Friday, October 29, 2004

Pick a number, any number

The Lancet stepped in with its bid for "October Surprise" in the US elections with a study that breathlessly announces that "100000 excess deaths, or more have happened since the 2003 invasion of Iraq" and "most individuals reportedly killed by coalition forces were women and children". Damning claims, if true. But is it?

The original study is available here and here. Major newspapers are already running stories based on it, for example the Washington Post.

A quick summary of the data:

The sample is of ~7500 residents in 33 clusters of 30 households in 11 out of the 18 provinces. There are 21 recorded violent deaths over the 18 months after the invasion: 4 children, 13 men, 2 women, and 2 elderly people. Of these, 9 are due to the coalition military, 7 are criminal murders, 2 terrorist attacks, 2 unknown and 1 by the former regime. Of the deaths due to the coalition military, 2 were known accidents. In this summary the data from Falluja are excluded for reasons which are described in the study itself.

Analysis:

The sex ratio suggests that the excess men and possibly some of the under-15 children were combatants. The study makes no effort to count the number of combatants. The mortality for men would be higher in any case because they travel more and engage in more dangerous activities. If the risk from all non-combat-related causes is assumed to be twice higher for males (comparable to the ratio of accident-related deaths between males and females), out of the 21 violent deaths in this study, approximately 6 were combatant men and 1 was a combatant child under 15. This would put the countrywide total of combatants killed at 25,000 - not an unreasonable number, considering the number of military personnel killed during the invasion itself has been estimated to be 9,000 (PDA) and that number would be included in this study. Under these assumptions, the number of noncombatants killed by the coalition military in this sample would be 1 or 2, in other words too small to be meaningfully measured (but note that the study mentions two known accidental deaths caused by coalition military). The corresponding number of noncombatants killed countrywide would be under six thousand. If the gender risk ratio estimate above is correct, 80% of those killed by the coalition military are combatant men.

As measured by this study, the criminal murder rate is 60 per 100,000 per year, which is in the same ballpark as other estimates (like this, or this). That should be compared to 40 per 100,000 in Washington, DC and 80 in Compton, Los Angeles. The combatant death rate is the same as the murder rate, 60 per 100,000 per year.

Each death recorded in the study is a proxy for roughly 3500 deaths countrywide. Since the numbers we are trying to measure are on the same order of magnitude, it is obvious that the sample is too small. A decent sample size would be five to ten times larger.

Violent deaths were recorded in only 15 out of the 33 clusters. That means that as seen by this study, the violent death rate in most of the country (containing a population of 15 million) is effectively zero. Of course, it is impossible to know which half, since the study does not give us the geographic distribution of violent deaths by governorate. It is possible that they are concentrated in only a couple of governorates (perhaps Baghdad and two or three others?).

The geographic distribution of the data in general is very suspect. A full geographical breakdown by cause and province is not provided, only overall mortality (all causes) by province. Some of the more peaceful provinces (Irbil, Basra, Al Muthanna) were not sampled at all. Some of the provinces which saw heavy fighting show no change in the mortality rate (Ninawa, Karbala) while other provinces which saw little fighting show large increases (Wasit, Missan). This discrepancy casts doubt on the reliability of the sampling technique. One province (Al Sulaymaniya) shows a 3-fold drop. It is impossible to know what the extent of the sampling bias was without knowing which communities were sampled, and comparing them to known areas of heavy fighting.

Conclusion:

Based on the data in the study, we can reasonably estimate (in other words guess) that 23000 +- 9000 combatants and 7000 +- 9000 non-combatant civilians were killed by coalition military forces. This is comparable to other estimates, within the large margin of error.

Crime is obviously a huge problem in Iraq, but criminals and insurgents in many cases work together (for example here and here), and of course insurgents help criminals by specifically targetting police and creating an environment in which law enforcement is impossible.

What about those claims of "mostly women and children"? Excluding the data from Falluja (which is suspect, a subject on which I'll write more in a bit), the truth is the exact opposite: most of those killed (and almost all of those killed by coalition forces) are men of fighting age.

What about the 100,000 overall deaths number? Let's quote the study itself...

"The crude mortality rate [pre-war] was 5.0 per 1000 people per year (95% CI [confidence interval] 3.7-6.3) ... the post-attack mortality is 7.9 per 1000 people per year (95% CI [confidence interval] 5.6-10.2)" and "the risk of death is 1.5-fold (1.1 [to] 2.3) higher after the invasion".

In other words, anywhere between a 10% and 130% increase. This is a damned large margin of error. The headline claim of 100,000 would have you believe that mortality doubled in the entire country. The study certainly proves no such thing.

Next: Why did this study get released right now? Are the Falluja data reliable? Is this scientific research or a psy-op? What are the political goals of the people behind the study - in their own words?


UPDATE: Readers have pointed out a statistical error in the next-to-last paragraph which I have now corrected. A rushed response to a rushed study... let this be a lesson to anyone else who rushes into publication with little or no peer review.

