[Note for Readers: This is the third in TomDispatch's "by the numbers"
series, leading up to this week's White House "Progress Report" from the U.S.
commander in Iraq, Gen. David Petraeus, and the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Ryan
Crocker. The first, in July, was "Iraq
by the Numbers"; the second, in August, was "Escalation
by the Numbers." You can check them for topics missing this time around.
"Progress" by the Numbers
It was about this time of year in 2002, in the
halcyon days of the Bush administration, that White House Chief of Staff Andrew
Card offered a little political marketing advice to the world. In explaining
Bush administration had not launched its "case" against Iraq (and for
a future invasion) the previous month, he told a New York Times reporter,
"From a marketing point of view, you don't introduce new products in August."
It's a piece of simple business wisdom, and when it comes to manipulating
the public, the Bush administration is still sticking to it five years later.
The corollary, which Card didn't mention, is: Do your market research and testing
in the dog-bites-man news months of July and August. And that's just what the
Bush administration did in the run-up to what will certainly be its victorious
battle with congressional opponents to extend its surge plan into next spring
and its occupation of Iraq into the distant future. (As present White House
Chief of Staff Joshua Bolten said
in a meeting with the USA Today editorial board last week, he doesn't
think "any 'realistic observer' can believe that 'all or even most of the American
troop presence' will be out of Iraq by the end of Bush's presidency.")
The core marketing decision was, of course, finding the right spokesman for
the product. As Robert Draper, author of the new book Dead Certain, reported
recently, the president was "fully aware of his standing in opinion polls"
and so, earlier this year, decided that "his top commander in Iraq, Gen. David
H. Petraeus, would perhaps do a better job selling progress to the American
people than he could." As Bush put it, ""I've been here too long. Every time
I start painting a rosy picture, it gets criticized and then it doesn't make
it on the news." Indeed.
So launching "Brand Petraeus" and providing him with some upbeat Iraqi news
(Sunnis in al-Anbar Province ally with U.S.) and numbers (violence down in August)
were the two necessities of the summer. In July, the celebrity surge general,
who had already shown a decided knack
on earlier tours of Iraq for wowing the media, was loosed. Petraeus, in turn,
loosed all his top commanders to enter vociferously into what previously would
have been a civilian debate over U.S. policy and the issue of "withdrawal."
This campaign, by the way, represents a significant chiseling away at traditional
prohibitions on U.S. military figures entering the American political arena
while in uniform.
Like any top-notch PR outfit, the administration also put various toes in
the water in August and wiggled them vigorously including offering rousing
presidential speeches and radio addresses, especially a "Vietnam
speech" to the Veterans of Foreign Wars. At the same time, an allied $15
million, five-week ad campaign was launched by a new conservative activist
group, Freedom's Watch, led by former White House press spokesman Ari Fleischer.
The ads, "featuring military veterans," were aimed directly at congressional
opposition to the president's surge strategy. In the meantime, key pundits and
experts like Michael
O'Hanlon of the Brookings Institution (who helps produce that organization's
New York Times-published tabulation of numbers from Iraq) and former
invasion enthusiast Kenneth Pollack (both of whom re-billed themselves as "critics"),
not to speak of New York Times columnist Tom Friedman and others, arrived
in Iraq. There, they were given well-organized, well-scripted, Green Zone-style
Pentagon-led tours and sent back home to write
Petraeus-style news releases about modest, but upbeat, "progress."
Next, of course, came the full-scale September launching of the campaign.
This involved a "dramatic" presidential secret exit from the White House and
secret Air Force One flight to al-Asad Airbase in Iraq's isolated western desert,
one of our giant "enduring"
bases (whose imposing nature U.S. reporters tend to be oblivious to, even
when reporting from them). With Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, National
Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, and hand-picked
reporters along, Bush performed what was, as PressThink's
Jay Rosen has written,
not just a photo-op, but "a propaganda mission that required the press to complete
the mission for him." And so they did, as he met Brand Petraeus and U.S. Ambassador
Ryan Crocker, along with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and various Sunni
tribal sheiks from al-Anbar province with smiles and handshakes all around.
Even CBS Evening News anchor Katie Couric flew into Iraq to deal with
her dreadful ratings by guess what? interviewing Brand Petraeus et al.
and reporting on the reports of "progress." Finally, the military completed
its early September groundwork by releasing a spate of new numbers from Iraq
doubted by pundits
of many stripes. Military officials claimed (could anyone be surprised?) that,
by their count, a miraculous August turnaround had occurred; and here's
another shock, credulous reporters like Michael
Gordon of the New York Times swallowed,
and front-paged, this one, too (though the Times also had a far more
report the following day).
Under the circumstances, you couldn't do it much better. And this week, we
have the full-scale media spectacle of testimony to Congress by General Petraeus
and Ambassador Crocker, along with the delivery of the so-called "Progress"
or Petraeus Report which, thanks
to the Los Angeles Times, we now know though the mainstream media
has made nothing of it was actually written not in Baghdad by the general
and ambassador, but in the White House. (There's yet another shock for us all!)
