Economic indicators of success in Iraq

Some economists have been interpreting economic developments as shedding light on the success of the military surge in Iraq. I think one needs to use a bit of caution in drawing conclusions from such evidence.

Paul Krugman’s analysis generated some interesting discussion at Economist’s View, Daily Kos, and Brian Beutler, among many others. Krugman writes:

To understand what’s really happening in Iraq, follow the oil money, which already knows that the surge has failed….

…. Last month, the provincial government in Kurdistan, defying the central government, passed its own oil law; last week, a Kurdish Web site announced that the provincial government had signed a production-sharing deal with Hunt Oil of Dallas, and that seems to have been the last straw.

Now here’s the thing: Ray L. Hunt, the chief executive and president of Hunt Oil, is a close political ally of Bush. More than that, Hunt is a member of the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board, a key oversight body.

….what’s interesting about this deal is the fact that Hunt, thanks to his policy position, is presumably as well-informed about the actual state of affairs in Iraq as anyone in the business world can be. By putting his money into a deal with the Kurds, despite Baghdad’s disapproval, he’s essentially betting that the Iraqi government– which hasn’t met a single one of the major benchmarks Bush laid out in January– won’t get its act together. Indeed, he’s effectively betting against the survival of Iraq as a nation in any meaningful sense of the term.

The smart money, then, knows that the surge has failed, that the war is lost, and that Iraq is going the way of Yugoslavia. And I suspect that most people in the Bush administration– maybe even Bush himself– know this, too.

Mr. Hunt’s plan is apparently not a distant potential, but something for implementation here and now. Dallas Morning News reports:

Hunt said it would begin its geological survey and seismic work by the end of this year and planned to begin drilling in 2008.

Here’s the question for Professor Krugman– would you invest many millions of your own dollars in a region that you were convinced is slipping irrevocably into chaos and instability? I found the Kurds’ spin on this story (as reported again by Dallas Morning News) a much more natural interpretation than Krugman’s:

“Kurdistan is looking more and more like an island of stability” in Iraq, said Qubad Talabani, the son of Iraq’s president and the representative of the Kurdistan Regional Government to the United States. “This should get the attention of other companies.”

Now, I’ll grant Krugman that the deal does suggest that the future of Iraq may develop along different lines than embodied by the current central government and its oil plan. But that does not mean that the future is necessarily a bleak one for the Iraqi people or U.S. interests.

I have a similar concern about the thoughtful new research paper by MIT Professor Michael Greenstone, which has been favorably described by Freakonomics, Marginal Revolution, and Economist’s View, among others. Greenstone looks at a number of indicators, one of which is the price of the Iraqi government debt. Here’s Greenstone’s description of the background:

Prior to Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990, Iraq issued about $130 billion in debt. After the Gulf war, they defaulted on this debt. When the US led coalition invaded Iraq in 2003, the holders of this debt were spread around the world….
After the end of combat operations in May 2003, the US government brokered a deal to exchange $1000 in the existing bonds for $200 worth of new bonds for those creditors who held at least $35 million in Iraqi bond so that the new Iraqi government would not be hamstrung by this debt. As a result of this debt relief agreement, the Iraqi government issued roughly $2.66 billion in US dollar denominated notes in January 2006.

Greenstone then notes that the interest rate on this debt has increased in recent months. One of his most interesting graphs was the following, which calculates that the implicit probability of default on these bonds has risen from less than a 6% annual risk to more than an 8% annual risk:



The Implied annual default Rate of Iraqi state bonds. Source: Greenstone (2007).
greenstone1.gif



Greenstone described this as a 40% increase in the expected default rate. I suspect that fewer people would be misled if we had instead reported these same numbers as a 2% increase in the probability of default. And while I agree that it is most natural to interpret this as market concern over increased instability, that is far from the only possible explanation. I would think, for example, that exactly the same kind of conditions under which Hunt Oil would profit from its deal with the Kurds would also mean a reduced likelihood of the central government repaying the debt. I could also well imagine that further debt forgiveness could be an integral part of negotiations for what comes next. So while I agree with Krugman and Greenstone that the oil deal and interest rate changes may signal less confidence in the continuation of the current regime in its present form, I do not see the basis for assuming that any changes in that regime necessarily equate with less stability.