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

(Simple) Reasons To Be Against Iraq (Or Not)

As far as I can tell, there are two kinds of people opposed to what we're doing in Iraq: those who think we're doing the wrong thing, and those who think it was none of our business.

The "wrong thing" bunch are mostly on the left, and usually don't have a clue about what is really happening on the ground. They would watch gasp Al-Jazeera or cough the BBC, and believe it completely. They typically talk about imperialism, exploitation of natural resources (you know: oil) and other quaint retro-Marxist ideas. A slight variant of that view is that we're the wrong people, therefore we're doing the wrong thing by definition, and no evidence is necessary.

However, there is lots of evidence - mostly in favor. Any sane appraisal of the situation would indicate that there is nothing we could have done that would be a step down from Saddam, that things are far better now than before, even though we are fighting jihadis sent to the country by their masters from abroad, and that although we are hardly loved, there is considerable popular support for our project which is rapidly becoming a joint Iraqi-American project.

And the oil? We could have just bought it from Saddam, far more cheaply than going to war for it. We are buying it now, at market value. And the Iraqi people are getting the money, for the first time ever. Wow.

The "none of our business" bunch are mostly on the right (their flag-bearer is probably Pat Buchanan), and while I respect their views, I fear they have not thought through the implications. Everyone deserves to be free, helping them to be free is the only decent thing to do, and some of the proudest moments in our history were when we were doing just that. See below for the detailed version. The long term consequences of this view would be disastrous.

Are there good reasons to be opposed to what we're doing? Sure: for example, you might think it was bad strategy, or that it was poorly executed, or that we should have done something else using the same resources. "There weren't any WMDs" presumably falls within this category. But that is a rare criticism to hear by itself: almost always it is a by-the-way to one of the other criticisms above. As in, "We are evil imperialist occupiers who kill women and children in order to steal their oil... and-by-the-way-there-weren't-any-WMDs". Ah. I guess that explains it.

The Libertarian Case for Bush

I wrote this as a reply to Stuart Benjamin's Limited Government and Bush vs. Kerry. I am one of the limited-government libertarians disenchanted with Bush's big-government record that he describes. However, I think Bush is the better candidate, for two reasons - one simple and the other not so.

The simple reason: we are at war, a vastly bigger one than Iraq or Afghanistan. It is not much of an exaggeration to call it World War 3. The theater of operations actually spans most of North Africa, the Middle East, Central and Southeast Asia (and at a lower level of intensity, most of Europe). The enemy camp is a broad movement of people who believe in fundamentalist-Islam-as-politics (call if Islamism, Salafism, Wahhabism or whatever else you will). In most of those places the war is covert, political and/or fought mainly by local allies, nonetheless all of these places are under attack by the enemy camp and in all of those places we and our allies are fighting back, tooth and nail. In the US, there are some conservatives/libertarians - even ones who realize the scope of the conflict - who seem to think that we can simply withdraw from it all and set up a line of defense at our own borders. That would be a terrible decision since it will abandon our allies to probable defeat, and leave the population of those areas, a billion people, under an insane religious dictatorship which the majority of them abhor (imagine the Taliban times fifty, and much better armed). That is not a morally tenable course of action. Moreover, it will not work in the long run, since after the enemy consolidates, perhaps a decade or two later, they will attack us here at home, from a position vastly stronger than now. The war must be won decisively and quickly. Any other course is unacceptable, and any other considerations take second place.

The not-so-simple reason: if one is in favor of limited government, why limited government only here? Surely toppling a dictatorship anywhere is a worthwhile goal? Yes, it takes some serious government muscle to do that - call it fighting fire with fire - but unfortunately it works. We have a dozen or more historical examples of democracies that only exist today because of our big government flexing its big bad military muscle abroad. I am not entirely comfortable with that, and it is something that should be done very carefully lest we lose our way in the process. However, I personally cannot think of any other way to secure the inalienable rights of people around the world (and heck, even give them a limited government - certainly a lot more limited than a dictatorship). A genocidal hell-hole of a country like Rwanda - or Iraq - requires someone who can respond with an aircraft carrier or five and a few good men, and like it or not, that is us. It's the only decent thing to do. A utilitarian might even say that this is a good trade-off, since their government gets much smaller, while ours gets slightly bigger. Gunboat diplomacy? Hell yes. Just ask the Japanese.

So there you have it: this is how a small-government libertarian becomes a committed hawk as well. One, for survival, and two, because everyone deserves to be free. Paradox? Not really.

