Three weeks before the 2006 midterm elections gave Democrats control of Congress, a shocking study reported on the number of Iraqis who had died in the ongoing war. It bolstered criticism of President Bush and heightened the waves of dread -- here and around the world -- about the U.S. occupation of Iraq.
Published by The Lancet, a venerable British medical journal, the study [PDF] used previously accepted methods for calculating death rates to estimate the number of "excess" Iraqi deaths after the 2003 invasion at 426,369 to 793,663; the study said the most likely figure was near the middle of that range: 654,965. Almost 92 percent of the dead, the study asserted, were killed by bullets, bombs, or U.S. air strikes. This stunning toll was more than 10 times the number of deaths estimated by the Iraqi or U.S. governments, or by any human-rights group. ...
CBS News called the report a "new and stunning measure of the havoc the American invasion unleashed in Iraq." CNN began its report this way: "War has wiped out about 655,000 Iraqis, or more than 500 people a day, since the U.S.-led invasion, a new study reports." Within a week, the study had been featured in 25 news shows and 188 articles in U.S. newspapers and magazines, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, and the Los Angeles Times.
Editorials in many major newspapers cited the Lancet article as further evidence that the invasion of Iraq was a bad idea, and the liberal blogosphere ridiculed Bush for his response. Prominent mainstream media outlets quoted various academics who vouched for the study's methodology, including some who said they had reviewed the data before publication.
Within a few weeks a backlash rose, although the contrarian view of the study generated far less press attention than the Lancet article. In the ensuing year, numerous skeptics have identified various weaknesses with the study's methodology and conclusions. Political blogs and academic journals have registered and responded to the objections in a debate that has been simultaneously arcane and predictable. The arguments are arcane because that is the nature of statistical analysis. They are predictable because that is the nature of today's polarized political discourse, with liberals defending the Lancet study and conservatives contesting it.
It was apparent to me that the charge was preposterous. I didn't believe the earlier 2004 study let alone the 2006 crapfest, or any other allegation that there are mountains of bodies that the press just hasn't noticed in Iraq despite every anti-American photographer looking for a Pulitzer operating in Iraq.
The article on the 2006 Lancet piece goes into problems in the entire process. Not the least of which is that this is just another example of civilian institutions becoming just another front in the war directly supporting one side in a conflict.
Just as Iraqis have paid a price for our Left's vigorous dissent, people are dying at least in part because true believers are twisting the facts to achieve an objective the believers think justifies the trashing of previously trusted institutions.
Over the last several years, I've asked if we should even care about the opinions of the Moslem street if they really oppose the liberation of Iraq. Even the non-Left anti-war side here will concede it is good that Saddam is gone (right before the inevitable "but ..."). The real problem is that the Moslem street doesn't have an understanding of Iraq even that advanced. They truly believe, because of their press, the Western European press, and selective reporting of Western news such as the Lancet propaganda attacks, that we are slaughtering innocent Iraqis.
Will there be a backlash against the corruption of once-trusted institutions perverted for the sake of promoting our defeat once Iraq calms down and the world starts to notice that the Iraqis like us, are grateful for our help, that we were very careful when using our weapons, that dead Iraqis were almost totally the victims of jihadis and Sadrist militias, and that the only mass graves are from Saddam's era?
Man. I really am an optimist.