Welch is vexed. According to him, U.S. involvement in Iraq has
unleashed a storm of lies. No, not about uranium
from Niger, or 45
minute launch times, or vast
stores of anthrax, not those little fibs. Welch is referring
to "lies" that exaggerate the impact of sanctions
on Iraqis, especially children. These "myths" are
dangerous, you see, because they challenge the rectitude of
American foreign policy, and we all know what that leads to moral
equivalence. Take a moment to shudder.
consider two notable Welch articles on sanctions, one in last
Daily Star and the other from Reason,
March 2002. Both are Trojan horses. Though they purport to question
the usefulness of sanctions in general, Welch puts most of his
effort into smearing critics of sanctions/war and absolving
the U.S./U.N. of primary blame for Iraq's twelve-year humanitarian
disaster. First, he claims to debunk the frequently heard statistics
about the size of the calamity. Second, he argues that his more
reasonable body count should be laid at Saddam Hussein's feet.
with Welch, I prefer to use his own words against him. The two
Welch essays analyzed below implode on close inspection. Sit
back and watch the debunker debunk himself. (Please forgive
any redundant links they're meant to permit quick reference
of blame, how many "excess deaths" were there among
children below the age of five in interwar Iraq? ("Excess
deaths" are defined as those exceeding pre-sanctions mortality
rates.) Welch scores his only two valid points here: We cannot
be certain how many died, and we should be wary of advocates
who pad their causes with big numbers. Fine. But while we don't
know exactly how many "excess deaths" there were,
it is possible to make informed estimates. That some people
have thrown out unsubstantiated figures does not invalidate
the anti-sanctions case, or even the specific numbers touted
by the misinformed. Ask 1,000 American high school students
how many people live in France, and one ignoramus is bound to
guess 60 million; even a blind chicken finds a kernel of corn
every now and then.
what do the informed estimates say? Welch cites the original
report for the years 1991-1998 as one source for the 500,000
figure. In his Sep. 3 article, Welch argues that because UNICEF
presupposes the same rate of decline in mortality rates that
Iraq saw in the 1980s, a more accurate estimate should be pegged
to constant 1989 levels, leaving the number "closer to
400,000." (Welch specified 420,000 in March 2002, but why
worry over 20,000 or so dead kids?) He then invokes a 1999 study
by Richard Garfield, a nursing professor at Columbia University,
which sets the 1991-1998 death toll between 106,000 and 227,000.
This debunks the myth of a half million, right? Not exactly.
Garfield's updated estimate for the entire 1990-2002 period
is actually 350,000 to 530,000. In other words, the authority
Welch uses to contradict UNICEF and other purveyors of what
he calls "the Iraqi babies scam" says that total deaths
could be 6% higher than the "scammers" proclaim!
statistical problems don't end there. Two points must be considered
when assessing the sanctions' impact: far different mortality
rates in the north and south, and the effects of the "oil
for food" program. Northern Iraq, where the embargo was
hardly enforced, suffered much less than areas below. Welch
New Republic claims the autonomous Kurdish area 'is subject
to exactly the same sanctions as the rest of the country.' This
is false: Under the oil-for-food regime, the north, which contains
13 percent of the Iraqi population, receives 13 percent of all
oil proceeds, a portion of that in cash. Saddam's regions, with
87 percent of the population, receive 59 percent of the money
(recently increased by the U.N. Security Council from 53 percent),
none of it in cash. (Of the rest, 25 percent goes to a Kuwaiti
compensation fund, and the rest covers U.N. expenses.)
just isn't true that the sanctions are 'exactly the same' in
both parts of Iraq."
well and good. But in his
recent reprise, he banishes the crux of the factoid to parentheses:
found that under-five mortality actually decreased in the autonomous
north, while doubling in Saddam-controlled regions, giving pro-sanctions
(and pro-war) advocates evidence that the Iraqi dictator was
largely to blame. (It is also true that the north received far
more international aid.)"
clever. Welch compares apples and oranges and only notes the
difference as an afterthought.
"oil for food," he's even more manipulative. 2002:
critics almost always leave out one other salient fact: The
vast majority of the horror stats they quote apply to the period
before March 1997, when the oil-for-food program delivered
its first boatload of supplies (nearly six years after the U.N.
first proposed the idea to a reluctant Iraqi government). .
who tells you more children will perish in Iraq this month than
Americans died on September 11 is cutting and pasting inflated
mid-1990s statistics onto a country that has changed significantly
since then." [Emphasis mine.]
was obviously aware of Garfield's updated mortality estimate
when he wrote this, because he makes reference to it elsewhere
in the article. But look at how he exploits the same statistics
[Garfield's update] would mean that the rate actually
accelerated during the "oil-for-food" program,
which brought a whopping $28 billion worth of humanitarian supplies
into Iraq between March 1997 and March 2003."
contradicts what he wrote earlier, but then Welch twists numbers
to prove whatever needs proving at the time. In March 2002 the
spotlight was on disarming Saddam, so it was important to emphasize
his intransigence. Now that Iraq's liberation is the last casus
belli standing, Saddam's oppression of "his" people
must take center stage. See, if more children died after food
and medicine imports increased, it must have been because Saddam
was "milk[ing] the humanitarian tragedy for all it was
much for math with Matt Welch.
could argue that Welch cares less about numbers (except when
they make peaceniks look foolish) than he does about culpability.