Where do the two candidates fit in? If elected, I believe Bush will pursue an aggressive policy of politico-economic-military pressure on our enemies anywhere (the governments of Iran, Syria, Lebanon, Bangladesh, and Islamists operating with tacit support from the governments of Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Algeria and Malaysia, to name a few), and similar support for allies under attack anywhere (such as Israel, the new Iraq and Afghanistan, Jordan, Pakistan, the "other Stans", Saudi Arabia, Thailand, Indonesia, and the Phillipines), much the same as now . Kerry will avoid foreign involvement, possibly withdraw prematurely from Iraq, and concentrate on domestic defense, international law-enforcement cooperation and limited counter-attacks in response to any specific attack. Kerry will fight to keep the status quo, which in this case means losing slowly. Bush will fight to win, by taking the fight to the enemy and by reforming failed or oppressive states, the only way to get lasting results. The people in our military understand the stakes, which is why about 80% of them support Bush. I'll go with their call.

Stepping back from the election: I can understand how it is comfortable for libertarians and "classic conservatives" to want to look inward and concentrate on domestic issues and just ignore the rest of the world. I used to think that way. While that may have been fine in the eighteenth century, and it may be fine at some point in a more peaceful future, it is an extremely dangerous and parochial attitude at this point in history. To paraphrase Martin Luther King, "tyranny anywhere threatens freedom everywhere" - especially when the tyrant has nukes, petro-dollars and hordes of religious fanatics.

Thursday, October 07, 2004

MLP: Mordor's Orcs

Kathleen Parker captures the essence of today's political debate:
The nation is essentially divided into two cinematic camps: (1) those who believe that America's story was best told in Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11, and (2) those who think Peter Jackson pretty much captured the essence of current events in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, based on J.R.R. Tolkien's literary masterpiece of the same name.

In Moore/Kerry metro-blue-state world, Bush is a moron and the war on terror, especially the war in Iraq, is a tall tale told by an idiot. In Tolkien/Bush retro-red-state world, we are in a global struggle against Mordor's Orcs (radical Islam's terrorists) to save Western civilization.

Unfortunately, Tolkien's fantastical invention seems brutally prophetic today. Even the conflicts between his characters -- those willing to battle and those averse -- mirror our own divisions.
Tolkien started writing the LOTR while serving in the 11th Lancaster Fusiliers in WWI and finished the last chapters of it in letters to his son who was fighting the Nazis in North Africa during WWII. It is a story about war, about courage, about evil, and about fighting against overwhelming odds. And it is a warning that sounds like it was written just for us today. But will we heed it?
Of course, it is likely enough, my friends, that we are going to our doom: the last march of the Ents. But if we stayed at home and did nothing, doom would find us anyway, sooner or later. That thought has long been growing in our hearts; and that is why we are marching now. It was not a hasty resolve. Now at least the last march of the Ents may be worth a song. Aye, we may help the other peoples before we pass away. -- Treebeard

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

Red and Blue: Mapping the Votes

I've always been very curious about the exact geographical distribution of votes. We've all seen the electoral college maps like this one (or this, this and this). But obviously each state is not a simple red or blue, it is some kind of shade, and it is not a uniform shade either. Is it a light-blue or is it a spot of dark-blue in a sea of gray? Is it flat gray or a mosaic of red and blue? Inquiring minds want to know.

Unfortunately even county-by-county maps like this do not truly answer the question, since we're left to wonder whether a county was won by 1% or by 20%. We need a more, ahem, nuanced approach.

So: here's a map of county-by-county votes of the 2000 election results as shades of color (red=100% Bush, blue=100% Gore, gray=exactly 50-50).



(click for larger image)


As you can see, the western states are basically red and the eastern states are gray with red splotches and the occasional blue-ish stripe, and of course the coasts have a blue fringe here and there. Let this be a caution to anyone who stereotypes states: most of California is basically just like Nevada, and most of Illinois like Missouri, except for the presence of a large metropolitan area that shifts the statistics. California is not a liberal stronghold: Los Angeles is.

Next, and this is the real paydirt: a map of votes as color, and voter density as lightness/darkness (log scale, black=10,000 per sq mile, white=0; the overall colors had to be adjusted slightly so that the details are visible)




(click for larger image)


Now it all becomes clear! There is an excellent correlation between population density and vote. Virtually all blue areas are dense; there are very few if any dense red areas. Salt Lake City and Boise are the closest thing to dense red, along with a number of cities in Texas (but not the largest ones). There are certainly many neutral (Houston) or blue (Atlanta) cities that have a red suburban fringe (a common pattern), but they are not red cities per se.

Numerically, voters in dense ares (over 500 per square mile, about one quarter of all voters) voted 61% for Gore. Voters in sparse areas (under 50 voters per square mile, again about a quarter of the total) voted 58% percent for Bush. Voters in super-dense areas (over 1000 per square mile, 1/8 of all voters) voted 66% for Gore. You can look at a scatter graph of density vs votes that shows this effect perfectly. Density by itself accounts for about half of the variation in voting patterns.

Hypothesis: the perception of the Democrats as the "bi-coastal" party and the Republicans as the "flyover" party is wrong. Rather, the Democrats are a city party and the Republicans are a suburban/rural party.

