May 31, 2003

Mano a Mano

Libertarians do battle. Noted 'paleolibertarian' Jim Henley decries the current state of the Iraqi war and clearly is getting angrier as he writes:

God damn the men who put our troops in this situation. God damn the men who brought our country to this pass.
Which earns this response on Samizdata, a supposedly libertarian site, from a Perry de Havilland:
So to borrow Jim Henley's tone, damn to hell all the 'cowardly' paleo-libertarians and their socialist confreres who really did not care what Saddam Hussain's regime was doing to the people in Iraq and who still feel no remorse that all the horrors of Ba'athism would still be happening in Iraq today if they had gotten their way.
Perry and Brian Doss at the new blog also argue that things aren't bad for our troops in Iraq because their death rate (one a day) is less then the US murder rate of 42/day. But that comparison doesn't work. Let's say there are 500,000 us troops in Iraq (I think the number is less now) but this makes the calculation easier. If one/day is getting killed that would be equivalent to 560/day getting killed in the US. Doesn't look like they have better odds to me.

The Saddam was evil excuse does not hold water for those whose own house is not in order (42 murders a day, Enron, 44,000 traffic deaths a year, how many homeless?, the drug war gulags, etc.) and the clearly acceptable libertarian argument of self defense does not seem to apply here.

Posted by Steve on May 31, 2003

Just so I am sure of your position before I go on... are you saying that Enron, homelessness and TRAFFIC deaths are really no different from the million (low estimate) people slaughtered (let us forget 'imprisioned' and 'tortured' for now) by Ba'athist Socialism in Iraq? Enron (corporate malfeasance) and *traffic deaths*? Also, would you have then the same view that much greater homelessness in depression era America disqualified the USA from going to war with Germany? Also would you agree that as Vietnam is an odious and brutal communist state, them was no justification for them to have invaded Cambodia and overthrown Pol Pot's Khymer Rouge? Please clarify.

Posted by Perry de Havilland at May 31, 2003 5:46 AM

I don't claim to be an expert of statistical analysis, but I think the counter claim of an equivalent 560/day rate is mistaken.

If one assumes (perhaps correctly) that the death rate of 1/day (or, rather, the likelihood or chance of death that is currently resulting in a death rate of 1/day) for soldiers in Iraq applies only to the population of soldiers in Iraq, then you can't just turn around and compare a number with an (admittedly) elevated chance of death to the vast number of Americans with low or nonexistent chances to be murdered on any given day.

If you go down that road, a proper comparison, I think, would be with Americans in a similar situation (that is, a position where you are shot at every day) and see what their death rate is. If there is data available on the death rate of an inner-city gang member involved in the drug trade, that might come up to the level of danger for comparison's sake. Maybe policemen operating in gang war-zones?

I suppose that the best comparison would be the total death rate for US servicemen prior to the war versus after the war (while in Iraq). Are the deaths from all sources the same, save for murder? In which case, Jim would be right and my quibble wrong. I believe, though, that in the first Gulf War, the number of deaths from the war was less than you'd expect in an equivalent amount of time in the US, simply due to accidents (which meant that, oddly enough and statistically speaking, our soldiers were *safer* in GWI than at home).

At any rate, I didn't wish to cherry pick the data too much to make what, in my mind, is a tangential point at best. I think that seizing upon an uptick in recent days of soldier deaths doesn't lead to the litany of gloom and doom, cycle of violence, etc, that it seemed to on Jim's post.

Posted by Brian Doss at May 31, 2003 9:01 AM

Re the statistical comparisons. Being late last night I probably was not as clear as I could have been. However, Brian confirms part of the point that I failed to be clear on: you have to be very careful when doing statistical comparisons.

Comparing the 1/day death rate of us soldiers in Iraq to the US murder rate of 42/day doesn't work because the population sizes are different. And, since the comparison was meant to look at the risk US military personnel experience compared to what they might experience at home the size of the Iraqi population is irrelevant.