Notwithstanding, I can certainly recommend Greenstone’s paper for its careful and thorough analysis, which has a number of interesting results besides the observation on interest rates. For example, Greenstone concludes that the surge has successfully reversed the trend in civilian fatalities:



Daily fatalities of Iraqi civilians from 1 year before the surge began through 153 days after the surge began, with regression lines allowing for a break in trend. Source: Greenstone (2007).
greenstone2.gif



If one were asking the question, as I wish more people were, of which course among the currently feasible options would be in the best interests of the Iraqi people, I think exploration for new oil and a decrease in the number of Iraqis who are being killed would be viewed as unambiguously hopeful developments.



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40 thoughts on “Economic indicators of success in Iraq

  1. Tim Rudderow

    Surge in the implied probability of default should be normalized by same in non-Iraq emerging debt. The implied probability of default in all risky debt has surged over this period. Surge happened to begin near the first event at the end of February.

  2. Anarchus

    As Krugman knows well, Iraqi Kurdistan was functioning very well as a semi-independent state BEFORE the Iraq War started in 2003. The surge may be working, or failing, or it may be too early to know, but the Hunt Oil investment just doesn’t tell you anything about the surge.
    I don’t understand why anyone pays attention to Krugman the commentator – he’s so blinded by BDS (“Bush Derangement Syndrome”) that all of his commentaries are suspect and error prone.

  3. General Specific

    I’ll gladly be corrected but
    You appear to be moving goal posts. The surge was intended to strengthen the central government, with a focus on Baghdad. Krugman says the surge has failed because the central government is failing, as demonstrated by the Kurdish oil agreement. He’s right.
    The new goal post is apparently any type of oil agreement. The Kurdish region was stable before the war. I’m not sure what this agreement proves.
    I didn’t see Krugman, in what you quoted, saying the “future is a bleak one for the Iraqi people or US interests, ” though it is implied. He says Iraq going the way of Yugoslavia. I think he’s right, and that implies that the surge is a failure in terms of its intent..
    Can you consider what Kurdish oil independence means for the relationship between Turkey and Kurdistan, in particular on stability for the region? And what about the increased animosity between Kurds and the US as exhibited by this recent comment (from reuters news):
    “The Americans always try to pretend the responsibility for cleaning up this mess isn’t theirs and tend to shift blame onto Iraq, Iran and Syria for everything that goes wrong,” said veteran Kurdish lawmaker Mahmoud Othman.
    “But they should stop this nonsense and admit that most of the accountability rests on their shoulders,” he told Reuters.
    In addition, consider what the growing number of refugees has on the level of civilian violence as neighborhoods are cleansed. Also consider the omission of “sectarian violence” statistics from civilian causalities. The GAO reports doesn’t show any decrease in violence. Which numbers is Greenstone using?
    Krugman seems to have been more right than wrong on the Bush administration and the fiasco in Iraq. Those sifting through the wreckage to find gems of happiness must realize they are digging themselves out of a deep deep pit that they dug for themselves in their support of this nonsense.
    I’m not a huge believer in the wisdom of crowds so everyone can derive whatever joys they desire from bond prices.

  4. Rich Berger

    Professor-
    Good analysis. The situation in Iraq remains deadly and dangerous, but the signs of progress are unmistakable. The “war is lost” crowd has moved to its first fallback position – political progress not sufficient. I believe this position will eventually be abandoned in time.

  5. Charles

    Ah, correlation/causation.
    The drop in civilian casualties– if it is real, and not an artifact of the measurement– is more likely due to ethnic cleansing. Four million Iraqis have fled their homes, so the number of people left to kill has dropped by ca. 10%.
    But there are also questions about the measurement of civilian casualties. The standard deviation on the pre 2/14 line is enormous. One could, as plausibly, draw other lines.
    More important, in Vietnam, we saw that as metrics were applied, small children and old women started joining the NVA in large numbers, drastically reducing the number of civilian casualties.
    Or, more likely, not. But that’s how they were counted.

  6. Josh Stern

    Can I be the only one who looks at that Greenstone graph posted above and sees that a best fit smooth curve would have fatalities peaking about 60 days before “the surge”?

  7. Rich Berger

    Charles-
    Haven’t you noticed the lack of news of massive car bombings? This had been a staple of MSM reporting, so the lack of news is noteworthy.
    What is the evidence for your claim in the next to last paragraph of your post?

  8. NoFate

    Interesting stuff, but Joe Biden was right over a year ago when he said we should just split the place 3 ways and get out. The idea that a strong democracy can work with 3 different factions that HATE each other is ludicrous.

