Saturday, April 22, 2006

Last Throe Update

One of the things that's problematic about quantifying the clusterfuck that is Chimpco foreign policy is finding relevant metrics that either haven't been done to death (because apparently people are bored with the fact that we're spending north of $2 billion per week in Iraq now), or approach the situation from a heretofore uncharted angle.

Two unpleasant metrics happened to crop up on the same day in the SF Chronicle. The first refers to the sharp increase in terror attacks, the bulk of which naturally are occurring in the newly liberated and democratic free state of Iraq:

Terror attacks and kidnappings worldwide exceeded 10,000 for the first time last year, propelled in part by a surge in Iraq, according to government figures to be released soon.

Officials cautioned against reading too much into the overall total. The government last year adopted a new definition of terrorism and changed its system of counting global attacks, devoting more energy to finding reports of violence against civilians.

I suppose that "reading too much" into the numbers, like most other things in life, depends on perspective. Where one stands depends on where one sits, and so forth. This is not exactly a secret. So perhaps "officials" may wish to consider that the outmoded definitions were undercounting the level of attacks. Either way, it doesn't alter the fact that yes, the drastic jump in the numbers can be fairly attributed to the redefining of the terms. Still, that doesn't mitigate the observable facts about the war on terror thus far.

In 2004, the National Counterterrorism Center, the government's new hub for monitoring terrorism, counted 3,192 terror attacks — including more than 28,000 people wounded, killed or kidnapped.

The 2005 tally will exceed 10,000 attacks and kidnappings, according to a federal official familiar with the center's work on the subject. The official spoke Friday on condition of anonymity because the numbers had not yet been officially released.

Terrorist violence in Iraq is up in every category in 2005, including armed attacks and kidnappings. The official said Iraq will represent more than 50 percent of the total increase in terrorist incidents. The year before, the center said there were 866 terror attacks against civilians and other noncombatants there.

That's a pretty tall jump, obviously, so again we may consider it fair to attribute some percentage of the increase to redefinition. But that depends in part in the specifics of that redefinition.

Federal officials attributed the increase in the tally to three factors:

_ The increase in terror incidents in Iraq as the insurgency tried to disrupt elections and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and other Sunni Muslim fighters attacked Iraqi Shiites.

_ More resources devoted to finding attacks documented by non-governmental organizations, the news media, Web sites and other sources.

In 2004, about 10 people at the counterterrorism center spent two months tallying the attacks. Last year, about 15 people spent roughly nine months on the work. That meant the center's analysts were able to do a more robust job of counting thousands of people kidnapped in Nepal, for instance.

_ A new, broader definition of terrorism adopted last year, before the release of the 2004 numbers, included all "premeditated violence directed against noncombatants for political purposes."

The previous definition focused on international terrorism and required that the terrorists victimize at least one citizen of another country. This definition would exclude from the count much of the sectarian violence in Iraq. Also, only attacks resulting in more than $10,000 damage or serious injuries were counted.

The counterterrorism center's Web site and various government officials have stressed that counting attacks is more art than science. For instance, on the morning of Aug. 17, 2005, there were 350 small bomb attacks in Bangladesh. The counterterrorism center considers that one attack.

There's a lot there that is, to say the least, either somewhat counterintuitive and/or fairly disingenuous. For example, that terrorism had been defined by its internationalism and by racking up damage costs. Where does that leave, say, the massacre at El Mozote of Salvadoran villagers by Salvadoran military? It was countrymen murdering countrymen, and one could reasonably stipulate that the material damage of huts and subsistence tools likely totaled less than $10K. So what? It was political in nature. It was terrorism, pure and simple. Too often in the past, terrorism had been downplayed when it came to the numbers game. Curiously, one might find some coincidences between such fudging of numbers, and the preponderance of brutal authoritarian states that terrorized their own people, often with U.S. complicity, or at least knowledge and tacit approval.

And 350 small bomb attacks in Bangladesh being counted as one. This seems incredibly odd, whether it's because all 350 attacks were committed by the same organization, or maybe there were no casualties or damage, which suggests that there's much more to that story. Either way, when the definitions have been problematic in the first place, then the numbers are artificially skewed, and analysis is bound to be off the mark. And analysis is what drives the bureaucracies that plan these things to crunch their numbers, their budgets, their strategies. So maybe what they've had all along is a GIGO problem.

