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August 18, 2006

A Little Food For Thought

TigerHawk** points to a heartwarming little burst of anomie from (where else?) the New York Times which tells us, among other things, that attacks on U.S. troops are increasing as indicated by the Times' metric du jour (honestly, we find it almost impossible to keep up with the shifting baselines): the number of roadside bombs planted by the insurgency. We would not lie to you, dear readers:

The number of roadside bombs planted in Iraq rose in July to the highest monthly total of the war, offering more evidence that the anti-American insurgency has continued to strengthen despite the killing of the terrorist leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

Along with a sharp increase in sectarian attacks, the number of daily strikes against American and Iraqi security forces has doubled since January. The deadliest means of attack, roadside bombs, made up much of that increase. In July, of 2,625 explosive devices, 1,666 exploded and 959 were discovered before they went off. In January, 1,454 bombs exploded or were found.

Fair enough. So the enemy is planting more bombs. We give them an "A" for effort.

Does the Times think to ask why the insurgency are planting more bombs as opposed to... oh, we don't know, attacking and attempting to hold territory, which last time we checked was the only way short of simply discouraging an occupying force into giving up and leaving (otherwise known as the "over-the-horizon strategy") to actually win a war? Could this possibly be a sign that they have conceded they can only win by making us lose heart? From where we sit that looks like desperation, unless of course we are seriously considering "strategic redeployment".

The Times proceeds to tell us that not only have the number of roadside bombs increased, but the vast majority of them are not aimed at either Iraqi patrols or innocent civilians:

An analysis of the 1,666 bombs that exploded in July shows that 70 percent were directed against the American-led military force, according to a spokesman for the military command in Baghdad. Twenty percent struck Iraqi security forces, up from 9 percent in 2005. And 10 percent of the blasts struck civilians, twice the rate from last year.

So what kind of result should alert readers logically expect from a campaign that concentrates 70% of the enemy's effort in a flurry of attacks whose number has doubled since January?

According to the Times, things are worse by every conceivable measure.... at least the ones they tell us about. How do we know this, dear readers? Because they are trying really, really hard. And of course it must logically follow as the night doth the day that all this manly effort must be bearing some fruit, no? Surely if the enemy are trying to kill US troops, US casualties should be UP dramatically, right?


How about those IED casualties? You know, the deadliest kind? Oddly, the Times chose not to quote that metric either this month:


You can make statistics say all kinds of things. It's not hard to do, even for the folks at the Times. The thing about numbers is that they don't mean much, in and of themselves. And just a few short weeks ago it wasn't hard to find people saying pretty much the opposite of what the Times was saying yesterday:

"American troops are no longer the primary focus of the people perpetuating the violence inside Iraq. They have become a secondary target," said defense analyst Charles Pena, a senior fellow with George Washington University's Homeland Security Policy Institute.

In the past two years, only two months had lower U.S. death tolls than July.

It seems to me that either the Times doesn't know what it is talking about, or it is selectively quoting statistics to prove a predetermined non-point, much as they did back in March when that truck crashed and they couldn't wait to tell us that this was the worst month for US fatalities so far! (nevermind that most of them died from an overturned truck accident)

In light of this, I think we have no choice but to surrender in Iraq. But then, that is the point of all this effort, isn't it? Because if the Times is correct and the enemy is launching twice as many attacks and focusing 70% of their effort on US troops, yet seeing less of a payoff in the way of casualties than they were earlier in the war, what good is it doing them?

Well, there are really only two ways to win a war. Taking and holding territory.

And attrition.

And guess which one works better if you're a numerically and militarily inferior force up against a technologically superior force lead by a weak-willed, democratically elected government?

** You know, y'all could LET ME KNOW when I'm so full of bile that I forget to link to the main point of the post, you know :)

What if I can't stay
What if you can't stay
What if I can't leave
What if you can't leave?

What if I believed
Every word you say
What if you believed
Until today?

