In a recent post Billmon takes a swing at an idea that I brought up earlier, namely that when you amortize the violent deaths over the time that Saddam and America separately governed Iraq it is hard to escape the conclusion that Iraqis are a lot worse off right now. Let’s call Saddam’s monthly toll the Saddam Line, which I figured to be in the area of 1,400 untimely deaths per month. In order to break even (that is, be just as bad as Saddam but not worse) the 36 month postwar period would have to have killed off roughly 50,000 Iraqis by now.
In fact the Iraq Body Count estimates a number just shy of 50,000, which hardly helps us since only an idiot would think that even a majority of violent deaths end up in the news media. Iraq is a large country whose media ranges between dysfunctional and nonexistent. Anyhow, Billmon came to more or less the same conclusion that I did:
[A]dd it all up and it doesn’t seem unreasonable to put Saddam’s career total as a mass murderer in the 500,000 to 750,000 range, and perhaps as high as a million. Hitler and Stalin and Pol Pot might sneer at such numbers, but they’re pretty hefty for a tinpot Third World dictator who, as we can see in hindsight, lived in constant fear of being overthrown.
Of course, someone could try to run a baseline projection on actual versus expected deaths, like the one Johns Hopkins ran on Shrub’s Iraq. This almost certainly would greatly raise Saddam’s numbers — perhaps as high as the 2 million cited in Saddam’s black book.
But it’s hard — or should be — for Shrub to take much comfort even in that, because while Saddam ruled Iraq for almost 24 years, the Cheney Administration and the U.S. Army have had the place in their tender care for less than four. Two million divided by 24 equals 83,333 deaths a year. But 655,000 divided by four equals 163,750 deaths a year — almost double Saddam’s annual output.
Or, if you prefer to use more “conservative” estimates for both:
* Saddam: 31,250 deaths a year (750,000 divided by 24)
* Cheney Administration: 87,500 deaths a year (350,000 divided by four)
But that makes the comparison look even worse.
So here in a nutshell you have why many on the right not only cannot accept the new mortality figures, but will never do so come hell or high water. Judging by the Johns Hopkins study this Bush war has come very close to being worse than Saddam not only on an ongoing monthly basis but in the absolute lifetime tally of tortured and dead. Whether the real number is higher or lower we have undoubtedly entered the margin of error. But most importantly, this disturbing fact can only worsen for us. Billmon:
We also shouldn’t forget that Hussein has a line drawn under his column in the record books. Shrub and company do not. The civil war they have helped unleash in Iraq could last for a long, long time.
If people stopped dying tomorrow Bush and his enablers would have an ambiguous claim for the bloodiest reign in recent Iraqi history. Regardless of whether we personally killed these people, they died because we consciously chose to destabilize Iraq without planning for the power vaccum and the violent groups that it would inevitably draw in. But people won’t stop dying tomorrow. The bloodshed has gotten immeasurably worse in recent months and precisely no reason exists to think that trend will turn around.
Quite the contrary, my civil war checklist passed another milestone recently when the Iraqi government decided to condone the separation of Iraq into semi-autonomous federal states. One wonders who will get Kirkuk. Baghdad. Plenty of Iraqi territory remains relatively peaceful today (and I mean relatively) because the mixed inhabitants have managed to punt on the question of which ethnic plurality has final claim on the land. When decision time comes it is simply impossible to imagine the losing minority giving up peacefully.