers or epidemiologists who have done excess mortality estimates in other conflicts that claim the Lancet numbers are not credible.

I don't know anyone who has worked in Iraq, for a variety of governmental and non-governmental interests, who thinks the death toll comes close to that scale

I don't find this argument by anecdote persuasive.

What did Lancet/OBR do wrong? I dunno, but I would start by checking the language of their questionnaire. You'd be surprised by how often I see poor translation skills making a farce of things in the field. Bad data often begins with these simple screw-ups.

Um, the Lancet team worked closely with Iraqi epidemiologists. Your claims that they got translations wrong strike me as...very novel. But not plausible.

Algeria happened half a century ago. The nature of the conflict was very different. Access to small arms was far more restricted. There have been real debates between scholars about the accuracy of the two Lancet teams' numbers. I'd suggest you look at those debates. See if you can find demographers or epidemiologists who have done excess mortality estimates in other conflicts that claim the Lancet numbers are not credible.

Actually I think the natures of the two conflicts are very similar, and the nature of Iraq today and Algeria more recently even more similar. More to the point, excess mortality estimates on this order of magnitude I don't have a problem with, but attributing one million actual deaths to direct violence is an entirely different kettle of fish.

I don't think you guys understand what one million corpses looks like. Trust me, you wouldn't need a freakin' epidemiological survey to tell you that about it.

I don't find this argument by anecdote persuasive.

Oh well. I'll still go with the opinions of people I know working in various parts of Iraq than be swayed by random people on a blog. Go figure.

Um, the Lancet team worked closely with Iraqi epidemiologists. Your claims that they got translations wrong strike me as...very novel. But not plausible.

Well the translation thing was a bit glib, but I've seen that and worse. Especially when foreign outfits are outsourcing the work in an insecure environment. I think you'd be quite surprised, and dismayed, by how incompetent many of these operations are on the ground.

As I said, excess mortality of one million? Conceivable. But one million bodies shot or blown up? First of all, it's improbably given the nature of the conflict. Secondly, I just don't think we'd be debating if that were the case, that would literally be an incontestable ocean of bodies. It's such an outlandish number that I don't consider the burden of proof to be on those who contest it.

Turb: Um, the Lancet team worked closely with Iraqi epidemiologists

When byrningman suggested there might be a translation problem, I did look up the main language map of Iraq, and while there are two official languages (Mesopotamian Arabic and Sorani) and Najdi Arabic is spoken across southern Iraq, there multiple dialects: it is of course possible that the Iraqis the ORB employed were talking to Iraqis with whom they didn't share a common language, and did not want to admit to their employers that they couldn't communicate with them. (The Lancet researchers asked for and got death certificates, strongly suggesting that they did not have this problem.)

The presumption that the Iraqi workers were incompetent and thus caused errors in the data collection, is one that I've heard before to "explain" why the figures must be wrong. And where one report stands alone, it is vulnerable to this kind of criticism.

The presumption that both sets of Iraqi workers both got it wrong and produced a data set with errors that just happened to corroborate each other... you might just as well assume that the population of Iraq is conspiring to lie about the number of deaths in order to make the US look bad.

byrning: Oh well. I'll still go with the opinions of people I know working in various parts of Iraq than be swayed by random people on a blog. Go figure.

And I'll still go by the data collection done by people on the ground in Iraq rather than be swayed by a random guy on a blog claiming "the lurkers support me in email". Go figure.

I don't think you guys understand what one million corpses looks like. Trust me, you wouldn't need a freakin' epidemiological survey to tell you that about it.

I don't think Iraqis do need an epidemological survey to tell them about it. But evidently, you do.

Actually I think the natures of the two conflicts are very similar, and the nature of Iraq today and Algeria more recently even more similar.

Algeria and Iraq differ in one crucial respect: Algeria happened half a century ago. It is generally easier to collect data about recent events than about events in the distant past.

More to the point, excess mortality estimates on this order of magnitude I don't have a problem with, but attributing one million actual deaths to direct violence is an entirely different kettle of fish.

I don't think you guys understand what one million corpses looks like. Trust me, you wouldn't need a freakin' epidemiological survey to tell you that about it.

Really? How exactly would we know? Do you think the US military, which has no interest in counting civilian deaths that it directly caused, would go out and count civilian deaths caused by other groups? If it did, do you think it would share that data with us? Or do you think media organizations, which generally have zero competence at data analysis and zero presence in Iraq outside of Baghdad, would go out and count bodies throughout Iraq?

We are not in Iraq. The people who are in Iraq generally lack the skills or incentives needed to inform us of the scale of the death toll. That's why we rely on experts to do so.

I think you'd be quite surprised, and dismayed, by how incompetent many of these operations are on the ground.

Maybe. But if you want to make this argument, you should try reading some of the papers involved and making specific criticisms. Or are you trying to argue that excess mortality studies in conflict zones are inherently untrustworthy and should all be discarded out of hand?

As I said, excess mortality of one million? Conceivable. But one million bodies shot or blown up? First of all, it's improbably given the nature of the conflict. Secondly, I just don't think we'd be debating if that were the case, that would literally be an incontestable ocean of bodies.