    Bush will never do this though because it means losing control of the oil. Because of this they invented “the surge.” After 4 years of failure they had to prove they were doing something different …that’s all. The intent was simply to buy more time.

    I think your info on Hunt Oil hits the nail on the head though. Iraq is splitting 3 ways anyway. The central Iraqi government is becoming more irrelevant every day.

  9. Josh Stern

    “Interesting stuff, but Joe Biden was right over a year ago when he said we should just split the place 3 ways and get out. The idea that a strong democracy can work with 3 different factions that HATE each other is ludicrous.”

    Agreed.

    “Bush will never do this though because it means losing control of the oil.”

    How so? Is it because most of the oil is in Shiite regions, so the new Shiite country would more likely support Iran’s oil policies rather than Saudi Arabia’s? Or is the idea that because the U.S. forces were necessary to prop up a central government that it would be beholden to the U.S. in forming its oil policies?

  10. spencer

    The surge has demonstrated that if you have enough troops you can impose stability in the area where you locate the troops. I do not know the validity of the analysis, but I’ve seen studies that show
    that when you consider the combination of extra troops and redeployment the surge increased the number of troops in Baghdad by up to 50%.
    But we knew that all along and that was the major criticism many of us had over the way the war was being fought. It will not be long until those extra troops will be withdrawn.
    Until we see things improve after the extra troops are withdrawn it will be hard to draw the conclusion that our policy is still not anything but whack-a-mole.

  11. Charles

    Rich Berger suggests that a lack of news is an observable.
    The failure of our media to report on death and suffering is proof of nothing. The GAO report completely contradicted Petraeus’s claims to the Senate. From the Washington Post: “While there have been fewer attacks against U.S. forces, it notes, the number of attacks against Iraqi civilians remains unchanged. ” Attacks on US forces are still higher than last year.
    As for the classification of Vietnamese civilians as military to meet the demands of the “body count” metrics, I have two words: My Lai.

  12. NoFate

    Josh – I think we would lose control for both the reasons you state, but more fundamentally it would create a vacuum of power. By being there we maintain leverage over the Iraqis, since we are the most powerful force in the region.

    If we leave, Iran partners with the Shiites and Saudi Arabia (i.e. Bush’s buddies) partner with the Sunni. Most of the oil is in Shiite territory (and Kurdish territory), so it would probably not turn out how Bush would like. He has painted himself into a corner and now has nothing left to do except watch the paint dry.

  13. Mike Laird

    From -100 days to +100 days, the civilian death rate is roughly constant at 75/day. In the last 50 days (or so) the civilian death rate has fallen to about 60 or 65 – an improvement of 10-15 per day for 50 days. This is an economics blog. Was it worth it? What data says the improvement is sustainable? Are these the most important metrics to evaluate? Economically speaking, I’m pretty skeptical.

