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How Bad Is Iraq?

The conventional wisdom is that Iraq is a quagmire at best and a disaster at worst. The claim that we have already lost the war is commonly made these days, and I think it’s safe to say that most Democrats, and many other Americans, believe that we should get out of Iraq as soon as possible because our effort there has been a failure. Polls show that most Americans now believe that the Iraq war was not worth the cost, largely, no doubt, because of news reports suggesting that both we and the Iraqis are incurring extraordinarily high numbers of casualties.

Gateway Pundit has pulled together data from a number of sources that suggest that the conventional view is far too pessimistic–indeed, that most Americans’ view of Iraq is so distorted as to be unrecognizable. Among other things, Jim notes that the violent death rate in Iraq is lower than that in a number of American cities, including Washington, D.C. And, while the terrorists have killed far too many innocent Iraqis, civilian deaths in Iraq from 2003 to the present are only one-sixth the civilian deaths in Iraq during the period from 1988 to 1991. (So much for being “better off under Saddam.”)

I would add a few more facts. I think that Americans’ weariness with Iraq is driven primarily by near-daily news reports of American soldiers and Marines being killed and wounded there. Of course, we mourn every death of an American serviceman or woman. But those losses need to be put in some kind of context; otherwise, since fighting any war inevitably involves casualties, military action of any kind is impossible.

A total of 2,471 servicemembers have died in Iraq from 2003 to the present, a period of a little over three years. That total is almost exactly one third of the number of military personnel who died on active duty from 1980 to 1982, a comparable time period when no wars were being fought. Until very recently, our armed forces lost servicemen at a greater rate than we have experienced in Iraq, due solely to accidental death.

Do you recall that during the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s there was any suggestion, from anyone, that our military policies were somehow disastrous due to fatalities among our servicemen–fatalities that nearly always exceeded those we are now experiencing in Iraq? No, neither do I.

So, is Iraq a disaster? There is little or no objective evidence to support that claim, but any claim, made often enough, will gain acceptance if the basic data that contradict it are never mentioned.

UPDATE: James Taranto tweaked the numbers comparing civilian death rates in Iraq with various American cities here. He makes some good points that warrant revisions in the numbers–which are, of course, imperfect in any case–but those revisions don’t change the conclusion, as pointed out, originally, by Congressman Steve King, that the civilian violent death rate is higher in some American cities than in Iraq.

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