We have very little insight into what happens in Iraq. Bodies tend to decompose in the hot sun and the digging of shallow graves isn't exactly rocket science.

It's such an outlandish number that I don't consider the burden of proof to be on those who contest it.

You know, I'm not sure how I'd react if you said that you found estimates of six million Jews killed in the Holocaust to be outlandish and then refused to accept them. I know that case would differ greatly from this one because Americans are habituated to valuing mere Iraqi lives as, well, nothing. Nevertheless, while I can easily imagine the Lancet numbers being inaccurate, I see no reason to believe that in the absence of serious methodology criticism.

Secondly, I just don't think we'd be debating if that were the case, that would literally be an incontestable ocean of bodies.

To use something of the same point that Turbulence made: given that people contest the Holocaust -- not credibly, of course, but vehemently nonetheless -- and given the US military's extreme, maybe even pathological, indifference to an accurate tally of the dead coupled with the extreme, maybe even pathological, desire of the Republican Party to minimize the negatives of the war, I'm not in the least surprised that the debate continues.

[And that's leaving aside the people with legitimate methodological concerns about the study...]

"Secondly, I just don't think we'd be debating if that were the case, that would literally be an incontestable ocean of bodies. "

But if you'd accept 300K bodies, is a factor of 3 larger so out of the question?

There are, IMO, a couple of legitimate reasons for questioning the 1 million dead through violence number. First, you'd have to accept that the media is missing 90 percent of the deaths. I don't know if that's plausible or not. So that argument is a tossup for me.

Second and more important, there is the study published in the New England Journal of Medicine which found 150K violent deaths by June 2006 (the CI was 104K to 223K). That was three times higher than Iraq Body Count's figure for that period, but four times lower than Lancet2. This group actually told the respondents they were working for the Iraqi government, which I am not sure is the ideal way of eliciting truthful answers in the midst of a brutal civil war in which the government is linked to death squads. But anyway, I can't dismiss the number, which leaves me not knowing what the truth is.

Going by the New England Journal study, the violent death toll is probably two to five times what Iraq Body Count says, and going by L2 and ORB, it's more like ten times IBC. So just say the death toll is probably at least twice IBC and likely several times larger, where "several" is a nice vague number that could mean 3 or 4 or 10.

Incidentally, last year Bill Clinton's estimate of the Iraqi death toll was three or four hundred thousand. It'd be interesting to know if he just pulled this number out of his rear, or was making an intelligent guess (which I suppose reduces to the first possibility) or if he and his wife have access to data most of us don't have.

Link

Donald, when comparing the NEJM study with Lancet 2, there is one thing to keep in mind: they both reached about the same figures for excess deaths. Where they disagree is what fraction of those excess deaths were due to violence. Speaking only for myself, I think it is very plausible that respondents might react to government affiliated pollsters by saying "yeah, here are my family members who died recently, but oh no, they were in no way connected with anything bad, they just fell down the stairs a lot". I mean, if you were an Iraqi, would you trust that the complete strangers at your door who already admitted they were working for the Iraqi government? In my experience, many people in the middle east are extremely distrustful of their governments, and my experience is based on countries were the government is more benign that Hussein's regime was, let alone those characterized by active campaigns of ethnic cleansing.

If you didn't approve of the Powell endorsement, you might not want to read what else just came up:

Ken Adelman endorses Obama

"I mean, if you were an Iraqi, would you trust that the complete strangers at your door who already admitted they were working for the Iraqi government?"

I wouldn't, I don't think. What's funny is that the skeptics who have touted the NEJM paper would be the first in line to make this point if it worked against them.

And on Iraq Body Count (though actually I'm the only one talking about it), one thing that bothers me about their work is that they've set this stiff evidentiary standard for counting deaths that can be blamed on us, whereas in most wars and massacres (especially those which are the responsibility of our enemies) rough estimates which are as large and dramatic as possible will be the numbers most commonly cited in the mainstream press.

Donald, the Iraqi Body Count uses the stiff evidentiary standard that was originally used by Marc Herold in his count of the Afghans killed in the US attack on Afghanistan from October 2001 onwards. He released his figures in December 2001, when his count had passed 3500 (which turned out to be in error: when he was able to cross-check place names from news reports, his count in December 2001 should have been "between 2,650 and 2,970 civilian deaths").

I well remember the torrent of abuse launched at Herold by supporters of the Afghan war, in which his figures were decried, his academic credentials insulted, and in general: disbelieved. There's an article by Herold in the Guardian from August 2002 about the refusal to believe the casualty rate in Afghanistan.

Further, I recall when (before the first Lancet report came out) the in thing was to refuse to believe the Iraqi Body Count - because that seemed "too high".

I would take seriously an informed critique of any of these reports if one was presented.

But the pattern is clear: people refuse to believe the study that gives the highest figure. Herold's methods have now become acceptable because they give the lowest figure: and I find it somehow mordantly amusing that to some Americans at least the Lancet reports has by now become borderline acceptable because a swift and uninformed comparison between its figures and the ORB report makes it look as if the Lancet report is offering a lower number of deaths.

Rejection of these figures is partly political - war supporters never accept them: but partly, I think, just the kind of squeamishness that passes for humane thinking. It is too horrific to believe, so people refuse to believe it.

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