Why do dense areas vote Democrat? This is not an easy question, and I hope to do more maps that show votes alongside tax rates, government spending, crime rate and more to try to answer that, but I will take a really simple stab at answering anyway. Big cities have problems, in some cases severe (e.g. Chicago). It is tempting to look for a government solution to problems, which is what the Democrats are offering. Of course, it doesn't usually work, but hey.

UPDATE: This post has gotten a huge response - thank you! Due to the high traffic the images may be intermittently unavailable, if you can't see them please try again in a few minutes. I have just obtained a complete database of demographic data by county and will have some more interesting maps for you very soon. This has also prompted a good discussion on why we see the patterns we do.

TECHNICAL NOTE: Using color to express numerical data accurately is quite hard. Color is a tricky thing, for example 50% red appears a lot redder than 50% blue is blue. To do this properly, you have to use a "perceptually linear color space" instead of RGB. In this case, I mapped the data to piecewise linear segments in the "CIE Lab" space. A whole lot more information on that fascinating subject is available here.

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Fisking Edwards

Now that I have the transcript, I just can't help myself. Somebody stop me. Here goes:

EDWARDS: We lost more troops in September than we lost in August; lost more in August than we lost in July; lost more in July than we lost in June.
But only half as many in June than in May, and half as many in May than in April. It is possible to prove just about anything if you're selective enough with your data. For example, you might say that our losses in the third quarter were 20% lower than in the second quarter, and that would be true as well. None of this brings us any closer to understanding whether we are doing well or poorly. The fact that Al-Sadr is completely marginalized and restricted to just one slum in Baghdad, while only two months ago he was in control of Najaf, Karbala and Kut is an indicator that we are doing well.
EDWARDS: And it's not just me that sees the mess in Iraq.
There is no mess, you just really wish there was one.
EDWARDS: They also didn't put the alliances together to make this successful.
Okay, when anyone says "alliances", all I want to know is precisely which countries and how many troops would they contribute. Anyone?

We all know that there are pretty much no countries from the European Union that would be willing send troops that have not already sent troops. Another very interesting question is how many troops they could send even if they wanted to. The answer is a lot closer to "nil" than it is to "enough to make a difference".
EDWARDS: We need a new president who has the credibility, which John Kerry has, to bring others into this effort.
Anyone other than our actual allies, if the disgraceful performances towards Allawi and the Australians are any guide.
EDWARDS: Mr. Vice President, there is no connection between the attacks of September 11th and Saddam Hussein.
See my earlier post that catalogs all the known connections. About twenty of them. CIA says they know of over a hundred.

If I hear anyone say "no connection" one more time, I will lose it.

Oh, wait, Edwards is about to repeat it. Five times. Aaargh.
EDWARDS: The 9/11 Commission has said it. Your own secretary of state has said it. And you've gone around the country suggesting that there is some connection. There is not. And in fact the CIA is now about to report that the connection between Al Qaida and Saddam Hussein is tenuous at best. And, in fact, the secretary of defense said yesterday that he knows of no hard evidence of the connection.
Okay, let's get this connection business straight.

We know that many top officials in Saddam's regime met with the top Al Quaeda leadership.

We know that they met with the attackers in the months leading up to the attacks.

We know that Saddam's security and intelligence services provided critical training and expertise to Al Quaeda.

We know that they trained hundreds of terrorists in how to hijack airplanes without weapons.

We know that they gave money to various Al Quaeda affiliates before and after the attack.

We know that they helped organize the meeting at which the attack was planned.

But I guess we don't know whether they bought the tickets or the boxcutters.

Yeah.

And read the 9/11 commission report while you're at it. About half of this is documented in there, the other half comes from a number of credible sources documented here in excruciating detail.
EDWARDS: And, in fact, the secretary of defense said yesterday that he knows of no hard evidence of the connection.
What exactly would constitute "hard evidence"? A photo of Saddam with all the hijackers in front of a big freaking banner that says we're-about-to-kill-a-lot-of-infidels-thank-you-Saddam? What?
EDWARDS: Here's what it means: It means that Saddam Hussein needed to be confronted. ... But it also means it needed to be done the right way. And doing it the right way meant that we were prepared; that we gave the weapons inspectors time to find out what we now know, that in fact there were no weapons of mass destruction
Confronting Saddam, Kerry-Edwards style:

"Say, Saddam old chap, do you have any WMDs?"
"No."
"Can we check?"
"Umm... okay."
(checking)
"Okay, guess you don't. You can stay in power now. Terribly sorry to have bothered you."