The extrapolation to a US murder rate of 560/day was simply meant to show what the rate would be in the US if it were at the same rate as the 1/day per 500,000 for US military in Iraq. Actually the current number of US/British troops is 200,000 so the comparable number would be more like 1300/day.

Now, I'm not saying that is what the rate is in the US. Rather, if we were popping off folks at the same rate in the US as we are in Iraq it would be considered pretty unacceptable.

So why would you and Perry consider it acceptable in Iraq?

Posted by Steve at May 31, 2003 11:52 AM

I don't think the 560 or 1300 a day is correct, for the reasons I stated above. I think a proper comparison is the military death rate prior to the war vs. after the war (omitting the war itself). Even then, I think that an elevated rate is acceptable given the soldiers in a post-war situation. It is a necessary consequence, and thus is expected. When the losses become unexpected, I'd have to reconsider.

I accept the death rate as a consequence of a war I thought was justified on self-defense grounds and other grounds (as in, we ought to clean up the mess we started in 1991 when we failed to complete the last war). The justification, to me, of GWII flows directly from the justification of GWI, since I think GWI was never truly over.

Posted by Brian Doss at May 31, 2003 2:57 PM

I think this all rather misses the main point of what on earth does Enron and traffic deaths in the USA have to do with the UK/US removal of a mass murdering tyrant in Iraq? Unless I have spectacularly misunderstood (always a possibility), then this seems to be a very bizarre set of moral equivalences that pretty much preclude any nation from doing anything anywhere overseas, given that there is not a nation-state on earth that does not have companies go bust and people die in accidents. I too am opposed to what were quite rightly and artfully called 'drug war gulags', but I do not see the relevence to Iraq at all.

Now if one accepts that only a state which 'has its own house in order' could possibly be justified in overthrowing the government of another in the manner in which Ba'athist Socialism was overthrown, then I can only wonder if any state would ever pass that test? Of course if you have the view of nation-states that I do, which is to say that all nation-states are just democratically sanctified kleptocratic mafias, then the answer is 'no'.

I regard all nation-states as little more than vast engines of criminality which just vary in the *degree* to which they use violence to enforce their looting rights over their subject peoples. So as I think there can never be a 'moral' nation-state by the very nature of what states are, no intervention could ever justified according to the 'house in order' condition. Yet it seems to me that the *degree* and *extent* to which a state uses violence is not a trivial distinction and it is here that the remarks about Enron and traffic accident start to look very odd indeed.

Although the common cold and anthrax are both diseases, clearly the qualitative differences are of more than passing significance and the same applies to political entites like nation-states. However what you seem to have suggested in your article indicates corporate malfeasance in an American power company, and American traffic fatalities have much the same qualitative relationship to the American polis as, say, the way the Iraqi Ba'athist political entity related to a state torture chamber in every significant town in Iraq, the routine murder of people who were deemed a threat to the Ba'athist regime or who just disfavoured, using poison gas to mass murder a town in Iraqi Kurdistan and all the other many and variated horrors visited *systematically* upon the people of Iraq for over twenty five years.

So how exactly does the Enron debacle make the US armed ouster of an Iraqi mass murderer less acceptable than if Enron had *not* happened?

The way I see it, the lesser evils (UK/US) destroyed the greater evil (Ba'athist Socialist regime of Iraq). That does not make the US and UK no longer 'evil' but so what? How is that relevant? If you were confronted with an Iraqi saying "The US government called on us Iraqis to rise up against Saddam in 1991 and when we did, you guys sat back and let us get slaughtered... will you help us this time?" Would you reply "Sorry, we let too many people die on our highways and there is too much jiggery-pokery going on in US boardrooms to do anything like that." I mean, that *does* seem to me to be what you are saying.

I can think of all manner of reasonable grounds to oppose things like the liberation of Iraq by force of foreign arms but, and I do not mean to be harsh, if I understand you correctly, yours are the most bizarre grounds for not doing what was done I have heard to date.

Posted by Perry de Havilland at May 31, 2003 5:54 PM
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