Monday, October 16, 2006

The Devil in the details

Former Spook at In From the Cold looks at US casualties in Iraq and finds that the NYT is ignoring certain pertinent details.


As the Battle for Baghdad rages on, casualties among U.S. troops have increased in recent months. Predictably, The New York Times has already weighed in on the subject, noting that this month may rank as one of the bloodiest months for American soldiers and Marines; so far, at least 53 U.S. military personnel have been killed in Iraq during October, and that total will certainly rise with two weeks remaining in the month.

The Times' veiled message is easy enough to decipher: efforts by the U.S. to improve security in Baghdad aren't working; violence continues to spiral out of control, resulting in more casualties among American troops, Iraqi civilians, and members of that nation's fledgling security forces.

Is that an accurate assessment? To its credit, the Times notes that a major reason for the increase in combat casualties is an increased deployment of U.S. forces in and around the Iraqi capital. With more troops battling terrorists in the heart of the insurgency, it is logical to assume that casualties will increase, at least over the short term. However, the Times fails to note that the U.S. offensive also falls during the Muslim Holy Month of Ramadan, a period that traditionally produces a major spike in terrorist attacks. In recent years, there has been a noticeable decrease in enemy strikes after Ramadan, so it seems likely that U.S. casualties will also fall in November and December--another fact ignored by the Times.

Likewise, the Newspaper of Record also ignores other trends that may not bode well for our enemies. According to data from the same web site (icasualties.org), the number of troops killed by IEDs has declined steadily over the past year, despite an increase in terrorist bomb production and implantation attempts. Since IEDs represent the insurgents's only viable tactic, a decrease in their effectiveness means trouble ahead for the terrorists. And, based on current trends, the number of U.S. troops killed in Iraq will decline again this year, for the second year in a row. Obviously, the loss of 3,000 military personnel since the launch of Operation Iraqi Freedom is a tragedy for a society that values (or should value) all human life. But those casualties should also be weighed in the context of history, and our own, collective sense of what constitutes an appropriate level of sacrifice in defense of our freedoms.

Commentary

My only observation is that Iraq is never quite the same place over time. While there are elements about it which endure, the character of the conflict has changed in so many respects that the correct frame of reference (it seems to me) is not back towards some archaic policy expectation expressed in a 2003 or 2004 document but in identifying the drivers of the dynamic and attempting to influence it in ways that only become apparent as you go along. Our goals are something we will have to discover. I know this sounds awfully wooly and unspecific, so let me try it explaining the thought in this way. Nonlinear dynamic systems like unstable societies are very sensitive to initial conditions. Arbitrarily small perturbations can lead to significantly different effects in the future; hence their behavior can't be predicted confidently very far into the future. You can't treat them in a linear manner. The only way to handle them in by shortening your reaction cycle to manage and so, hope to influence where the system will converge given enough time.

25 Comments:

Blogger Sparks fly said...

There is obviously feedback occuring between the mainstream far left American media and the tactical and strategic thinkers in their mosques. The New York Times uses its position in American society to discover and point out what is discomfitting to us and the Mullas are reading the Times, taking note and attacking us there.

The Times has concluded that Americans are sensitive to the casualty count and pound the growing numbers day and night in every edition that I have seen since even BEFORE the invasion of Iraq if you count prognostications. Never mind that by comparrison to other comparable conflicts we have been engaged in the casuality rate and overall is blessedly low. The military has done and continues to perform magnificently.

The real fall of Bagdad has been joined. This is Big Faluja!(How do you spell that word?) Fhaluga II. Go get'm guys.

10/16/2006 10:53:00 PM  
Blogger desert rat said...

Mr Bush says were at war.

Until the battlezone creeps into Pakistan. Or Iran. Or Syria.

And then there's Sudan and Somalia. New fronts in the long scramble. Not at war there though. So long as the Green Zone belongs to US

10/16/2006 11:06:00 PM  
Blogger Quig said...

NYT's people do not know "WAR". They can only comprehend conflict in terms of TV SWAT operations.

10/17/2006 05:07:00 AM  
Blogger the patriarch said...

So the NYT is being taken to task here for reporting that casualties have increased (fact), that this is most likely due to increased deployment in Baghdad (Very likely), but not mentioning that the violence may decrease after Ramadan (pure speculation).

Damned liberal media!

10/17/2006 07:35:00 AM  
Blogger Faeroe said...