Is that it? Why don't you just say so?
EDWARDS: But we had Osama bin Laden cornered at Tora Bora. We had the 10th Mountain Division up in Uzbekistan available. We had the finest military in the world on the ground. And what did we do? We turned - this is the man who masterminded the greatest mass murder and terrorist attack in American history. And what did the administration decide to do? They gave the responsibility of capturing and/or killing Saddam - I mean Osama bin Laden to Afghan warlords who, just a few weeks before, had been working with Osama bin Laden.
The "warlord" story sounds good, but it is not true. Lt Smash analyzes exactly what happened and when. Conclusion? We did far better than anyone had a reason to expect with the assets we could get into position in time. The logistical problems of operating in Afghanistan are severe, and we only had very light SpecOps forces there at the time, so there was no choice but to rely on local allies. Could we have done anything to prevent some of the people we were after from bugging out? Probably not, since almost anything else we could have done would have been much slower. So some would still have gotten away.
EDWARDS: Our point in this is not complicated: We were attacked by Al Qaida and Osama bin Laden. We went into Afghanistan and very quickly the administration made a decision to divert attention from that and instead began to plan for the invasion of Iraq.
Okay, saying that we were attacked by Al Quaeda is like saying we were attacked by the Renaissance. It is a broad movement of like-minded individuals who cooperate when it suits them, not a hierarchical organization. Anybody who would draw up such a narrow definition obviously doesn't know anything about the "Muslim way of war" or the actual structure of islamist organizations. There are literally hundreds of independent islamist or Salafist groups working on all fronts, from terrorism to combat to funding to recruiting to training to political influence or even running in elections. Al Quaeda is an equal opportunity franchise. I think I should start a new meme: "there is no Al Quaeda".

Additionally, to be truly effective, these people require safe haven states or regions, for reasons discussed at length in classic insurgency texts, and more recently here. For the purposes of winning the fight against them, there is no distinction between them and the governments that support or tolerate them. In that sense Iraq was not a surprising choice: it was probably in the top-five possible places where the headquarters and training operation would have moved to from Afghanistan and by far the most potentially dangerous choice to us. (some of the other choices would be Bangladesh and Malaysia, by the way).

If our enemy is just Al Quaeda, how successful have we been in fighting them? Well, considering we have captured about three-quarters of their top leadership (that we know about) and destroyed pretty much all of their training camps (that we know about), I'd say pretty darn successful.
EDWARDS: And these connections - I want the American people to hear this very clearly. Listen carefully to what the vice president is saying. Because there is no connection between Saddam Hussein and the attacks of September 11th - period.
Yeah, just keep repeating it. What, eight times so far? It's still wrong.
EDWARDS: The 9/11 Commission has said that's true. Colin Powell has said it's true. But the vice president keeps suggesting that there is. There is not. And, in fact, any connection with Al Qaida is tenuous at best.
Repeat it eleven times, it must be true. Nope, still wrong.
CHENEY: The senator has got his facts wrong. I have not suggested there's a connection between Iraq and 9/11, but there's clearly an established Iraqi track record with terror.
I'm a bit disappointed with this reply. This would be a good time to come out swinging. Perhaps: "Saddam has collaborated with Al Quaeda and other terrorist groups on numerous occasions, and we believe that they collaborated on 9/11, but we have no absolute proof of that... yet".
CHENEY: A little tough talk in the midst of a campaign or as part of a presidential debate cannot obscure a record of 30 years of being on the wrong side of defense issues.
Very, very true. Recently Kerry sounds almost more hawkish than Bush. If you weren't paying attention, you might think he really means it.
EDWARDS: They got it wrong. When we had Osama bin Laden cornered, they left the job to the Afghan warlords. They then diverted their attention from the very people who attacked us, who were at the center of the war on terror, and so Osama bin Laden is still at large.
Uh uh. Repeat of the warlord story.
EDWARDS: What John Kerry said ... he said: We will find terrorists where they are and kill them before they ever do harm to the American people, first.
Tough talk, but that is all it is.
EDWARDS: Here's what's actually happened in Afghanistan... What's actually happened is they're now providing 75 percent of the world's opium.
I'd really like to know where the numbers come from, especially since I've read both that a) the Taliban cracked down on opium production and b) the Taliban helped grow opium for export to finance themselves and Al-Quaeda. Only one of these is true, but which one?
EDWARDS: The vice president just said that we should focus on state sponsors of terrorism. Iran has moved forward with its nuclear weapons program. They're more dangerous today than they were four years ago. North Korea has moved forward with their nuclear weapons program, gone from one to two nuclear weapons to six to eight nuclear weapons.
Now the Democrats want to go to war with Iran and North Korea. Who knew? LOL.
EDWARDS: We're going to make sure that the American people know the truth about why we are using force and what the explanation for it is.
Okay, this was a palpable hit. I firmly believe that Iraq was a masterstroke of strategy, brilliantly conceived and well executed - but it is largely unexplained. Almost everything the administration has said was either a justification (as opposed to a reason) or an extremely general reason like "promoting democracy". The grand strategy reasons: picking favorable terrain, splitting the area controlled by the enemy in two, giving Iran a push, the "flypaper strategy" - those who are watching can figure them out, but we didn't hear them from the administration. Are we ready to hear them? Perhaps not, because they suggest a conflict vastly larger in scope than Iraq. Nobody likes World War 3.
EDWARDS: It's one of the reasons that we're having so much difficulty getting others involved in the effort in Iraq.
Who? Specifically? The Vulcans?
CHENEY: Well, Gwen, the 90 percent figure is just dead wrong. When you include the Iraqi security forces that have suffered casualties, as well as the allies, they've taken almost 50 percent of the casualties in operations in Iraq, which leaves the U.S. with 50 percent, not 90 percent.
Exactly. The fact that Iraqis are fighting on our side must be so alien to some people's worldview that it just doesn't register.
CHENEY: The allies have stepped forward and agreed to reduce and forgive Iraqi debt to the tune of nearly $80 billion by one estimate. That, plus $14 billion they promised in terms of direct aid, puts the overall allied contribution financially at about $95 billion, not to the $120 billion we've got, but, you know, better than 40 percent. So your facts are just wrong, Senator.
Nail him.
EDWARDS: This vice president, when he was secretary of defense, cut over 80 weapons systems, including the very ones he's criticizing John Kerry for voting against. These are weapons systems, a big chunk of which, the vice president himself suggested we get rid of after the Cold War.
True, but if you look more closely, there is a bit of a difference. This was blogged in more detail at one of the milblogs that I can't find at this moment, so from memory: Cheney voted to cut systems which were essentially obsolete after the fall of the Soviet Union, like the Crusader SPH. Kerry voted at the height of the Cold War to cut systems that eventually became the mainstay of the armed forces, like the F16. Cheney's cuts were probably a good idea, allowing more effort to go into useful projects. Kerry's cuts would have been, well, suicidal.
EDWARDS: John Kerry has been absolutely clear and consistent from the beginning that we must stay focused on the people who attacked us; that Saddam Hussein was a threat that needed to be addressed directly; that the weapons inspectors needed to have time to do their job.
Do their job and then presumably leave him to rule in peace. Oh, and then we could have lifted the sanctions, ne c'est pas?
EDWARDS: Had they had time to do their job, they would have discovered what we now know, that in fact Saddam Hussein had no weapons, that in fact Saddam Hussein has no connection with 9/11, that in fact Saddam Hussein has little or no connection with Al Qaida.
What did I tell you? Practically the nicest guy you ever met.
EDWARDS: Right now, the United Nations, which is responsible for the elections in January, has about 35 people there. Now, that's compared with a much smaller country like East Timor, where they had over 200 people on the ground.
A good point, 35 people is not enough, but this is only damning the UN. UN responsible for the elections? Hah. Not according to their actions.

