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Stupid, Innumerate Reporters (With An Agenda)

| 37 Comments

Every time I try and convince myself that I'm being oversensitive to the drumbeat of 'damaged soldiers' stories - which I am at root convinced are about the notion that war is simply too damaging to the delicate sensibilities of our troops to actually, you know, send them into combat - the press steps to the plate and hits the ball right at me.

Here's the latest piece at Bloomberg:

The number of suicides among veterans of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan may exceed the combat death toll because of inadequate mental health care, the U.S. government's top psychiatric researcher said.
Community mental health centers, hobbled by financial limits, haven't provided enough scientifically sound care, especially in rural areas, said Thomas Insel, director of the National Institute of Mental Health in Bethesda, Maryland. He briefed reporters today at the American Psychiatric Association's annual meeting in Washington.

Insel echoed a Rand Corporation study published last month that found about 20 percent of returning U.S. soldiers have post- traumatic stress disorder or depression, and only half of them receive treatment. About 1.6 million U.S. troops have fought in the two wars since October 2001, the report said. About 4,560 soldiers had died in the conflicts as of today, the Defense Department reported on its Web site.

Based on those figures and established suicide rates for similar patients who commonly develop substance abuse and other complications of post-traumatic stress disorder, ``it's quite possible that the suicides and psychiatric mortality of this war could trump the combat deaths,'' Insel said.

Well, d'ooh. Welcome to the magic of bad statistics. If the 1.6 million troops who have been to Iraq or Afghanistan during this war have exactly the same rate of suicide as the general population for the rest of their lives - more of them will die than died in the war. The national rate of suicide in 2005 for ages 15+ was 13.14/100000. Assume that the average age of the soldiers is 30, this gives them ~40 years of exposure to the risk of suicide - so 1.6 million * 13.14/100,000 * 40 years = 8,409 suicides. The issue is that the rate of combat deaths is so low that by comparison to other low-probability events - they seem remarkably high.

Men apparently have a 1:34 lifetime chance of dying of prostate cancer (it's dropping now, thankfully); that means some 40,000 of the returning troops will probably die of prostate cancer. If you look at the CDC's 'cause of death by age' table, suicide ranks 11th for all ages - and it's doubtless lower for veterans who have a lower suicide rate than the average population. The article suggests that we should spend more on counseling - and we doubtless should. But shouldn't we balance that consideration against the consequences for our veterans of - say - better prostate cancer screening?

So the article is a twofer - on one hand, it helps drive home the notion that veterans are irremediably damaged by their exposure to war - something that is popular in movies, but just not borne out by the facts, not post-WW II, not post-Vietnam, and I will wager, not post-this war. And on the other, it manages to try and drive public policy by using veterans to suggest that we invest more in public mental health (which might be good to do, balanced against other priorities) - it's the 'poster-child' school of policy making, which ignores facts in favor of dramatic incidents.

Some veterans will be damaged, and we should absolutely do what we can to help them overcome it, and make thoughtful decisions on investment to improve counseling and their access to the help they need.

And maybe, just maybe, one of the things I'll suggest is not treating them - contrary to the facts - like they are going to go psycho any second..

37 Comments

Who is your target here, AL? Is it the reporter or Dr Insel? Although your headline refers to Stupid, Innumerate Reporters (With An Agenda), your main complaint seems to refer to a statement in Insel's own words. If your claim is that he has succumbed to "the magic of bad statistics" then you should say so and present evidence, not mere assertion, in support of that (frankly rather implausible) claim. My reading is that Insel is referring to excess deaths and you give me no reason to suppose he doesn't know how to calculate excess mortality. The same goes for your assertion that his "notion" about PTSD in WW2 veterans is "just not borne out by the facts." Even if it turns out that you are right and Insel is wrong, why blame the reporter? He's just informing the reader of Insel's concerns. Maybe you prefer reporters who "shape the information battlespace" but lots of people don't.

I took interest in this:

Community mental health centers, hobbled by financial limits, haven't provided enough scientifically sound care, especially in rural areas, said Thomas Insel, director of the National Institute of Mental Health in Bethesda, Maryland.

. . . since my wife works at a mental health center where she provides care for returning veterans. But what does the linked report say?