So anywhere between 350,000 and 530,000 Iraqi youngsters met
an unnecessary end. Who's to blame?
Welch for one correction: UNICEF never placed full blame directly
on the sanctions. UNICEF is, of course, a subsidiary of the
institution that levied the sanctions, but we won't infer any
"conflict of interest." We'll just accept their take
as one group's opinion and try to clear our own path through
a thicket of alternative culprits.
2002 article lists several of these, including "sanctions,
drought, hospital policy, breast-feeding education, Saddam Hussein's
government, depressed oil prices, the Iraqi economy's almost
total dependence on oil exports and food imports, destruction
from the Iran-Iraq and Persian Gulf wars, [and] differences
in conditions between the autonomous north and the Saddam-controlled
south." Let's take them one at a time.
in conditions between the autonomous north and the Saddam-controlled
south. This makes no sense as a cause of mortality the
lack of an embargo in the north didn't cause shortages in the
south so it can be dismissed immediately.
If the author didn't just yank this theory out of the clouds,
he should have provided evidence for it. Besides, drought simply
does not cause mass death (Welch can reread his
hero P.J. O'Rourke's All
the Trouble in the World, chapter 3, for background
if he doesn't believe me).
policy. Welch cites the world's worst source of intelligence
US Defense Department claimed in July that the Baath regime
spent a microscopic $13 million on healthcare for the Iraqi
people in 2002. 'That's less than $1 per person per year,' Assistant
Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs Dr. William Winkenwerder
told reporters on July 25: 'Yet, Saddam and his sons continued
to spend the money of Iraq and its resources in their palaces,
and in their security apparatus and in their effort to pursue
weapons of mass destruction [obligatory snicker]. It
is almost unbelievable. One has to be there to believe it and
to see it.'"
the Husseins lived large while their subjects suffered, as I
pointed out in a call to global anarchism several weeks
ago, but what does healthcare spending matter when medicine
is in short supply?
education. I love the casual insertion of this excuse; why
not blame everything on Iraqi sex ed while you're at it? Yes,
the substitution of powder formula for breast milk has
been a major factor in infant deaths, but why? To begin with,
infrastructure has been destroyed bomb by bomb for over a decade.
Au revoir, sanitation. When mixed with septic water,
formula wreaks havoc on immature immune systems. But mothers
who were malnourished themselves or forced to work by siege
little choice but to use the formula included in their rations.
oil prices. Yeah, we've all seen those pitiful tots in Kuwait.
Iraqi economy's almost total dependence on oil exports and food
imports. A preexisting factor.
from the Iran-Iraq and Persian Gulf wars. The war with Iran
was in the 1980s, the era against which the excess deaths since
have been measured.
all this tiresome prestidigitation, we're left with sanctions
and Saddam. Saddam deserves blame, yes, a thousand times yes.
He should have surrendered to his
former patrons in D.C. as soon as they turned their guns
on him. He's a horrible, horrible beast, the wretched spawn
of a Hitler-Stalin orgy, or, in Virginia Postrel's lexicon,
a demon straight out of Buffy
the Vampire Slayer. Jesus himself would have
driven a stake through the bastard's heart as Buddha poured
the lighter fluid and Gandhi struck a match. We get it already.
war and sanctions, however, those 350,000 to 530,000 children
would still be alive, even with the evil Saddam in charge. And
given the nonexistence of the threat Welch and his buddies hyped
six months ago, can they not admit that those lives were wasted?
count on it. Welch's
biggest gripe about Madeleine Albright's response to hundreds
of thousands of innocents slaughtered ("I think this is
a very hard choice, but the price we think the price is worth
it") is that she didn't deny the half million figure,
a figure he's willing to set at 420,000. In terms of sheer callousness,
Albright and Welch are neck and neck.
since the vast majority of us who gave a damn about the war
either way have moved on, why is Welch still stuck on sanctions?
I'll let him explain.
sanctions are killing Iraqi babies, then Osama Bin Laden has
a legitimate propaganda tool, and the U.S. has blood on its
hands that demands immediate attention. So let's find the facts,
weigh them against Saddam's weapons capabilities, and proceed
from there." (2002)
has a keen eye for propaganda, as someone who hawks so much
of it should. (Tell us more about those weapons capabilities.
. .) Is he afraid that angry Muslims or even worse, American
peaceniks might have a point about U.S. foreign policy? About,
dare I say it, blowback? Well, they can't, they simply can't!
Why, only Noam Chomsky and Ralph Nader and Pat Buchanan question
the almighty government, and they're. . . they're. . . they're
these are the best arguments the liberventionists
can muster, then I think I'll stick with the loons.