  14. General Specific

    IraqiBodyCount.org tries to keep track of what is going on. This is the latest from them:
    Sunday 16 September: 64 dead
    Baghdad: American security contractors shoot dead 9 Iraqi civilians, Nisoor Square; car bomb kills 5, Mansour; roadside bombs kill 3, Zayuna, Mamoun, Harthiya; mortars kill 2, near Shaab stadium; gunmen kill members of Municipality of Bayaa and Municipality of Doura; 12 bodies.
    Tuz Khurmato: suicide bomber kills 8 at cafe.
    Muqdadiya: gunmen attack two villages and kill 14, including 3 children.
    Baquba: 6-year-old boy killed by sniper fire.
    Diwaniya: 12-year-old son and elderly father of Mahdi army leader killed during US/Iraqi raid on their house.
    Hilla: bodies of traffic policeman and his 16-year-old son found tortured.
    Saturday 15 September: 38 dead
    Baghdad: car bomb kills 11 outside bakery, Amil; 11 bodies.
    Baquba: 2 bodyguards killed in attack on police chief of intelligence; 2 sheikhs, members of Baquba Salvation Council, assassinated.
    Falluja: hand grenade thrown at police patrol misses its target and kills shop owner.
    Samarra: mortars kill 2 people, one of them a child.
    Khalis: 2 bodies found inside car.
    Karma: 3 bodies.
    Friday 14 September: 25 dead
    Baghdad: 6 bodies found, 3 decapitated.
    Baiji: suicide car bomb attack kills 11, most of them police officers.
    Suwayra: gunmen kill 3 people.
    Balad: 2 bodies.
    Thursday 13 September: 30 dead
    Baghdad: car bomb kills 5, Talbiya; roadside bomb, Zayuna; 11 bodies.
    Ramadi: Sheikh Abdul Sattar Abu Reesha, former anti-US insurgent turned ally of the military in its battle against Al-Qaeda, killed near his home by a roadside bomb, together with his nephew, aid and bodyguards. Abu Reesha had launched the Anbar Awakening Conference, a group of 42 Sunni
    tribes which turned against Al-Qaeda in Iraq.
    Diwaniya: US forces kill gas station owner in his home.
    Mosul: sniper kills policeman; body found.
    Wednesday 12 September: 31 dead
    Baghdad: roadside bomb, Beirut Square; 9 bodies.
    Khanaqeen: 3 policemen killed in clashes with gunmen.
    Baquba: gunmen kill 2 members of displaced family.
    Mosul: 6 policemen killed in ambush.
    Muwailha: 2 bodies.
    Tuesday 11 September: 33 dead
    Baghdad: car bomb, Mansour; US raid kills 3, Sadr City; 12 bodies.
    Qaiyara: gunmen kill 6 policemen at checkpoint.
    Mosul: 4 policemen killed in separate incidents.
    Monday 10 September: 45 dead
    Baghdad: car bomb, Atifiya; mortars, Karkh; young mother and two daughters killed in US/Iraqi raid, Sadr City; 10 bodies.
    Tal Marag: truck bomb kills 10.
    Yusufiya: bombing kills 3.
    Mosul: 3 policemen killed in clashes.
    Samarra: 2 women killed by US fire during raid.
    Tikrit: 2 truck drivers killed by US fire during raid; car mechanic shot dead by US troops near his workplace.
    Mahmudiya: 3 bodies.

  15. General Specific

    JDH: Thanks. I just posted a few of the specifics to point out that there have been quite a few car bombings in just the past few days. Plus other nasty attacks.

  16. Rich Berger

    Thanks for proving my point, general specific. The Iraq Index also seems to indicate that the size of the death toll in car bombings is declining, along with total deaths.
    My Lai does not substantiate your claim, Charles.

  17. General Specific

    Rich: I don’t the data proves much of anything. No point was proved. Except that Iraq is still largely SNAFU from the bird’s eye perspective. I see nothing to indicate otherwise. Some positives. Some negatives. Not much in the way of real progress.

  18. Charles

    Rich Berger, My Lai is NOT an example of civilian deaths being reported as enemy dead?
    Clearly you are unfamiliar with the Vietnam War. From Morley Safer’s unkind review of a book by Douglas Valentine:
    So out into the countryside went teams of accountants and case officers, Vietnamese assassins and their American counterparts, with bags and bags of money, the whole effort tethered to a computer in the United States Embassy in Saigon. And from the embassy came reports again and again that the program was working. Body count became our most important product. The bodies turned out to be just about anyone who got in the way, sometimes even genuine, certifiable ”infrastructures.”
    I could have found a dozen or a hundred citations to support the facts about Vietnam, because facts are facts. They don’t go away just because ideologues wish them away. It is sad, but all too telling that so few Americans know their own history– or, perhaps, don’t want to know it. It is why we are repeating it into Iraq.

  19. Jake Miller

    On an econ note, what happens to our military budget/ needs now that military contractor Blackwater has been ordered out by the Iraqi government after killing civilians? Some of these contracting things have been more expensive than actual military, so I suppose there’s possible savings. But since there’s been almost as many contractors carrying out military missions as much as the U.S. military themsleves in Iraq, does this mean this could be used as an excuse for the “surge” to continue, and continue to be a reason to keep our deficit blown up and and the dollar in the tank?

  20. NoFate

    Interesting dialog going here, so let me add a few more thoughts in an exercise below.

    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

    GDP/person in Iraq is around $2k/year and lets assume the average person has 30 years left to work. We could place the Iraqi’s “economic” value at about $60k (without arguing about NPV, etc). If we save 15 Iraqis a day, this is equivalent to $328.5 million/year.

    The US spends about $120 billion a year fighting this war. I think the surge added 30k troops to 150k, this was an increase in troop strength of 20%, which should roughly equate to the added expense of the surge.