_Increasing numbers of veterans are also seeking care in the private, community
sector, outside the formal military and veterans health systems. Yet, *we have very little
systematic information* about the organization and delivery of services for veterans in
the non-federal sector, particularly with respect to access and quality._

Kevin, I'd expect the reporter to ask the same questions and make the same calculations that I did in order to put the claim in some context.

That's what reporters are supposed to do - to test public assertions against competing claims and facts where accessible - to try and allow a reader to end up better informed.

Doesn't seem a lot to ask.

A.L.

...and Kevin if we were concerned about 'excess deaths' wouldn't it make sense to put our attention and resources where they will save the most lives?

A.L.

Hey Armed. I came here from ace.mu.nu looking for the Raytheon exoskeleton thing, and saw your post. I had the same response as you when I saw the story, and blogged on my little blog about it.

Even if the suicide rate were the same or lower, to say "more may commit suicide than have died" would still be true.

Loren, thanks - but you cite NIMH study that I need to dig deeper into - it suggests a suicide rate for vets much higher than their civilian peers. If true, that could well change the weighting I place on these issues...

A.L.

I notice a significant difference between the AP and Bloomberg articles:

Roughly one in five U.S. troops is suffering from major depression or post-traumatic stress from serving in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and an equal number have suffered brain injuries, a new study estimates. Only about half of them have sought treatment, says the study released Thursday by the Rand Corp.

AP

Insel echoed a Rand Corporation study published last month that found about 20 percent of returning U.S. soldiers have post-traumatic stress disorder or depression, and only half of them receive treatment.

Bloomberg

The RAND report said "Military servicemembers with probable PTSD or major depression seek care at about the same rate as the civilian
population, and, just as in the civilian population, many of the afflicted individuals
were not receiving treatment. About half (53 percent) of those who met the criteria for
current PTSD or major depression had sought help from a physician or mental health provider for a mental health problem in the past year."

The first roadblock here is getting men and women to seek help. Q: Is warning that community mental health centers, hobbled by financial limits, don't provide enough scientifically sound care, a means of increasing or decreasing that help?

A.L., you may want to look at page 128 of the Kaplan study which is the subject of the briefing. It states that the suicide rates between the military (10 to 13 per 100,000) and the general population are comparable and "may indicate that military personnel do not face a risk of suicide different from that of the general population."

However, it added two caveat studies that might suggest otherwise. One is a study of Vietnam veterans. Mileage may vary.

The second is a study released last year that concluded that military service doubles suicide risk. Junk Science raised questions about the study that the author declined to answer.

AL: "I'd expect the reporter to ask the same questions and make the same calculations that I did in order to put the claim in some context."

My point is that you misunderstood what (I believe) Insel is saying. So does Loren Heal. Medical researchers are not stupid. They know that even if exposure to a particular risk (combat in this case) gives rise to illness, some of those who are not exposed will also become ill, and many of those who are exposed will not become ill. That's why they study statistics - you know, all that stuff about control groups, risk ratios and significance tests? You claim they are doing "bad statistics" but you don't provide any evidence for that claim. Then you complain that the reporter didn't make the same assumptions as you and replicate your (in my opinion) bogus calculations. Why should he?

"...if we were concerned about 'excess deaths' wouldn't it make sense to put our attention and resources where they will save the most lives?"

The meaning of the term "excess deaths" has nothing to do with whether we are concerned or not. It's the same whether we are crying buckets of tears or chortling with malevolent glee. You are just moving the goal-posts, as is your wont. First you accuse people of doing statistics badly and then you change the topic to healthcare priorities. The number of excess deaths is determined by the difference in mortality rates between those at risk and those in the control group; that's what I understand Insel to be talking about. Of course some number of soldiers who have never been in combat will commit suicide. When he speaks of "the suicides and psychiatric mortality of this war" he is surely talking about deaths over and above that baseline number.

But even if the likes of Steven Milloy are right and Insel is wrong (tell that one to Tim Lambert and Daniel Davies), you really have no business accusing the reporter of being stupid and innumerate. He quoted a reputable psychiatrist in good faith. There is no shame in that.

My point is that you misunderstood what (I believe) Insel is saying. So does Loren Heal. Medical researchers are not stupid. They know that even if exposure to a particular risk ... "

What I am, and what I think Armed Liberal is saying is that the comparison is inapt, and may have been chosen to serve a higher, deceptive purpose.

Because even given the civilian suicide rate, there should eventually be more deaths from suicide than from combat. (We) aren't quibbling about the rate itself, because a higher suicide rate doesn't change the inequality.