We, and the Iraqis, are responsible. The UN may bitch but it will accept the results. After all, what the hell are they gonna do with 35 people?
CHENEY: Our most important ally in the war on terror, in Iraq specifically, is Prime Minister Allawi. He came recently and addressed a joint session of Congress that I presided over with the speaker of the House. And John Kerry rushed out immediately after his speech was over with, where he came and he thanked America for our contributions and our sacrifice and pledged to hold those elections in January, went out and demeaned him, criticized him, challenged his credibility. That is not the way to win friends and allies. You're never going to add to the coalition with that kind of attitude.
They're not trying to add to the coalition, they have an election to win.
EDWARDS: And regardless of what the vice president says, we're at $200 billion and counting. Not only that, 90 percent of the coalition casualties, Mr. Vice President, the coalition casualties, are American casualties. Ninety percent of the cost of this effort are being borne by American taxpayers. It is the direct result of the failures of this administration.
Get debunked, dust yourself off and repeat the exact same thing. Why not?
CHENEY: Classic example. He won't count the sacrifice and the contribution of Iraqi allies. It's their country. They're in the fight. They're increasingly the ones out there putting their necks on the line to take back their country from the terrorists and the old regime elements that are still left. They're doing a superb job. And for you to demean their sacrifices strikes me as...
EDWARDS: Oh, I'm not...
CHENEY: ... as beyond...
EDWARDS: I'm not demeaning...
CHENEY: It is indeed. You suggested...
EDWARDS: No, sir, I did not...
CHENEY: ... somehow they shouldn't count, because you want to be able to say that the Americans are taking 90 percent of the sacrifice. You cannot succeed in this effort if you're not willing to recognize the enormous contribution the Iraqis are increasingly making to their own future.
NAIL THE BASTARD!!!

I want to give Cheney a big hug at this point. Strange, I know, I mean this is Cheney after all, but that is just how I feel.

I think he was about to say "beyond the pale". And he's right, you know.
EDWARDS: This, unfortunately - what the vice president is telling people is inconsistent with everything they see every single day. It's a continuation of, "Well, there's a strong connection between Al Qaida and Saddam Hussein." It's not true. It's a continuation of at least insinuating that there's some connection between 9/11 and Saddam Hussein. It's not true.
Okay, now we're up to fourteen repeats of "no connection", or I may have lost count. I guess that makes it a definite fact. Nope, still wrong.
CHENEY: We know that when we went into Afghanistan that he [Zarqawi] then migrated to Baghdad. He set up shop in Baghdad, where he oversaw the poisons facility up at Kermal (ph), where the terrorists were developing ricin and other deadly substances to use. He is, without question, a bad guy. He is, without question, a terrorist. He was, in fact, in Baghdad before the war, and he's in Baghdad now after the war.
Good but it should be more forceful. It is highly unlikely that Zarqawi could have operated without state support in Saddam's Iraq. Of course also know that a meeting took place between Zawahiri, Al-Quaeda's second in command, and Taha Ramadan, an Iraqi vice-president, about a year earlier. Connect the dots. Hmm, I think that will be my new stock response to "no connection".