    So, a years worth of surge probably cost about $24 billion and a years worth of the “economic” value of the life it spares is around $330 million. The “economic” value of the life spared is equal to 1.37% of the money spent.

    The value of life is obviously worth more than a stack of paychecks, but we are off here by orders of magnitude. Which ironically tells me economics is not the underlying concern.

    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

    As a final note, the “economic” value of the quarter million lives we took at the beginning of the war is roughly $15 billion using the same process.

  21. Rich Berger

    Professor-
    You should follow this up in about 2-3 months. By that time the trends should be even clearer. General Petraeus has undoubtedly studied Creighton Abrams’ success in Vietnam.

  22. Charles

    Rich Berger says, “General Petraeus has undoubtedly studied Creighton Abrams’ success in Vietnam.”
    Which, of course, is how we won the Vietnam War.

  23. Rich Berger

    I knew someone would take the bait.
    General Abrams did succeed, but was unable to overcome feckless political leadership that was determined to abandon an ally, first by withdrawing troops, and then by slashing funding.
    There are important lessons to be learned from study of the Vietnam war, just not those of the conventional view.

  24. General Specific

    I’m much happier that we left Vietnam, won the cold war in that fashion by getting out of the way, and allowing Vietnam to define it’s own course. It’s sad that we destabilized Cambodia in the process, requiring Vietnam to go in to clean up that mess, but in the end, it worked out better for us not tangling further. Let the neighbors clean up. They know the area better.
    Here’s what sad about this whole debate. After the first gulf war, the US demonstrated its ability to push an enemy out of foreign territory. America was standing tall. With Afghanistan, we demonstrated the ability to deal with a group that had harassed the soviets for years. Again, we were standing tall.
    There was no reason to go into Iraq. None. The arguments for WMD were hollow and empty to anyone paying attention. Sadly, most weren’t. The inspectors were finally back in the country–as they should have been–and their work should have continued.
    Unfortunately, the idiots in power wanted to gamble, and they’ve lost. Big time.
    There are two issues to consider in any problem: (1) Accountability for the present situation and (2) the path forward. The path forward must be defined based upon current conditions but accountability is required, both in terms of the past, and in terms of the decisions made on the path forward.
    Unfortunately, there is a cheering crowd that has gathered up around the Bush administration that (a) either has no interest in accountability or (b) argues that history is responsible for it, we are where we are, let’s move forward.
    That is wrong. Accountability in a program includes (a) defining the path forward without laying too much blame and (b) soon after cutting off the heads of those who failed up to that point so those now defining the path forward know there is a cost if they fail: their heads.
    But this is not happening in a segment of the population. The cheer leaders, as we see in comments here, are unable to the responsible parties accountable for the failures in Iraq–and the entire project is a failure.
    Fortunately, it looks like the American people are going to hold them accountable, and the GOP is going to pay a deep price in the process. All the libertarian economic plans (some of which made a lot of sense, others nonsense) that attached themselves to the GOP are going to pay the price of cheering on incompetence.
    People often go back and forth in these economic blogs between the private and public sector, the market or the state. But the real path towards efficiency and effectiveness is accountability–and that is available in sound government as well in the market. Unfortunately, the current gaggle of people who are running the asylum (Bush and friends) have no interest in accountability, and they are damaging the public sector and possibly the private sector because of it.
    Spoiled brats if you ask me. Accountability is the answer. Heads should roll. Not mindless cheerleading. And not mining and filtering of noisy questionable data. When you filter noise, all you learn is the nature of the filter, which is biased.
    The big picture is that Iraq was a fiasco from the get go and those responsible for it should be impeached and jailed.

  25. ilsm

    The US lost the war in Vietnam in 1963.
    The remaining 10 years was quagmire, mendacity, blither and phoney metrics like Petraeus’
    Yes, the US ‘won’ every battle, but that was irrelevant as the political factions in Vietnam were all for the Vietnamese nationalism.
    The sole metric is whether the central government needs th occupiers in the first place.
    The Iraqi puppets do, we lose and the sooner we get off the quagmire drain the better off all will be.
    Except for the unemployment in the war machine support wasteland the US will be better off.
    Glad you bring up the fictitious revision of Vietnam War history, based on the same ideology as this quagmire.