'Cause we rode it long,
We drove it hard
And we wrecked it
In our own backyard

What do we do now
What do we do now
What do we do now
What do we do now?

- John Hiatt

Update II: I think some people are missing the point of my post. Apparently I did not express myself well - I did not wish to belabor the point. I did not intend to imply that any of these charts prove we are winning the war.

My point was that the metrics presented by the Times are insufficient to prove that we have lost the war.

Citing the rather dubious measure of bombs planted, as I observed earlier, is an interesting metric. It does measure insurgent activity. But it is incomplete without a corresponding measure of effectiveness. The Times quotes a statistic:
70% of IEDs are ostensibly being aimed at US troops.

Presumbly the enemy is doing this for a reason. Therefore, we should expect to see a corresponding "bang for the buck", preferably something other than the number of white flags being run up on Capitol Hill.

Appropriate metrics might be US fatalities and wounded from IED attacks. TigerHawk's post stated US fatalities were "down slightly, but that is because we have hardened the target". He states American wounded are "way up". That premise would seem to be belied by this slide, which I prepared from statistics garned from globalsecurity:


Note how the Times blithely skips over roughly eight months of wounded data, somewhat "arbitrary" picking January as a starting point. Do you notice anything about the month of January? It is a low point in the 18-month cycle: you have to go back to February of 2004 to find a lower data point. Interesting choice, huh? That ought to tell you something about the Times' methodology.

They are not going to show you the entire pattern because they do not want you to see the whole picture.

The other point is that the insurgents are expending double the amount of effort and getting a far less than proportional return on their investment, except in terms of what commenter DGF terms the irksome fact that they are killing some of us, which is hardly unexpected during wartime. Our numbers have remained essentially the same, their efforts have increased drastically, yet our casualties have declined.

I suppose it would be unbearably partisan of me to point out that attrition is a knife that can cut both ways? Because any time I observe that it's just possible that we aren't losing, somehow that gets twisted into saying I have declared "mission accomplished" and launched a ticker tape parade.

/snark :)

Posted by Cassandra at August 18, 2006 08:51 AM


Wow. Way to hit the nail on the head. Hard to argue against points like those.

Posted by: Cpl M at August 18, 2006 12:29 PM

I'm thinking about going over there to personally surrender, given this damning report by another MSM outlet that hates the Bush Admin.

Anybody wanna come? Don't forget your Glock and your rifle, and some body armor wouldn't hurt.

We won't be taking any prisoners, but we'll surely make some friends. The enemies we already know about. The cowards.

Well done, Cass - you can ride in my convoy. ;-)

Posted by: tee bee at August 18, 2006 01:21 PM

Thank you Cass

Posted by: Jane at August 18, 2006 01:48 PM

Interesting choice of metric.

This is the same NYT that once argued that New York City was safer than the rest of the country because only 35% of the murders there were committed with handguns, compared to 64% nationwide.

Posted by: Ken Summers at August 18, 2006 02:11 PM

Thanks for the post, Cass. Fairly (and arguably unfairly) snarky, but snarkitude's on the logo after all, so that aspect is pretty fair and transparent. (Can't say I agree with the "last throes"-type analysis, tho.)

For those who prefer a little more analysis in their analysis, y'all might go and read the Tigerhawk post referenced at the outset. It (and its comments)actually gives me some hope re: the body-politic's educability, and that foreign policy in this country has (at least theoretically) a chance of being grounded in reality (versus, e.g., soundbites, simple stuborness, blind partisanship, or a disinclination to adapt).


Posted by: DGF at August 18, 2006 02:51 PM


I didn't say they were in their last throes. That is your wording, not mine.

What I said was, the only way they can win this war is if they force us to give up, rather than by taking and holding ground; a point you still have not addressed. Their only tactic is to harrass and disrupt, and they can be successful only to the degree that they succeed in dismaying and upsetting us.