An even grimmer statistic involves the increase in the rate of military suicides over the past few years.

The number of U.S. Army soldiers who took their own lives increased last year to the highest total since 1993, despite a growing effort by the Army to detect and prevent suicides.

In 2005, a total of 83 soldiers committed suicide, compared with 67 in 2004, and 60 in 2003 — the year U.S.-led forces invaded Iraq. Four other deaths in 2005 are being investigated as possible suicides but have not yet been confirmed. The totals include active duty Army soldiers and deployed National Guard and Reserve troops.


Of the confirmed suicides last year, 25 were soldiers deployed to the Iraq and Afghanistan wars — which amounts to 40 percent of the 64 suicides by Army soldiers in Iraq since the conflict began in March 2003.

The suicide rate for the Army has fluctuated over the past 25 years, from a high of 15.8 per 100,000 in 1985 to a low of 9.1 per 100,000 in 2001. Last year it was nearly 13 per 100,000.

The Army recorded 90 suicides in 1993, with a suicide rate of 14.2 per 100,000.

The Army rate is higher than the civilian suicide rate for 2003, which was 10.8 per 100,000, according to the National Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But the Army number tracked closely with the rate for civilians aged 18-34, which was 12.19 per 100,000 in 2003.

Well, we've already seen how much the government cares about preserving -- or hell, increasing -- veterans' benefits, and maybe even stepping in to help their families get by while they're deployed in this mess. One assumes that the majority of suicides are a result of either post-traumatic stress, financial implosion, or family disintegration, and it seems like there's an opportunity to step in and help alleviate any or all of those three, if the political will existed to do so.

Tax cuts, schmax cuts -- this is beyond whether or not one is for or against the war itself. This is about whether one truly supports the troops, enough to armor them and their vehicles sufficiently, enough to help their families out while the breadwinner is stuck overseas, enough to help the soldiers out when they get back home, which includes any job re-training and any PTSD help they may need. If the goddamned CEO from Exxon can walk away with half a billion dollars, then we can all fucking well step in and do what it takes to help soldiers and their families cope with the immense stress that they have been forced to deal with.

"These numbers should be a wake-up call on the mental health impact of this war," said Paul Rieckhoff, executive director of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. "One in three soldiers will come back with post traumatic stress disorder or comparable mental health issues, or depression and severe anxiety."

Rieckhoff, who was a platoon leader in Iraq, said solders there face increased stress because they are often deployed to the warfront several times, they are fighting urban combat and their enemy blends in with the population, making it more difficult to tell friend from foe.

"You don't get much time to rest and with the increased insurgency, your chances of getting killed or wounded are growing," he said. "The Army is trying harder, but they've got an incredibly long way to go."

It's nice that they're deploying more psychiatrists to the front to help out, but it's just the tip of the iceberg, in terms of what needs to be done to help, and does nothing in terms of accountability. When an Army reservist who's been schlepped over there for his third tour finally decides he's had enough, because his family's broke, his wife's leaving him, and he's seen too much awful shit over there, that's ultimately on the people at the top who failed to plan effectively for contingencies that they had been repeatedly warned about. There was no reason for any of this to happen, except that Bush and Cheney got the war they were itching for, and Donald Rumsfeld thinks he's never wrong about anything, or at least doesn't give enough of a shit to make it right.

I don't even have any snark, any smartass comments on this subject. It's just too depressing to contemplate, and it's a fucking shame that the people who are most culpable in this, the people who initiated all these problems because they thought they were smarter than everyone else, will never be held nearly as accountable for their sins as they damned well oughta be.


Ron said...

But, Hammer, Victor Davis Hanson says you're just ignoring positive trends that may be a result of our moderate presence!

I got his trend right here.

Craig Heath said...

I second Ron - what about that huge and beautiful embassy we're building? Huh? That is going to make a big difference in bringing democracy and freedom to Iraq.

What are you, a terrorist?

Ron said...

Why does Hammer of The Blogs hate America?