February 15, 2002



Interesting piece, this.

Posted by BruceR at 09:13 PM

SHUT UP, SCOTT I'm trying


I'm trying to remember the last time Slate military columnist Scott Shuger had anything intelligent to say. It's certainly been awhile. Recently, Dahlia Lithwick, of all people, has been mopping the floor with him in a running debate about the PoWs. Even if you take Shuger's side that the American policy towards Afghan prisoners is justified, you had to be embarrassed by his ineptness in defending it. Before that, of course, was his inaccurate and slanderous attack on the Air Force pilots who didn't shoot down jetliners on Sept. 11.

Shuger's latest piece is also an embarrassment, in which he declares that only a major international commission chaired by George McGovern (!) can ever settle the question of how many thousands of civilians died in Afghanistan. Yes, that vexing question. Because there's been all those different numbers thrown around, you see? Except there hasn't. Let's take a look again at the estimates made thus far, of civilian fatalities due to bombing.

Associated Press (based on fatalities reported at major Afghan hospitals): 600+
Project for Defense Alternatives (based on extrapolated results from reliable first-hand accounts): 1,000-1,300
Reuters (rough estimate): c. 1,000
Human Rights Watch U.S. (rough estimate): c. 1,000

Now where is the disagreement again? If a conservative-assumptions method comes up with above 600 fatalities, and a liberal-assumptions method comes up with under 1,300, and two other expert assessments corroborate the general range, any idiot's metanalysis will tell you the number's going to be a couple hundred either side of, say, 950, 19 times out of 20. Unless you want to make up a list of their names to display at the next Superbowl, that's pretty good data already. What is it, exactly, that an expensive government commission could add to the determination that hasn't already been done? Nothing. Zip. Nada. There's always going to be a higher degree of uncertainty on this number than at the WTC, because of the breadth of attacks in time and geography, and the lower census standards of post-occupation Afghanistan.

Of course, there's the ludicrous Herold overestimate, but no one who's bothered to read his "evidence" and ever took an undergraduate course should have seen through that in a minute. For this we need to commence the thawing of George McGovern?

And Shuger shows once again he doesn't know what he's talking about, stating, "And good luck trying to find out how many civilians died in the Gulf War." Actually, if he's talking unintentional deaths due to bombing, both the Iraqi government and the Washington Post accept a number of c. 3,200, while Human Rights Watch and the Defense Intelligence Agency use a lower number of 2,500-3,000 (admittedly with a rather low degree of confidence). That's a pretty small range, don't you think? Does any argument one might wish to enter into around the Iraq bombing hinge on that differential? What point will be won or lost, what aspect of American strategy will be reconsidered if the number of Afghan fatalities turns out to be c. 900, or around 1,100? Better to spend all that money a commission would spend on improving the lives of the surviving Afghans, or punishing their killers and oppressors, rather than just recounting the dead AGAIN. There is no new information worth gathering.

Now Gregg Easterbrook, he knows the military. Now that he's not doing that TMQ stuff any more for Slate (more's the pity... how about a special Olympic edition, Gregg?), he should send "naval intelligence" Shuger to the Microsoft showers.

Posted by BruceR at 05:52 PM



The New Republic announces today that the new director of the Pentagon's Information Awareness Office is... John Poindexter? Aww, come on... the man said "I do not recall" a documented 184 times during the Iran-Contra hearings. 184 times. He was proven in nationally televised hearings to be either hopelessly duplicitous, or too dumb to live. My stapler is more "informationally aware" than he is.

Posted by BruceR at 12:30 PM