Now, I'll accept your own shifted goalposts, that Insel is talking about the difference in the rate of suicides for war veterans versus plain old veterans or some other kind of veterans. With a population of 1.6 million, it still would take less than a half a percent increase in the rate to make the difference in the suicide toll higher than the combat death toll, because the suicide toll has such a long tail.

The "higher, deceptive purpose" is, I think, to paint the war as some new source of unstable monsters, ready to go postal at any time. The obvious implication is that the war is too harmful to our troops (and to us, when they get back home) to be continued.

[Italics fixed. --NM]

I'd agree that both the reporter and Dr. Insel made poor choices in running down the math, and you should write to them - even including an option to post replies here, it might be interesting. Or if you can find a transcript. Maybe it's not an agenda - maybe he's interesting in reporting and not challenging, had a deadline, had his information edited out, was given otherwise reasonable answers to this very problem, was limited by reporting for Bloomberg's wire serve(I think they have that). And very possibly, took the information presented by the head of a relatively prestigious institution and went with it. And most likely, not aware that over 1million people have rotated in and out - I'd say most Americans are not aware of this. To put it entirely on malice or stupidity does a disservice.

While I'm not sure you ran across it, CBS recently had a piece on suicide

And here is how they went about gathering the data. Including going through state records to find people who are no longer active duty. These show a dramatically higher rate.

Aside from the 20-24 group, their story does not call out a veteran from these wars being different from someone who was in the Korean War, or someone who was only in Germany in the 80s. Maybe they have a chart somewhere.

And that's in addition to the 1000 per month that the VA identified as attempts.

This goes back to the propoganda issue.

The Doctor is a man of science, but assumedly also an advocate for minimizing the human suffering he is an expert in. So what do we call it when he hypes up his statistics, spinning them to be factual but out of context, but all done for (from his position) the greater good? The Doctor isnt an expert in prostate cancer or smoking, or drunk driving (which will kill more vets than combat as well), so he would likely feel it not his place to champion those issues. Is that propoganda?

The reporter reasons that he is also an advocate for the public good, as much as not more than a relayer of facts. After all, facts without moral relevance are just trivia. So once you believe some facts are more relevant to the human condition than others, it's a short trip to allowing certain facts to live in certain context without too much fuss. After all, its for the greater good. Is this propoganda?

Now back to the government issue. A government, even moreso than a doctor or a journalist, is supposed to advance the common good. If in its estimation information needs to be spun in certain contexts in order for its policies to succeed, is this propoganda? Certainly it is. But is this wrong? More wrong than a man a science or a reporter of facts doing it?

I don't have the answers, but i think it is a very gray area indeed. And i think for sure it takes a lot more humility and wisdom than any of these three entities have displayed any time recently. I DO think the doctor and the government at least have the defense that they never claimed to be anything but advocates for their policies. The problem with most journalists is that they claim unbiased neutrality. If they are actually advancing claims that line up with their worldview, you can add hypocracy to the charges of arrogance.

Loren Heal: "The 'higher, deceptive purpose' is, I think, to paint the war as some new source of unstable monsters, ready to go postal at any time."

Do you really think a psychiatrist is out to portray patients as monsters? For your sake I hope you don't. Try putting the aim you attribute to Insel in less tendentious language. According to you, his purpose is to argue that the combat deaths are not an adequate measure of the cost of the war in American lives (other costs being excluded for purposes of this discussion). Besides combat deaths, we should also include "the suicides and psychiatric mortality of this war" to arrive at a realistic figure. That statement is surely true. I really don't see how anyone can dispute it.

Actually I think Insel is just arguing for greater awareness of the plight of veterans. But even if he is trying to highlight a cost of war which is easily overlooked, there is nothing deceptive about that purpose.

I rather suspect that the good Dr. is trying to shape the budget battlespace for his agency.

AL - the dirty secret is that when Soldiers return, they are offered treatment, but to receive that treatment they must (usually) self-identify as needing treatment and when they are identified their return to home station is delayed so they can receive treatement. This has the "added benefit" of reducing costs for the DoD (although it may result in moving it to the VA).

Since we are talking about numbers, and innumeracy - how would you spend 3 TRILLION DOLLARS!!

Everyone, go to this site. You'll find it's surprisingly hard to spend 3 trillion dollars.