  26. Charles

    It’s amazing, isn’t it, ilsm. None so blind as those who will not see.
    Abrams took over command in Vietnam on June 10, 1968 and served most of his tour as commander under Nixon. The US was finally routed from Vietnam on April 30th, 1975. Even taking the conservative National Review for the timeline of the supposed dolchstosselegende, congressional action to force a drawdown did not occur until after January 1973.
    So, even according to the conservative mythology, Creighton Abrams had 4 1/2 years– longer than the US engagement in World War II– of free action, on top of years of war under Lyndon Johnson, and in addition to the grace period from 1973- collapse that the North Vietnamese agreed to, and failed to get South Vietnam to the point where it could defend its own territory.
    Meanwhile, the US military was suffering severe drug addiction, PTSD, and breakdown of unit discipline, which took a decade to reverse. The US economy, hit by the inflation that always accompanies wars, plus the oil shock, was suffering a manufacturing decline that would place the Japanese in the technological lead for many years to come.
    If this is how nations win wars, they would do better to surrender at the outset.
    How sad that so few Americans know history.

  27. NoFate

    The irony about the Viet Nam War is that we were attempting to defeat communism by military means. This would indicate that those responsible for the war didn’t believe capitalism could defeat it on it’s own merits. It would have been much cheaper and easier to let them rot from the inside like the USSR and N. Korea.

  28. ilsm

    Charles,
    I was a young Air Force officer in 1972.
    The main effects, I saw, of the Vietnam war ending were a decrease in military spending.
    I served near a large Army base. I knew a number of Army junior officers, they had a great club.
    The Army was as you noted a hollow shell replete with all kinds of morale and discipline issues.
    The cost of Vietnam, and how it was financed was paid for many years. Certainly inflation.
    This quagmire is similarly wasteful and wrongfully financed.
    There are a lot of us who remember.
    An acquaintance who served two tours in Vietnam gave me a copy of Rumors of a Distant War.
    He was particularly put off in his second tour where he was advising a higher level Vietnamese.
    The war was lost politically. Our “guys” were enemy to their own people.
    Such is the case in Iraq, we are propping up the most despised people in Iraq.
    Cannot win there!
    But we can let them blither on about metrics, while we lose all those kids and money.

  29. General Specific

    “This would indicate that those responsible for the war didn’t believe capitalism could defeat it on it’s own merits. It would have been much cheaper and easier to let them rot from the inside like the USSR and N. Korea.”
    Exactly. Excellent point. In fact, I think we could have done much less in terms of our activities around the world and the Soviet Union still would have rotted. What was the purpose of our activities in Chile? Iran? Nicaragua? I’m not sure what we gained from that? And what are we gaining from the embargo on Cuba? Nothing as far as I can tell. If the Cuban’s don’t like Castro, let them throw him out. But let’s trade with them. We trade with China. It just doesn’t make sense.

  30. Charles

    ilsm says, “There are a lot of us who remember [how the Vietnam War ended.]”
    And thank God for that, ilsm. Your memory is vitally important at this time, as we start to repeat the mistakes of the Vietnam era.
    In terms of this thread and the issue of whether civilian deaths are declining, I think we have to look back at the Vietnam era and the shifting body count “metrics” that were used then and, apparently, are being used now.
    ilsm adds, “The war was lost politically. Our “guys” were enemy to their own people.”
    Many World War II vets were very cruel to the Viet vets, who they– unfairly–regarded as “losers.” Among the Viet vets peers, though, there was a lot of sympathy. Everyone understood that, but for a lucky draw of the draft lottery, it could be them. And even though there has been a lot said about vets being accused of having done wrongful things in Vietnam, most people I think understood that the vets weren’t at fault for how the war was run. John Kerry has been completely trashed by the right for telling the Congress that any war crimes that had been committed were the fault of the commanders.
    Any misdeeds were not the fault of the men who were sent in, not speaking the language, not understanding the complex nature of the conflict, just trying to stay alive and intact in the face of tough odds.
    Something that people who were in the thick of it didn’t clearly understand at the time was that as the war ended, unemployment went up and opportunity evaporated. That always brings out the worst between people, fighting over a shrinking slice of the pie. Vets were in the worst position to enter the work force, being older, often having foregone college education, not having civilian skills, and, for some, suffering from PTSD and drug problems. That’s really where vets were disrespected, in not being offered a fair opportunity to re-enter the workforce.
    Anyway, thanks for speaking up. We have a lot of people who don’t remember, perhaps who don’t want to understand what happened in Vietnam.
    Finally, thank you for serving this nation through military service. The people who talk about how we’re winning in Iraq should leave off posting and sign up.