With regard to the noted decrease in effectiveness of IEDs, there are multiple possible explanations that cut both ways. My cousin, a Marine captain *just* back from Ramadi, reports one disturbing possibility:

The US forces are much less proactive than they were previously. This is understandable in light of the increased presence of the Iraqi army, but he feels that we may be surrendering op-tempo to the enemy. Put another way, if we are always on the defensive (the operations in Baghdad show that we are not), then we can lose.

Which is to take nothing away from the relatively blatant use of partial information to push an agenda done by the New York Times.

10/17/2006 07:53:00 AM  
Blogger weswinger said...

Wretch,
glad to see the application of chaos theory to the GWOT (Iraq theater). Now if we can get some mathematical wizards to work with, we shall specify the variables, and they will supply nonlinear dynamic systems of equations to give us the range of probable outcomes to each initiative.

10/17/2006 08:20:00 AM  
Blogger jj mollo said...

Would you say that WWII was, at its highest strategic level, subject to non-linear dynamics. At least in retrospect it was a pure field-plowing. Start at one end, stop at the other.

The thing that makes this war different is the war between the Blues and the Greens (VDH) that is so evenly matched. The non-linear nature of news events threatens to determine the outcome of the war.

10/17/2006 09:06:00 AM  
Blogger Shaun Mullen said...

Ah, when all else fails -- as in The Decider's Excellent Adventure in Mesopotamia -- then bash the NYTimes. It's sooo easy, at least for the intellectually lazy.

Parsing casualty figures vis a vis deployment, Ramadan, phases of the moon, improvements in Humvee armoring, being confined to compound vs. going on patrol, etc., etc., is simply rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.

It's over bar the shouting lads. Now let's figure a way to get out.

And while we're doing so, take a deep sip of William Langewieche's extraordinary Vanity Fair article. Here's a link to my take on it:
http://kikoshouse.blogspot.com/2006/10/iraq-this-is-what-defeat-looks-like-in_17.html

10/17/2006 10:41:00 AM  
Blogger wildiris said...

Just to add a reference benchmark to these fatality statistics, it is worth reminding ourselves that there are industrial occupations such as commercial fishing and logging that also have fatality rates on the order of 1 to 3 per 1000 per year; exactly the same kind of numbers we are seeing coming out of Iraq. Maybe the NYT should start a campaign to get the US out of the timber and fishing industries.

10/17/2006 11:35:00 AM  
Blogger Habu1 said...

I am unmoved by Shaun Mullen's piece.
If the facts, which have not been proved beyond a reasonable doubt, are as he says they are then too bad for the Iraqi's. If they are Islamic they are guilty of following an ideology that kills without remorse because they are instructed to kill unbelievers.
So it becomes a situation where there are fewer of the enemy to worry about. Whose to say the old man didn't direct the building of the IED? That the child hadn't gathered the material and that others had not placed it?
Shaun's river may peacefully wind through the country but it does not provide life to peaceful people. They are 7th century,atavistic killers. Islam is not a religion of peace. Worldwide it has become, once again in it's history, a religion of the sword as pursuader.
It is the moral duty of the West to kill until their numbers are insufficient to project any power. Men,women,young, and old, for as he said for them it quickly becomes the barbaric blood feud where all participate. Give them no quarter. None.

10/17/2006 11:37:00 AM  
Blogger skipsailing said...

A couple of thoughts on the casualty figures.

First, another contributor to decreased efficiency of IED's is the increased use of air for resupply. I read about this a while back when some anti american twit linked to an article concerning the increased use of military transport planes instead of convoys.

The IED's themselves might be getting less effective because we've killed or capture some of the best bombers. As I recall it was just last week that we got one of Baghdad's most important madmen.

Sadly, I must agree with Habu, the Arab/Muslim culture is dysfunctional and is expressing its death wish in an alarming fashion. VDH's concept was straight forward: they will drive us out of the region, not by killing our guys but by killing each other.

That might just work, too.

but Islam is a threat and one we must take seriously. Unfortunately I believe it will take another massive attack on America to sway the hard core out of their rock solid state of denial.

10/17/2006 01:18:00 PM  
Blogger Shaun Mullen said...

I expect to read a wingnut rave or two at The Belmont Club along with the more reasoned comments, but Habu1's racist screed is beyond belief.

Shame on you!

10/17/2006 01:48:00 PM  
Blogger Reocon said...