Why, I've purchased -

a. Universal Health Care (US)

b. Cured a Deadly Disease

c. Switched the US to Solar

d. End hunger and poverty diseases

e. My own private island fortress

f. New national power grid

And I've only spent 700 Billion!!

Help a brother out - how ELSE should I spend 2.3 trillion dollars? Maybe cure more diseases? Have my own personal 24 hour on-call service to the "Diamond Club", of Spitzer fame?

Thoughts, guys? C'mon - not all of you would spend 3 trillion dollars on the Iraq occupation, right?

I can't believe you've shoved all those hard working elderly out on the streets, abandoned the world to war/chaos/natural disaster, abandoned the worlds shipping lanes to piracy, and STILL managed to dramatically underestimate the costs of the stuff you did buy.

Here's the fundamental disconnect- if Washington had 3 Trillion dollars to spend just on the items you listed, they would spend 4. That is a fact.

"The leader of al-Qaida in Iraq, Abu Ayyub al-Masri, was arrested in the northern city of Mosul, the Iraqi Defense Ministry spokesman said Thursday."

Important to note this Egyptian member of AQ was captured by Iraqi police, by themselves it appears. What was that about pouring our money and blood for not reason onto the sands of Iraq again?

I'm just trying to think what a man like Al-Masri would be doing today if Obama and the Dems had there way this time last year and we were out of Iraq. Probably not cooling his heels in Iraqi detention, preparing to spill his guts or have them spilled for him.

But remember- Al Qaeda was not in Iraq before we invaded. Perhaps. But now they are and thats where we are fighting them. Instead of in row 27D 10,000 feet above Newark.

AP

Mark,

Good point! With 3 trillion dollars, we can do those things you mention as well! I figure, if we include those projects - we still have 1, 1.5 trillion dollars to spend.

We clearly HAVE the money for this - because we continue to spend it in Iraq, right?

Switching the US to solar and a new national power grid costing under a trillion dollars? I call BS, both on the numbers used and the premise of the whole stupid exercise. There are legitimate reasons to criticize OIF, but this argument based on the Manhattan Project Fallacy is not one of them.

Mark B.

"But now they are and thats where we are fighting them. Instead of in row 27D 10,000 feet above Newark."

Not instead of. In addition to. We are fighting them in Iraq, but also in Britain, Yemen, Somalia, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Morocco and numerous other places. It doesn't make sense to believe that because we have opened up another front in Iraq, they are somehow less likely to be concocting more terrorists plots against the U.S. On the contrary, I would say that it increases the likelihood if, for no other reason, that it increases the ranks of the movement. Creating a situation in Iraq wherein AQ can take further root increases, not decreases, the scope of their movement. It also broadens their appeal. It also forces us to spread our resources more thinly in our fight against the movement.

We invaded Iraq for other reasons. And you can argue the legitimacy of those reasons. But looking for a positive side-effect regarding AQ seems awfully silly. To the extent that we are fighting AQ in Iraq it is the unfortunate and unintended consequence of our invasion. You can argue that staying and fighting them in Iraq is a necessity now that they are there, but please don't try to twist it into a positive circumstance.

I call BS, both on the numbers used and the premise of the whole stupid exercise. There are legitimate reasons to criticize OIF, but this argument based on the Manhattan Project Fallacy is not one of them.

Fair points.

Oh, Unbeliever - if only you had spoken - or even now SPEAK - with such certainty and assurance, regarding this Iraq MisAdventure - where your same objections apply.

"this whole stupid exercise" - absolutely right.
"Manhattan Project Fallacy" - also absolutely right, regarding the Iraq Democracy Project, at least how we understand it.

On a more serious note, in terms of funding -

It is MUCH MORE LIKELY that, if thethe same type of funding given to the Iraq war/occupations, was given internally, improving infrastructure, switching to renewable resources in the US, giving universal healthcare - this has a MUCH HIGHER DEGREE OF PROBABLE success, than putting this same money into "revolutionizing" Iraq.

No one can seriously argue otherwise:

a. That money would be much more transparent in the U.S. system.
b. This money would not have to go through foreign nationals.
c. This would not be opposed by armed violent groups, intent upon destruction, and internecine conflict with each other.
d. this money would not be going half a world away - always hard to control your investment.
e. Wouldn't have other countries interfering - since their interests wouldn't be in the way.

Let's take something like the Big Dig as a baseline.