You did not address my central point, which was: if you accept NY Times' argument that the insurgents have doubled their attacks since January and 70% of them are aimed at us, then one of the following must be true:

1. The insurgents are horribly, horribly inept.

2. The true object of their attacks is not to kill us, but to make us give up or change course.

Posted by: Cassandra at August 18, 2006 03:04 PM

Re: "last throes". Not so much my words as those of the Prince of Darkness. I said "last throes"-type, and so it seems to me, given the choice of words "conceded" and "desperation". Agreed, you didn't say "last throes" (or "justa bunch of dead-enders") or any of the many other absurd and (many are convinced) intentionally deceptive descriptions/tactics utlized by this administration against its people over several years.

("Could this possibly be a sign that they have conceded they can only win by making us lose heart? From where we sit that looks like desperation, unless of course we are seriously considering "strategic redeployment".")

We are involved in asymetric (sp?) warfare, insurgency warfare, and as I have been given to understand those types of wars, the goal of the insurgents/guerrillas/whatever is all-but axiomatically to discourage its asymetrical enemy (if foreign) from maintaining its presence, and to encourage him to go away. That's the plan. I scarcely see how one can parley one's playing the game according to plan, into desperation on the part of that player.

Finally, I suggest that it is not so much that the insurgents are "upsetting and dismaying us" as the fact that they are killing us that is so darn irksome. That, together with the fact that it seems increasingly dubious that there is any happy end reasonably in sight, given (among several factors) the choices the administration (and certain commanders) has made w/ respect to the conflict (many of which have been truly horrific).

Most of the folks in this country apparently believe that the whole adventure was a mistake, but obviously that in and of itself doesn't map out a road for the future - many of whose potential paths are not at all appetizing. To this poor soul confronted with this mess, a timetabled strategic withdrawal seems far from the dumbest strategy available.


Posted by: DGF at August 18, 2006 03:54 PM

I think, Cass, there's a third explanation which is the real one:

The US military has become extremely good at avoiding and disabling IEDs, and has also learned to recognize likely IED ambushes. As a consequence, we're simply not very vulnerable any more. The enemy is following the old Soviety "Golden BB" plan -- throw up a whole lot of flak, and probably you'll get lucky once in a while.

The larger point -- re: holding territory -- is exactly correct, and why I've argued for two years that we will certainly win if we don't give up and withdraw. (See the "Clausewitz & The Triangle" post from the Mudville Gazette for one of the earlier formulations of that argument.)

Posted by: Grim at August 18, 2006 05:38 PM

You are a plot spoiler. How can you even try to think outside the Chosen Mantra of the NYT vaunted ignorance of all things military?
How DARE you make sense?

That was totally uncalled for.

Posted by: Cricket at August 18, 2006 05:45 PM

Sorry, Cricket.

Did you get my email this time? :)

Posted by: Grim at August 18, 2006 05:48 PM

There is also a fourth possibility, to my twisted way of thinking.
That is, that since Iran is surrepitously (actively) funding and supporting the Shiite end of the "insurgency" against the "occupation", maybe, just maybe, the Iraqis acting as agents of Iran (and at the other end, the Sunnis supported by Sunni money squirreled away by Saddam in Syria before OIF), are just plain sick of the bombings themselves, and are doing a poor job of planting IED's, etc.
The numbers are up (IED's planted), money is being paid out, but their hearts are just not in it. This is, in fact, similar to what happened in South Viet Nam (uh-oh, Viet Nam analogy coming) to the Viet Cong after the Tet offensive of 1968. After '68, more and more of the combat burden was shouldered by NVA regulars, as the VC had been decimated and demoralized.
I refuse to believe that all these Arabs are the crazy monsters many wish to believe, and they may just be getting sick of the whole thing.

Posted by: Don Brouhaha at August 18, 2006 06:11 PM

Why is it bad to say mission accomplished?

The insurgents can never defeat us or drive us out if we want to stay, and Iraq is now a country where oil money no longer funds a weapons program that threatens us.

Threat gone.

Mission accomplished.