  31. A Second Hand Conjecture

    Still Crunching the data on the surge

    Economist Michael Greenstone has done an admirable, even handed and statistically rigorous analysis of available data on the trends in Iraq since the beginning of the surge. His most important conclusions:
    Civilian casualties have declined. The decli…

  32. Buzzcut

    It would have been much cheaper and easier to let them rot from the inside like the USSR and N. Korea.
    Hindsight is 20-20. In ’80, when Reagan was elected, NO ONE thought the Soviets would be gone by the end of the decade.
    It’s all well and good to talk now of “internal rot”, but you have information that no one had in 1963, other than some very high level Politboro people.
    Oh, and North Korea is still with us. They still have a nuke. They’re still lobbing missles over Japan every once in a while. They show no signs of collapse, despite starving masses.
    Sadaam is gone. Don’t forget that. The guy that started two wars in 10 years is gone.

  33. Anonymous

    Buzzcut says, “In ’80, when Reagan was elected, NO ONE thought the Soviets would be gone by the end of the decade.”
    This is because back in the 1970s, CIA Director George Bush and Team B created a completely false impression of the state of things in the USSR. It’s almost a perfect foreshadowing of how they ^%$ed up the intelligence on Iraq:
    Rumsfeld and Cheney wanted to create a “Team B,” which would have access to the CIA’s data on the Soviets and issue its own conclusions. Cheney, as White House chief of staff, and Rumsfeld, as secretary of Defense, championed Team B, whose members included the young defense strategist Paul Wolfowitz, who a quarter-century later would be one of the chief architects of the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
    CIA Director William Colby rejected the Team B idea and was fired. Colby’s successor as head of the spy agency, George H.W. Bush, the current president’s father, accepted it.
    Team B’s conclusion that the CIA was indeed soft on the Soviets was leaked to sympathetic journalists and generated public support for a new round of military spending, particularly on missiles. Team B’s conclusions turned out, years later, to be false.
    “In retrospect, and with the Team B report and records now largely declassified, it is possible to see that virtually all of Team B’s criticisms … proved to be wrong,” Raymond Garthoff, a former U.S. ambassador to Bulgaria, wrote in a paper for the CIA’s Center for the Study of Intelligence three years ago. “On several important specific points it wrongly criticized and ‘corrected’ the official estimates, always in the direction of enlarging the impression of danger and threat.”

    See? All you have to do is fake the intelligence, then when your lies and incompetence are exposed say, “Everyone was wrong.”

  34. General Specific

    Hindsight and 20/20: Unfortunately, ideological blinders often prevent people from seeing the truth. Hysteria in the US throughout the 1950s and 1960s created an environment in which it was both politically expedient and financially beneficial (read military industrial complex) to filter all data coming from the soviet union through the perspective that they were more powerful than the case may have been. They were a threat, but our response to them–excessive at times–escalated the possibility of confrontation and prevented us from seeing the truth.
    Leftists at one time ignored the gulags. Rightists ignored the rot. Both were wrong.
    True. North Korea is around. And they could possibly attempt to use a nuke. They must be contained. And it must be clear to them that use of a nuke would result in total obliteration of their country. I think, by and large, they will understand. As will Iran.
    We supported Saddam up to his invasion of Kuwait. We supported his war against Iran because we hated Iran because they stormed our embassy because they hated us because we overthrew their democratically elected leader because he was a socialist–amongst other things.
    In 2003, Saddam was contained. Iraq was a problem: Sanctions created misery and ill-feelings, and Saddam was an annoyance. But at the time of gulf war II, Saddam was mainly Iraq’s problem, not ours.
    The best evidence in 2003 showed that Saddam was a mafia leader of Baghdad with no WMD. Inspectors were back.
    To say America has made mistakes or could have done better is not blame America. It’s called continuous process improvement. It’s a great idea, and more people should try it.

  35. Joo Carlos

    I am a biologist, not an economist. My popperian advice:
    “look the emigration rate, not the death rate”
    That is a better measure of sucess… or complete failure.

  36. Belligerati

    Is the surge working?

    In Economic indicators of success in Iraq, James Hamilton of Econobrowser reviews the economic and statistical evidence to determine if the surge is working. His conclusion is that evidence is that while the government may be more likely to fall…

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