Lot's of issues for the Big Dig. Cost overruns, leaks, poor execution, etc, time spent, etc.

Now, the project (I believe?) is done. And people are happy - finally - with the final result.

What was the cost? From the Wikipedia:

The Big Dig has been the most expensive highway project in the U.S.5 Although the project was estimated at $2.8 billion in 1985 (in 1982 dollars, US$6.0 billion adjusted for inflation as of 2006),6 over $14.6 billion ($8.08 billion in 1982 dollars)6 had been spent in federal and state tax dollars as of 2006.7

14.6 billion dollars - ONE MONTH in Iraq.

ONE MONTH in Iraq!

ONE MONTH IN IRAQ!!!

How come conservatives - so absolutely blase about this type of sinkhole of over a trillion dollars of money into Iraq - suddenly get so suspicious of "Big government projects", in the country of their origin?

There is a fundamental contradiction there. Especially considering the less than stellar returns on the investment.

hypocrsyrules, I don't think you quite understand how to make the argument you're trying to make. You can't claim conservatives must object to government expenditures in Iraq if they also object to Big Government domestic programs, then turn around and argue that they should not object to these programs in the first place. All you've done is construct a world in which only Ron Paul fans can make a coherent argument, and that being to slash all government spending. (To say nothing of the bad premises and single-axis take on conservativism, which just contributed to your false dichotomy.)

Logic: 1, hypocrisyrules: 0
But hey, at least you got an island fortress in the middle of the reality-based community. Leave a forwarding address so we can tell the Libertarians where send their newsletters.

"It doesn't make sense to believe that because we have opened up another front in Iraq, they are somehow less likely to be concocting more terrorists plots against the U.S."

Concocting, no. Executing, yes. Execution takes resources. Money, influence, manpower. If Iraq has been a sinkhole for us, imagine what it has done to jihadi, and particularly AQ resouces.

The faulty logic here is imagining that everything we do somehow makes AQ stronger, as though they are the deadly hydra. Simply not the case. There is a limited number of men and treasure willing to die for AQ, and a HUGE amount has been spent in Iraq. Without question it would have been spent elsewhere, certainly more vulnerable. What would this Al-Hasni have been doing? Al-Zarqawi? Not farming in Syria.

And lets not forget that AQ has dropped significantly in support in the Middle East since the Iraq war began.

The fundamental problem i have with the anti-war, anti-Bush people is that they dont really care about the war so much as NEED to prove that everything we do is disasterous. There have been horrific mistakes, perhaps the war itself was a terrible blunder. But that doesnt, CANT, mean that no good can possibly come of it, or that we shouldnt continue to balance and evaluate what is best for America and teh civilized world.

If Iraq has been a sinkhole for us, imagine what it has done to jihadi, and particularly AQ resouces.
Probably not much. One of the aspects of asymmetric warfare is that one side is investing a lot fewer resources than the other. Has AQ squandered billions of dollars on no-bid contracts turned into Super Bowl tickets? A few dollars of AQ explosives can destroy thousands times that much in rebuilt infrastructure (where we managed to rebuild it at all).

The government itself says is that enrollment in Islamic terrorist groups as a whole, if not Osama bin Laden's particular faction, is up since the invasion of Iraq. The reason we say everything this Administration has done against terror since the Invasion of Iraq is a failure is, in a word, because it is true.

"Probably not much. One of the aspects of asymmetric warfare is that one side is investing a lot fewer resources than the other"

But one side has essentially infinite resources when compared with the other.

This is exactly the problem I have- if you cant/wont quantify this issue how can you automatically assume we are losing that battle? Worse, ignoring its impact on the enemy altogether to the point of assuming they actually come out better than they started.

I understand there is a Vietnam mindset that asymmetrical warfare is this unbeatable force... but the truth is throughout history it has been marginal at best, and often disasterous for the initiator against the stronger power. Decolonialization may be a special case, and it wont due to apply the lesson/mistakes of popular uprisings like Vietnam etc to every situation where a guy has a Kalishnikov and an RPG. Doesnt work like that. These are not popular uprising by fed-up locals or we WOULD be in much worse shape. AQ is an international organization that we soundly thrashed on the closest thing they had to home turf, and now they are forced to come out and play in Iraq. Assuming that must be beneficial to them is a mistake.

Mark - yeah, they are definitely hurting too. And recall that in Vietnam, we actually beat the insurgency; we lost to the North Vietnamese.