Posted by: Pile OnĀ® at August 18, 2006 06:44 PM

Pile On, that's an excellent point, and that's why it frosts me every time I see the Iraq war referred to as, "Bush's blunder," or something equivalent.

The main goal of the Iraq war was regime change. There were several side issues, and the WMD was indeed played up, but, and this is something else they never acknowledge: it was not just the concern for what Saddam had, but also for was he aspired to obtain. They also seem to forget, when they are making their, "Bush's war," references, that the entire world considered Saddam Hussein a threat.

But, returning to your point, the perceived threat, which is the reason we went to war, is indeed gone, and it was accomplished in an amazingly short amount of time.

Posted by: JannyMae at August 18, 2006 06:55 PM

Great post, and loved the John Hiatt ref.

Posted by: ktel60 at August 18, 2006 07:05 PM

Cass, if you are in the mood to be agreed with, then I agree wholeheartedly with your great post. A little bile is good, too much and one becomes sister Jane Hamster.

If not, I denounce you as a dupe of Chimpy McHitlerburton and American imperialism. Heh.

Quantitative analysis is useful measuring the progress of military action only if one understands the important variables and ignores the unimportant ones. This is particularly true where the same variable may have far different weight to an enemy. It would appear the Times has obscured all the important information in persuit of political goals - to return the political left to power at almost any cost.

In broad strokes, analogies to the Vietnam War are not very useful regarding Iraq, but some specific ones are:

General William Westmoreland once "baldly described his strategy for winning the war. Attrition would do it, he had said, a steady, bloody, grinding-down of the enemy until he quit. 'We'll just go on bleeding them until Hanoi wakes up to the fact that they have bled their country to the point of national disaster for generations.' Westmoreland had been stung when military critics asserted that attrition was not a strategy, but rather one of the first signs of loss of initiative." - "The End of the Line", p. 115, Robert Pisor.

Attrition warfare was not an option for an America increasingly disenchanted with Vietnam and certainly not with an enemy willing to trade casualties with America at a 10/1 disadvantage - forever. Body count meant much less to North Vietnam than to America. Attrition warefare was the ideal way for North Vietnam to fight an enemy it could never beat on the battlefield. Particularly in light of an increasingly disgruntled public, hostile MSM and Congress.

The Vietnam war has become a template for the left and most MSM in America. Our enemies abroad took notes. America appeared to lack resolve and hesitant to prosecute a real war (for want of a better term) against an enemy.

So, the true goal of our enemies is:
"2. The true object of their attacks is not to kill us, but to make us give up or change course."

While the rabid left cheers them on and actively supports them. Much of the MSM supports our enemies and actively runs propaganda for them as news. The war will be won based upon mainstream America's ability to go the distance and keep its eye on the ball. Thank God we do not have a draft.

Posted by: Mark at August 18, 2006 07:15 PM

I did get your email and responded.

Posted by: Cricket at August 18, 2006 07:52 PM

Really? Hm. I don't think I got the response.

How odd. Perhaps I should just start a thread at Grim's Hall for the discussion -- some of my readers will have advice as good as my own, or better in some cases (Doc Russia, for example, is a very clever fellow on the subject of 1911's).

Posted by: Grim at August 18, 2006 08:15 PM

Pile On does make an excellent point. I would think that within a year the Iraqi government would have matured to the point it can defend itself from terrorists. Iran is a definite threat and I am not sure this issue is separate from US presence in Iraq. Iran is doing its best to destabilize the Iraqi government via its Shia proxies. I would say leave tomorrow, if the Iraqi government could maintain internal security and defend itself against Iran.

Grim, who has been on a roll lately with excellent posts, has one particularly relevant, "Where are We Going?"

Sooner or later nuclear Iran must be dealt with. I doubt the US has the resolve to do it militarily in the next year or two. So, our major troop strength remaining in Iraq may not make sense.