Wretchard said . . .
While there are elements about it which endure, the character of the conflict has changed in so many respects that the correct frame of reference (it seems to me) is not back towards some archaic policy expectation expressed in a 2003 or 2004 document but in identifying the drivers of the dynamic and attempting to influence it in ways that only become apparent as you go along. Our goals are something we will have to discover.

My God Wretchard, do you realize how terribly this reads?! It's a concession that failing our original goals (WMD; operative al-Qaeda links; a peaceful, democratic, prosperous, pro-American, pro-Israel Iraq) we now have no goals for being in Iraq! Indeed, goals are something we're waiting to "discover"!

Imagine this dialogue based on your writings:

Private: "Gee Sarge, we haven't found nuthin' here in Iraq, the majority of the locals hate us, and we're not stoppin' the civil war raging all around us. What's the mission?"

Sarge: "Relax, Son. Our goals are something we will have to discover. . . . Nonlinear dynamic systems like unstable societies are very sensitive to initial conditions. Arbitrarily small perturbations can lead to significantly different effects in the future; hence their behavior can't be predicted confidently very far into the future. We're shortening reaction cycle to manage future contigencies and hope to influence where the system will converge given enough time."

Private: "Huh?"

Wretchard said . . .
"I know this sounds awfully wooly and unspecific, so let me try it explaining the thought in this way. Nonlinear dynamic systems like unstable societies . . .

"Wooly"? "Unspecific"? My dear Sir, it sounds like psuedo-intellectual self-parody . . . like a chastened dreamer who can't bring himself to state the obvious: WE HAVE NO GOALS IN IRAQ. What is the strategic objective? To support the Islamic Revolutionary front barely run by Maliki? Ridiculous. To keep the country whole after the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revoultion in Iraq just carved out their own imperio in imperium? That goal has already "changed in so many respects".

Claiming we're waiting for goals to emerge while treading water in a whirlpool can't convince the American public for too long. What are our goals, what is our strategy? Why are we now keeping over 140,000 troops in Iraq?

10/17/2006 01:51:00 PM  
Blogger Habu1 said...

Hard to swallow the truth isn't it Shaun me boy.

I didn't read your bio but there was an implication that you are a literary semi pooh bah writer. Good for you.
But in your profession you need access. Since most of your profession are socialists at best you hurd with them, thus gaining the life giving access. It's quite similar to prostituting ones values to stay connected, and published. You must make nickels and dimes.
So you just keep writing and I'll continue advocating the killing of an avowed enemy. Fair enough?
All the best.

10/17/2006 02:44:00 PM  
Blogger Habu1 said...

P.S. Shaun. i really don't think too many people read your article anyway.
You said you expected comments.
Well, at least you got one. You should feel proud and fulfilled.

A few more stirring pieces like that and you can be a Wal Mart greeter.

10/17/2006 02:52:00 PM  
Blogger 49erDweet said...

Actually, what W is describing here seems to be a typical OODA Loop, which probably should be the strategic engine setting and governing our important long and short term goals. According to the loop's creater, Col. John Boyd, the faster we effectively turn the loop the greater our chance for strategic success.

Good call, W. Ignore the brittle-faced lefties unable to adapt to as much as the weather, let-alone fluid conditions found around the world.

Cheers

10/17/2006 04:21:00 PM  
Blogger Reocon said...

49erDweet said...
According to the loop's creater, Col. John Boyd, the faster we effectively turn the loop the greater our chance for strategic success.

Does that mean that our grand strategic goal in Iraq is to "turn the loop"? Or is our yet unnamed strategic goal premised on "turning the loop"? Can anyone be a bit more specific here? Anyone? And please, at least grant my poor brain a favor and do so in concrete political or military terms that a conservative not up on the latest chaos theory can understand? It's only a war strategy we're debating after all.

10/17/2006 04:30:00 PM  
Blogger still realizing said...

Habu1's screed was murderous, not racist. Belief in race is belief in biological differences.

Good justice must come to the Marines of Kilo Company, whether that means vindication or execution. Our own code demands a good job.

Wretchards idea that must fight while we figure out the goals is an aberrant error from a better mind.

The most rational, "Realist" approach to defanging Baathists and Islamists is to take away their oil money. They can't make nukes if they don't have money. Basically this means socialize the oil fields in the name of humanity. Neither Iraqi peasants nor the stockholders of ExxonnMobil have any "Right" to the wealth under Iraq. The Iraqis did nothing to earn it, did not know the oil was there, and would have left it there if the West had not discovered the oil, invented the auto, invented refining, geology, and so on. The idea that a huge portion of the worlds wealth is the patrimony of undistinguished "Beverly Hillbillies" who may or may not have nuclear ambitions on any particular day is an absurdist interpretation of private property rights that could kill all of us.