A.L.

Mark, what the Islamic terrorists need to continue the fight is enthusiasm and personnel. Their weaponry is cheap, so cheap that 9/11 could be funded out of Osama's pocket. (Although boring old police work is drying up some of their funding, Iraq isn't.) Insurgencies aren't unbeatable, but a strategy that ignores their recruiting abilities is doomed.

Has AQ squandered billions of dollars on no-bid contracts turned into Super Bowl tickets?

I don't know, I haven't seen their books. But we do keep hearing stories of AQ thugs blowing thousands of dollars in strip clubs and brothels; I suspect their fiscal oversight meetings are a lot more lively than ours!

But your comparison is a little wrong. You don't compare absolute dollars spent by AQ vs dollars spent by the Coalition; you compare relative resources to both sides, i.e. dollars spent by AQ vs dollars available to AQ. And given the international financial strictures put in place after 9/11, every dollar they spend in Iraq is harder to replace; even bin Laden doesn't have infinite money, and their "economy" such as it is does not lend itself well to surges in capital, especially since it is largely cash-based.

(FWIW I work for a huge international bank, and I can tell you banking institutions are deadly serious about stopping funding to anyone even remotely connected to terrorism or gun running. If you think certain demographic groups are discriminated against at airport security lines, you should try getting a loan in the Middle East!)

what the Islamic terrorists need to continue the fight is enthusiasm and personnel.

And that is exactly what Mark argues they are losing in Iraq. I would link to their woe-is-me letters that keep getting captured, but that usually just triggers a link to the latest breathless NYT headline claiming we are increasing support for terrorism.

Mark B.,

"Concocting, no. Executing, yes. Execution takes resources. Money, influence, manpower. If Iraq has been a sinkhole for us, imagine what it has done to jihadi, and particularly AQ resouces."

I don't think we have to imagine. A cursory glance around the world over the last 5 years shows continued attacks, including those in Iraq, that is significantly higher than the 5 years preceding the invasion.

"The faulty logic here is imagining that everything we do somehow makes AQ stronger, as though they are the deadly hydra. Simply not the case."

Straw man, Mark. I never said "everything." I said one thing: the US invasion in Iraq. You are making a case against an argument no one is offering.

" There is a limited number of men and treasure willing to die for AQ, and a HUGE amount has been spent in Iraq." Limited perhaps, but the number is not stable. Jihadism is a movement. Iraq is a cause. Why help expand the movement? I believe you are making the mistake of assuming that everyone who joins the movement would have joined regardless of circumstance. It seems unlikely to me that most of those who joined AQI from neighboring countries (i.e., a bus ride away) would have gone to a camp in Afghanistan, then spent 5 years in engineering school in Hamberg, and then onto the US for a 9/11 attack had we not cleverly distracted them away by invading Iraq.

" Without question it would have been spent elsewhere, certainly more vulnerable. What would this Al-Hasni have been doing? Al-Zarqawi? Not farming in Syria." This seems backwards to me. We don't know what they would or wouldn't have done. What we do know is that they grabbed an easy opportunity once it was created for them.

"And lets not forget that AQ has dropped significantly in support in the Middle East since the Iraq war began." I don't know that this is true.

"The fundamental problem i have with the anti-war, anti-Bush people is that they dont really care about the war so much as NEED to prove that everything we do is disasterous. There have been horrific mistakes, perhaps the war itself was a terrible blunder. But that doesnt, CANT, mean that no good can possibly come of it, or that we shouldnt continue to balance and evaluate what is best for America and teh civilized world."

You are engaged here in the same time of thinking that you accuse others of employing. You are making decisions based on your dislike of what you imagine to be the emotional makeup of opponents of the war. If you are actually willing to believe that I am "anti-Bush" or "anti-war" because of some internal need that blinds me to reality and then use that belief of yours to prop up your support of the war, or, as you are doing here, to make an argument in support of the war, then you are just chasing your own tail.

Finally, I have never said that no good can come of the war. What I have said--or what I have meant to say-- is that the invasion of Iraq has significantly damaged and set back the fight against AQ. We may get to the same place in the end, we would have anyway, but many years later and at a much higher cost in lives and dollars. I would also add that this is but one reason among many why I opposed and continue to oppose the US invasion of Iraq.

"I don't think we have to imagine. A cursory glance around the world over the last 5 years shows continued attacks, including those in Iraq, that is significantly higher than the 5 years preceding the invasion."

