Stats That May Be Important in 20 Years – Or Not

My Election Analysis breaks down some information from Brookings; he warns it may mean much or it may mean little – the track record is still short. But it is a pattern over the last five months, the trends are all going one way, and Brookings is not generally considered a neocon haven. They do seem under-publicized. In the extended section are selections from both a cautionary editorial and links to stats.

Update: Wretchard at Belmont Club, with his usual wide-ranging discussion, analyzes these statistics. He also notes discussions that warn the insurgents are merely resting, waiting quietly for America to leave. (Surely only Wretchard would weave these two articles with another on the fining of Carlos the Jackal for “hate speech” and concluding with Lennon/McCartney’s “He’s a Real Nowhere Man.”)

A. Shibley Telhami notes that the problems in Iraq are fundamental:

Once the institutions of sovereignty are destroyed in any state, especially one with a heterogeneous society, the odds are against any effort to build a stable alternative in the same generation. In the absence of effective central authority, all it takes is a small, determined minority to prevent unity.

And he goes on to discuss the problems, which he sees are “on a bewildering scale.” Still, he allows

no such large-scale operation will ever take place without significant flaws and surprises, even if these can be limited by better planning. Even if the Iraqi army had not been dismantled, for example, it is not clear how effective it would have been after its devastating defeat in the invasion or how the Shiites would have related to it. Nor is it yet clear if the insurgency was not planned by elements of the army all along. Even with the best U.S. preparation, the odds against keeping Iraq together would have been great.

B. Perhaps the best indices are not counts of the dead – and certainly not over a mere 5-month period. But 5 months can show a trend and Michael O’Hanlon’s Iraqi Index: Tracing Variables of Reconstruction & Security in post-Saddam Iraq (also from Brookings, in a pdf file) does indicate a downward slope. Of course, the numbers aren’t going down as fast as we might hope and some, especially civilian deaths, are quite erratic. Nonetheless, the facts support Myelectionanalysis’s tentative hope. Look at the variety of information on pp. 4-14. On the other hand, oil and electricity (28-29) look less positive.

C. The commenters on myelectionanalysis generally have the kind of civility we have found in ours and some may find the discussions interesting.

Belmont Club:

One possibility is that the “increasingly confident” insurgency reported by the International Crisis Group is giving America one last respite before unleashing hell and finally driving the US from Iraq. The other possibility is that the enemy, unable to defeat the US military in the field, has embarked on a strategy Amir Taheri called “Waiting Out Bush”. Or in Belmont Clubese, the enemy having lost the military war now hopes to win the political war.

Of course, spending much energy on these declines does make us look for some wood to knock on; it is far better to prepare for the worst than the best – to assume the numbers will go up in the next months and not down. Certainly, history has not shown a simple path.

Part of the reason the MSM tends to see the clouds within even the sunniest of skies is that predictions of disaster and decline are less often thrown back in our faces than incorrect ones of success and joy. In the former, our general happiness embraces even the doomsayers. In the latter, as for that horrible if happy moment when the coal mine disaster seemed not nearly so terrible, the reactions are much more powerful when the bad news came. (And then accusatory voices were raised.) Of coursse, Katrina shows that preparing for the worst is a better policy. If the large refrigerated trucks brought to take the dead out of the Civic Center had not been there but the bodies were, the situation would have been horrendous. Unfilled cadaver bags are a lot more pleasant than not enough. However, much of the planning did not seem to take the possibilities of the worst case scenario.

The cautionary notes of so many about this 5-month trend seem well justified. But facts are still facts and useful to know.