I think I'll stop the fisking here. The remainder deals with Iran, North Korea and domestic issues. I think nobody really knows how to handle Iran and North Korea at this point, and domestic issues are essentially irrelevant during a war. Sue me.

MLP: About Defeatism

Ann Althouse drops this gem in her debate liveblog:

The litany of defeatism. People have died, people have died. When I turn on NPR in the morning, the first thing I hear is nearly always the number of persons who just died in Iraq, almost never in a context connecting those deaths to what they fought for, just dismal, hopeless death. Edwards takes that tack. "Iraq is a mess"--the grand simplification. A mess!

Recounting losses in this way is something that I have always found infuriating, yet I could not quite put a finger on why. I think she's got it, though. There is nothing wrong with talking about losses. However, if you are going to talk about them, don't just use them as statistics that further your agenda - honor them!

Blackfive's Someone You Should Know series does it the right way. Like this. Or this.

Saddam and Al-Qaeda: A Timeline

These are just the meetings that I know about... and I am not even an intelligence agency ;) Remember this cartoon?

1994 -- Sudan -- Farouk Hijazi, then head of Iraqi Secret Service, meets with bin Laden in Sudan (source)

1994 -- Baghdad -- Abdul Rahman Yasin, one of the bombers in the first WTC attack, flees to Iraq where he is provided with a residence and a monthly stipend by the regime (source)

1995, September -- Sudan -- Brigadier Salim al Ahmed, top explosives expert of the Iraqi Intelligence Service, meets with bin Laden in Sudan; a second meeting at which Mani-abd-al-Rashid-al-Tikriti, director of the IIS, is also present, takes place in July 1996 (source)

1995 -- Salman Pak, Iraq -- hundreds of foreign terrorists are trained in airplane hijacking techniques "without weapons" using a real airplane (variously reported as a Boeing 707 and a Tupolev 154) as a prop at the Salman Pak camp just south of Baghdad, between 1995 to 2000; the training is run by Saddam's Mukhabharat (source, source)

1995, circa -- Iraq -- Abu Abdullah al-Iraqi (an alias), an Al Qaeda operative, requests help in chemical weapons training from Saddam. The request is approved and trainers from Unit 999, an Iraqi secret-police organization organized by Uday Hussein, are dispatched to camps in Afghanistan. (source)

1997 -- Afghanistan -- Armad Jan, Taliban minister, tells Karl Inderfurth, Assistant US Secretary of State, that the Taliban "had frustrated Iranian and Iraqi efforts to contact" bin Laden (source)

1998 -- Baghdad -- Ayman al Zawahiri, Al-Qaeda second-in-command, meets Taha Yasin Ramadan, Iraqi vice-president (source)

1998, February -- Baghdad -- the Mukhabharat arranges for an envoy from bin Laden to travel from Sudan to Baghdad to meet with Iraqi officials; the meeting is extended by a full week (source)

1998, December 18 -- Afghanistan -- Farouk Hijazi, Iraq's ambassador to Turkey, meets with bin Laden in Afghanistan (source, source)

2000 -- Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia -- Ahmad Hikmat Shakir al-Azzawi, an Iraqi national with connections to the Iraqi embassy and possibly a leutenant-colonel in Saddam's Fedayyeen, helps arrange top-level Al-Qaeda meeting attended by Khalid al Midhar and Nawar al Hazmi, two of the 9/11 hijackers, and Tawfiz al Atash, responsible for the USS Cole bombing (source)

2001, April 8 -- Prague, Czechoslovakia -- Mohammed Atta, 9/11 hijacker, meets with Ahmad Samir al-Ani, an Iraqi diplomat, in a cafe in Prague; Atta had visited Prague on two previous occasions, on May 30 and June 2, 2000 (source)

2001, summer -- United Arab Emirates -- Marwan al-Shehhi and Ziad Jarrah, two of the 9/11 hijackers, meet with unidentified Mukhabharat officer (source, source)

2001, summer -- Saadan Mahmoud Abdul Latif al-Aani, colonel in the Mukhabharat (alias "Abu Wael"), serving as the secret liaison to the Ansar al Islam Group, works with Al-Qaeda members from Afghanistan to set up a backup base in northern Iraq (source, source)

2001, July -- Rome, Italy -- Habib Faris Abdullah al-Mamouri, general in the Iraqi intelligence, meets with Mohammed Atta, 9/11 hijacker (source)

2001, Septempber 5 -- Spain -- Abu Zubayr, an officer in Saddam's secret police and al-Qaeda cell leader in Morocco, meets with Ramzi Bin-al-Shibh, 9/11 financier (source)

2001, September 11 -- World Trade Center and Pentagon attacked.