Cursory indeed. When was the last high profile AQ attack? The last against the West? The last in the US? They graph is clearly pointing downwards.

It doesnt make any sense to point to attacks like Madrid or London... it was too soon into the Iraq operation. Obviously it takes time to devote resources. Turn it around, why hasnt there been another Madrid in the last few years when we know how much money and manpower and attention is being spent in Iraq?

"Why help expand the movement?"

Thats the question, in the big picture has it expanded? Polls show support has dropped significantly in the region. Sometimes you have to spend money to make money?

"I believe you are making the mistake of assuming that everyone who joins the movement would have joined regardless of circumstance."

Perhaps.. but i think you may be making the mistake of thinking just because a guy went to Iraq to shoot at Americans he would have stayed in Saudi Arabia and sold rugs if we hadnt invaded Iraq. There was and is a Jihadi network that has been whipping up and training militants since long before Iraq. Many of them are dead, many of their friends and relations know they died for nothing in a movement bent on senseless killing of innocent fellow muslims. I can't really think of a way we could have peacefully taught that lesson ourselves, sadly.

"It seems unlikely to me that most of those who joined AQI from neighboring countries (i.e., a bus ride away) would have gone to a camp in Afghanistan, then spent 5 years in engineering school in Hamberg, and then onto the US for a 9/11 attack had we not cleverly distracted them away by invading Iraq."

Does a guy really go from peaceably kicking his heels in Demascus to strapping explosives to his body and wading into a crowd? I disagree, Iraq was a pretext, these people were a ticking timebomb, so to speak.

"What I have said--or what I have meant to say-- is that the invasion of Iraq has significantly damaged and set back the fight against AQ."

We obviously had better set some metrics then, if we want to discuss this quantitatively.

Honestly, i do see two schools of though- one that killing off the young angry militantants is equivalent to the ancient law of war in breaking the enemies will to keep fighting. The second school says that every time an enemy dies they get stronger and every time an American dies we get weaker. To me, this is only true in a very limited sense and not in the longterm or big picture.

Mark B.,

One of several problems I have with your general argument is that you take turns excluding attacks in Iraq and excluding attacks outside of Iraq depending upon what particular point you want to make. I am saying that AQ has grown stronger because they are attacking both inside and outside of Iraq, largely because we made it possible for them to do the former IN ADDITION to their continuing to do the latter. If they are blowing up civilians in Iraq and not blowing them up in London, I don't see that as an improvement. If they are attacking US military in Iraq, but not attacking them on the US Cole, I don't see that as an improvement. And the reality is that they continue to do both, directly, by proxy, by inspiration and via copy-cat killers. They have even managed to assassinate world leaders (and nearly assassinate others) of late. I haven't seen any measures that show Islamic terrorism going down world-wide in the last 5 years, and you have to include terrorism IN Iraq in the measurement to determine whether the invasion in Iraq has resulted in an increase or decrease.

"I am saying that AQ has grown stronger because they are attacking both inside and outside of Iraq, largely because we made it possible for them to do the former IN ADDITION to their continuing to do the latter."

Thats an odd argument, as obviously they would have had no incentive to bomb Iraq had we not invaded.

"If they are blowing up civilians in Iraq and not blowing them up in London, I don't see that as an improvement."

Well that's where we differ. NOT because Iraqi lives are less valuable, but because we have soldiers in Iraq to kill the AQ members doing it, and because it has provided an object lesson to fellow Arabs about what AQ is all about in a way that Western attacks would never do. If this fight was in Rome or Baltimore I think AQ approval rating in the ME would be improved instead of dropping like a rock.

"If they are attacking US military in Iraq, but not attacking them on the US Cole, I don't see that as an improvement."

The problem with this is, the US military is in Iraq TO FIGHT AQ (amongst other things). The USS Cole could have been any ship, anywhere. Terrorists win by attacking targets they want to attack, they lose by fighting pitched battles against forces sent to kill them.

"They have even managed to assassinate world leaders (and nearly assassinate others) of late."

Bhutto? Come on, is there the slightest indication Bhutto would be alive today if we werent in Iraq? Or that ANYTHING we do could influence Pakistan in that way (short of making things much worse anyway?) This goes back to the idea that anything that happens or doesnt happen in the world the US is responsible for. Bhutto was suicidal. Had she returned in 2000 she would be just as dead. Thats Pakistans problem, not ours.