Posted by: Mark at August 18, 2006 08:37 PM


re: For those who prefer a little more analysis in their analysis, y'all might go and read the Tigerhawk post referenced at the outset. It (and its comments)actually gives me some hope re: the body-politic's educability, and that foreign policy in this country has (at least theoretically) a chance of being grounded in reality (versus, e.g., soundbites, simple stuborness, blind partisanship, or a disinclination to adapt).

Wow. That was pretty snide. I chose to ignore it because it was obviously intended to be insulting and I had no intention of being provoked by it, but I really have to wonder why you bother coming over here if that is your opinion of both this site and its readers.

But you really might consider trying to look beneath the surface just a bit in the future.

First of all, there was nothing wrong with TH's post, and I did not attack it. My post was aimed at the Times article. But he unquestioningly accepted the Times' metrics, whereas I actually took the time to check them out and apply a little critical analysis to them (whether or not you agree with it is another matter). And I am free to disagree with him, or the Times.

For some reason, you are unable to look beyond the fact that I mixed in a few jokes with the rest of my message, consequently you feel justified in dismissing the entire post.

When someone takes the time to read something critically and ask questions, that's usually a good thing. When they back it up with more facts than the original article presented, that is normally also a good thing. If they can point out that the authors misrepresented something, or provide an alternative interpretation of the data, some people might think that has some value.

I'm not sure how showing how the Times used a shifting baseline and selectively quoted casualty statistics to make things look as bad as possible gets translated into blind partisanship.

It never ceases to amaze me the way the Times quotes some "senior Defense Department official who agreed to discuss the issue only on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak for attribution" for every article they write.

My husband works for DOD, and he would die before talking to the Times about anything he is not authorized to release. So you kind of have to wonder about the motives and accuracy of all these folks who keep leaking stuff they aren't supposed to be talking about.

And in the same article they cite a "A separate, classified report by the Defense Intelligence Agency, dated Aug. 3". Well, WHAT IN THE HELL ARE PEOPLE DOING TALKING ABOUT THE CONTENTS OF THAT REPORT? IT IS CLASSIFIED. And you know, we can't see it, can we?

But we are supposed to trust the word of honest-to-God liars who swore never to reveal the contents of classified reports.... only they lied once, didn't they?

Ummm...yeah. But trust them. This time, they're telling the truth.

I am happy to have you reading, DGF. And I am happy to have to disagree with me. But I'm really not sure of the rationale for being condescending. We really try to stay away from that. I did not attack TigerHawk, so if you thought you were defending him that was not needed.

And in any case, he is a big boy and can defend himself, and needs no defense from me.

Posted by: Cassandra at August 19, 2006 11:25 AM


Posted by: Unkawill at August 19, 2006 02:05 PM

OK :) So I'm a bit crabby. I just get tired of being one of those people who follows rules and obeys laws just so other people can break them whenever the mood strikes them. It must be nice to be above the laws other people feel bound, for some inexplicable reason, to obey because they feel some bizarre sense of "duty" towards other human beings or, even worse, to this travesty they call "society". The illusions some fools blind themselves with... really.

Maybe some day I'll know how it feels to be like Bill Keller: i.e., not one of the Little People.

Posted by: Cassandra at August 19, 2006 02:23 PM

It seems to me that IEDs are being used against americans and their armor. While other tactics are used against other targets. Arent most deaths in iraq due to shiite militias anyway? Those aren't IED-based.

Posted by: actus at August 20, 2006 01:08 PM

You say
as opposed to... oh, we don't know, attacking and attempting to hold territory, which last time we checked was the only way short of simply discouraging an occupying force into giving up and leaving

This isn't the way a modern guerilla war works. It's the occupation army's job to clear and hold. It's the guerilla's job to convince the occupier that the struggle isn't worth the cost. Typically the occupation army wears itself out taking (and retaking and retaking and retaking) the same towns and neighborhoods.

Look at 4GW

And look at this Google search to see how many neighborhoods the insurgency controls:

Google search

Posted by: Laney at August 21, 2006 05:45 PM

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