2002, October 3 -- Phillipines -- Hamsiraji Sali, leader of the al-Qaeda-affiliated Abu Sayyaf terrorist group, contacts Husham Hussain, deputy secretary of the Iraqi embassy immediately after a successful bombing; for years Abu Sayyaf has received steady financing from Iraq for bomb-making materials (source)

2002, November 14 -- Baghdad -- Abid Al-Karim Muhamed Aswod, officer at the Iraqi embassy in Pakistan, is identified as "responsible for the coordination of activities with the Osama bin Laden group" in a memo signed by Uday Hussein (source)


UPDATED 2004/10/05: added Salman Pak, UAE meeting, Abu Wael, brigadier Salim, corrected role of Al-Azzawi, and added more sources.

World War Three: A Short Introduction for the Perplexed

Just like in WW2, very few people today realize what is going on. If you read FDR's speech after Pearl Harbor, there is not one word in it about Germany or Nazis or Europe. The fact that this was a total war that would be waged around the globe had not sunk in yet. In fact it was not "WW2" until 1944. It was "the war in Europe".

Today we have the "War on Terror". Let's try to define this better. Who are we fighting? Who is attacking us?

It is not some abstract "terrorists", nor is it just Bin Laden or Al-Quaida.

We are at war with a global movement of people who believe that Islam - or their particular interpretation of it - should determine politics, law, and absolutely everything else about their societies. The technical term for these people is "islamists" (which is not the same as Muslims). They are a minority in most places, but they are a ruthless, fanatical, very well organized minority, and they work together.

They have been pushing to establish religious government across three continents: in Nigeria, Chad, Sudan, Algeria, Morocco, Egypt, Turkey, Somalia, Saudi Arabia, Palestine, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Chechnya, Bangladesh, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, Phillipines... In some of these countries they are already the government, in others they are insurgents or militia, and in yet other places (notably France and other EU countries) they are "refugees". If we were to do nothing, they would likely become the government in most of these countries, which would give them control over more than a billion people. That is obviously unacceptable.

The only way to see the scope of this conflict is with a map. It is extremely important to see this as a single conflict and not a series of unrelated skirmishes. Here is where we stand in late 2004:




The following islamist activities are mapped:
  • red dots - recruitment, funding, isolated terrorist attacks
  • thin red stripes - attempts to gain political power
  • thick red stripes - direct insurgency against a government or attack on majority ethnic group
  • red areas - training camps, primary bases of operations
The government colors are:
  • gray - neutrals
  • light green - U.S. friends of convenience, or coerced into an alliance
  • dark green - U.S. allies
  • red - islamist governments or islamist-friendly governments
Finally, the yellow flashes show major recent skirmishes.

Contries that have islamist governments: Iran, Syria, Lebanon, Sudan, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, Bangladesh, Malaysia

Countries that have an islamist insurgency, at least in part of the country: Iraq, Afghanistan, Thailand, Philippines, Chechnya, Nigeria, parts of India

Countries that have an islamist political challenge: Egypt, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Indonesia

(by the way, I'd appreciate any corrections to this - some of the neutrals probably are not, and I am sure I have quite a few other particulars wrong, especially in Africa. I hope to make a second version of this that has links to news articles and a quick summary of the situation in each country)



This fight is not new: we have thwarted the islamists for a long time by supporting their opponents. In Egypt, Turkey, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Phillipines and Indonesia we have, in some cases for decades, tried to support governments opposed to these people by a combination of diplomacy, covert action and military aid. The islamists correctly perceive us as the only power that can stop them now, and so they have been attacking us all along. This situation has just recently come to open war, but it has been heading that way since the tail end of the Cold War. In a sense, this conflict is the bastard child of the Cold War and a dozen small colonial wars: many of the battlegrounds and the actors are the same (although not on the same sides this time).

The sheer scope of the conflict is mind-boggling: it spans three continents and dozens of countries. This is the war we are in. It is not "the war in Iraq". It is World War Three, it started over a decade ago, and our side is going to win it. I hope this map helps convince anyone who thinks we can just sit this out: we can't.

You can also see from this map that very many people are on our side. While in many cases internal politics may prevent them from doing more than fighting the islamists to a stalemate on their own turf, they are allies nonetheless, and probably more comitted to the fight than we are. This is not a fight of the West against Islam - it is a fight for the soul of Islam, a fight between seventh-century and twentieth-cenury Islam, a fight that will be fought and won primarily by Moslems. Yet it is also a fight that we Americans are honor-bound to fight as well, both for our own long-term survival and for the progress of liberty in the world. This is no time for parochial isolationism, however comfortable it may be.