"I haven't seen any measures that show Islamic terrorism going down world-wide in the last 5 years, and you have to include terrorism IN Iraq in the measurement to determine whether the invasion in Iraq has resulted in an increase or decrease"

Why do i have to do that? I simply disagree. Look at it this way- terrorist attacks against the West have NO upside. Terrorist attacks in Iraq have turned most of the ME against AQ, particularly Iraq. If Iraq comes out of this stable and democratic, and a blood enemy of jihadis, the blood of those innocents will have some positive outcome. Madrid, London, NYC, and DC have no positive outcome. Just nihilism.

Iraq was due for a blood letting, Hussein wouldnt live forever and the Middle East has simply had too much powder packed in for too long. Sooner or later this was going to happen, the difference is the US is in Iraq to keep things from REALLY getting out of hand, and to kill a bunch of jihadis in the mix. Its all about the longterm. If there must be blood, at least some good should come of it.

UnBeliever,

No, you are the one who has the contradiction - nice try though - I'm not turning around to say conversatives "must" do anything. See, clearly Big Government programs CAN be effective, to varying degrees.

Still, nice avoidance of my point. I'll ask more directly.

If we are going to spend boatloads of money on Big Government projects - it is OBVIOUS that doing so has a much more likely chance of success here, than it does in a country like Iraq. For the reasons listed above.

Agree or disagree? (and really, there is only one right answer here.)

hypocrisyrules, you're still applying playground logic without making your argument correctly. I'm feeling generous today, I'll even write out your syllogism for you:

1) Conservatives are against big government expenditures.
2) OIF is a big government expenditure.
3) Therefore conservatives are against OIF.

Any high school debate team could tear apart the problems with this construct. You basically tried to obscure this bad structure by talking about relative effectiveness of government undertakings. But your lines on effectiveness are both incorrect in their factual assertions, and chock full of bad argumentation:

- You use a notorious failure as an example to argue for the effectiveness of domestic programs.
- You make a post hoc argument using probabilities that are logically impossible to know at the time of decision.
- You ignore the different net effects between defense spending and infrastructure spending, essentially ignoring the need for policy priorities that every nation since the beginning of human history has faced.
- You equate fighting a war with building a road and, without any shred of logic to back up your claims, suggest that "effectiveness" in both can be measured along the same axis.
- You breeze past the question of political impetus as if it was not the driving force in government spending. (i.e., spending is not an assumed function of government, and the justification for extraordinary or emergency funding for military operations does not carry over to the other projects you mentioned if you remove the need for the military operations. In other words, the identity property of mathematics does NOT extend to budget priorities.)

And to top it off, you end with the same false dichotomy that you failed to justify with your previous posts. Just for fun, let's fisk your horribly worded conclusion:

If we are going to spend boatloads of money on Big Government projects

(which we aren't, for the reasons listed above)

it is OBVIOUS

(bald assertion without backing data)

that doing so has a much more likely chance of success here, than it does in a country like Iraq.

If you can't see the logical fallacy in comparing a pitched battle with digging a tunnel, you may want to stick with linking to NYT op eds instead of trying your hand at the game. If you were making an argument that infrastructure projects are more likely to succeed in the US than if we undertook infrastructure projects in Iraq, this might make sense, but your overall argument would still be nonsensical.

For the reasons listed above.

Except that the "reasons" you listed don't support your argument.

Your premise, logic, and conclusions are wrong--the perfect trifecta of bad argument--and you need to do a lot of work before you even approach the coherent argument that wiser heads have made already, but you can't seem to formulate in this thread.

(And since this comment has gone on long enough, I'll leave out my well-earned derision for starting this whole train of thought with a laughable website based around the Manhattan Project fallacy.)

Unbeliever,

Lots of hand-waving, allowing you to NOT answer the question. That's fine, I get it. You want to ask how many angels dance on the head of a pin, go right ahead.

The reality is, Iraq is a bad investment - and we could have done a LOT better things with the GINORMOUS amounts of cash that have been sunk into the sands of Iraq. "the democracy project for the Middle East", as was breathlessly hyped, for years, is a bad investment - in reality - for all of the reasons that I've listed above.

But hey - keep trying to make an obvious observation invalid - good luck with that. Those of us in the reality-based community, will go on, without you.

Mark B: Karzai?

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