If an oil company provides goods and services in a non-monopolistic market then they're entitled to charge what the market will bear. That's it.

Oh, and take away Iran's uranium, they're not ready for it.

10/17/2006 05:30:00 PM  
Blogger Woman Catholic said...

Why are we now keeping over 140,000 troops in Iraq?

Because the 109th Congress keeps writing the check. That's about to change drastically.

10/17/2006 05:34:00 PM  
Blogger Boghie said...

Also note that civilian casualties in Iraq are about half that of last month... 901 Iraqi Civilian Fatalities up to 2006/10/17.. A linear progression leads to a count of about 1,800 fatalities for October.

Also, there is a greater percentage of small arms fire casualties for Coalition troops. That implies that we are going after the enemy. IED attacks imply a patrolling defense.

10/17/2006 07:12:00 PM  
Blogger Boghie said...

Teresita,

We could move those 140,000 fighting men and women to Munich this time of year...

Munich in Oktober is great. Lots of beer. Lots of women. A tremendous vacation.

Then, off to Hawaii!!!

Then Kansas???

In a three point stance???

Looking scary in a Carter/Clinton sort of way!!!

10/17/2006 07:15:00 PM  
Blogger trangbang68 said...

Ah Habu, go easy on the the wee little lepracaun Shaunie.He probably had a bit too much of the pixie dust.Either that or he's a deluded leftist who doesn't know what end the round comes out of.

10/17/2006 09:07:00 PM  
Blogger Shaun Mullen said...

Habu1: Read my bio and then we can trade stories about our military experiences, number of medals won, number of wars covered, number of times shot at, number of corpses viewed, number of Pulitzer Prize nominations, number of countries visited not including Disneyland, number of languages spoken, number of students taught and young professionals mentored, number of books read in the last year, the last time you read something complicated to the very end, number of times mind changed when confronted by new information that contradicted long-held beliefs ...

Bring it. Just don't forget to mention the number of times you beat your dog.

10/18/2006 02:52:00 AM  
Blogger jaycurrie said...

It is not at all unreasonable to speak of emergent goals in a relatively chotic situation.

For example, some of us saw the desire to keep Iraq whole as unworkable more or less from the go. The Bushies, for a variety of reasons - some good, some ignorant, some a function of the post invasion lack of planning - could not imagine a federal Iraq. Now, increasingly, the division of Iraq back into the original Ottoman provinces from whence it came is a solution being thrust upon that sad nation by events.

The inflection points can be argued forever but the failure to take down Sadr would be one and the failure to take Fallujah first time around would be two. So would the decision to disband the standing Iraqi Army and the absence of sufficient troops in the immediate post invasion period to ensure security. Shooting a few looters would not have been a bad idea either. In the media war, the total lack of supervision at al Ghraib was a huge loss. So was the failure to turn the oil resources of Iraq into a citizens' trust.

The point is that by waging a very limited peace and defering to the idea that the war was somehow over with the collapse of Bagdhad, the conditions for a devolution in Iraq emerged.

Now the question becomes how this can be managed with a minimum of military and civilian casualties. While part of that is rounding up and killing the assorted terrorists, a larger part is actually accepting that Iraq as a unitary nation is over.

10/18/2006 01:19:00 PM  
Blogger Reocon said...

jaycurrie said...
It is not at all unreasonable to speak of emergent goals in a relatively chotic situation.

It is when you're in the midst of a war and your original goals are gone. Reason will tell you that you've lost, your objectives being no longer unattainable and a war zone being a poor place for scholarly discussions of fluid dynamics and what existential truths they may bring. How many American have to die before we "discover" our goals? How many have to die before we discover a clue?

Now the question becomes how this can be managed with a minimum of military and civilian casualties. While part of that is rounding up and killing the assorted terrorists, a larger part is actually accepting that Iraq as a unitary nation is over.

I agree with the acceptance of that a democratic and unitary Iraq is over but what can be "managed"? What is the goal? To strengthen the pro-Hezbollah, pro-Iran, Shiite Islamist government barely in charge? That is treasonously dumb. If there is some other goal for us with which to achieve victory I'd really like to hear it.

10/18/2006 06:43:00 PM  

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