Why anyone in the media or Congress takes this situation seriously as "news,"
or even something to argue about, is hard to tell. Think of it this way: The
most political general in recent memory has been asked to assess his own work
(as has our ambassador in Iraq), and then present "recommendations" to the White
House in a "report" that is actually being written in the White House.
You couldn't call it a political version of "the honor system"; but perhaps
the dishonor system would do.
Numbers in Iraq are a slippery matter at best, though again, why anyone pays
serious attention to U.S. military numbers from that country is a mystery. On
countless occasions in the past, these have been ridiculous undercounts of disaster.
In the midst of such chaos, mayhem, and pure tragedy, of course, who exactly
is counting? Nonetheless, wherever you look, numbers, however approximate, are
indeed pouring out and, when you consider them, there is no way on Earth to
imagine that the situation is anything but grim and deteriorating: first for
the Iraqi people; second for the overstretched U.S. military; and finally, for
the rest of the region and us.
So here, on the eve of the orbiting of Brand Petraeus, is my best attempt at
"progress" by the numbers:
Number of U.S. troops in Iraq before the president's "surge plan" or "new
way forward" was launched in February 2007: 130,000
Number of U.S. troops in Iraq by September 2008, if General Petraeus' reported
"drawdown" plan is followed: Approximately 130,000,
according to a "senior official" quoted by the Washington Post.
Number of American troops in Iraq when President Bush declared
"major combat operations" to have "ended" on May 1, 2003: Approximately
Number of American troops Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz and
other Pentagon civilian strategists predicted would be stationed in Iraq in
August 2003, four months after Baghdad fell: 30,000-40,000, according to
Washington Post reporter Tom Ricks in his best-selling book Fiasco.
Number of U.S. troops in Iraq in July 2007: 162,000;
in September 2007, 168,000;
later in the fall of 2007, an expected 172,000 each an all-time high in its
Number of British troops in southern Iraq, May 1, 2003: 45,000 in four
Number of British troops in southern Iraq, August 2007: 5,000,
all gathered in a heavily fortified, regularly mortared base at Basra airport;
number of British troops expected to be in Iraq by spring 2008, 3,000.
Number of nations that have withdrawn their troops from the Bush administration's
"coalition of the willing" in Iraq: At
least 17, according to GlobalSecurity.org. Poland is expected to withdraw
its drawn-down forces by year's end and other countries have been drawing down
their minimal forces as well. Among the remaining powers in the "coalition":
Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, El Salvador, Estonia, Mongolia, and Ukraine.
Number of months before the Iraqi army can "independently fulfill [its]
security role": At least 24, according
to a report recently issued by a congressionally-appointed commission of
retired senior U.S. military officers. (Donald
Rumsfeld, October 2003: "In less than six months we have gone from zero
Iraqis providing security to their country to close to a hundred thousand Iraqis.
Indeed, the progress has been so swift that
it will not be long before [Iraqi
security forces] will be the largest and outnumber the U.S. forces, and it shouldn't
be too long thereafter that they will outnumber all coalition forces combined."
Bush, November 2005: "Our coalition has handed over roughly 90 square miles
of Baghdad province to Iraqi security forces. Iraqi battalions have taken over
responsibility for areas in south-central Iraq, sectors of southeast Iraq, sectors
of western Iraq, and sectors of north-central Iraq.
The Iraqis, General Dempsey
says, are 'increasingly in control of their future and their own security
the Iraqi security forces are regaining control of the country.'" Commander
of Multinational Forces IraqGen.
George Casey, October 2006: "And the third step is you make [the Iraqi army]
independent, and that's what you'll see going on here over the better part of
the next 12 months.")
Amount President Bush is to request from Congress in September to pay for
his "surge" plan: Up to $50
billion in addition to a pending $147 billion "supplemental" bill to fund
the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan this fiscal year. ("The decision to seek about
$50 billion more appears to reflect the view in the administration that the
counteroffensive will last into the spring of 2008 and will not be shortened
Cost of the war in Iraq per week, if this $197 billion joint request is
granted by Congress: More than $3 billion.
Cost to Pentagon of shipping two 19-cent metal washers to a key military
installation abroad, probably in Iraq or Afghanistan: $998,798.00
in "transportation costs," according to the Washington Post. This was
part of a defense contractor's plan to bilk the Pentagon, based on its weak
system of financial oversight.
Amount paid by the U.S. military to two British private security firms,
Aegis Defence Services and Erinys Iraq, to protect U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
reconstruction teams in Iraq: $548
million, more than $200 million over budget, according to the Washington
Post based on "previously undisclosed data." The contracts to the two companies
have a combined "burn rate" of $18 million a month and support a private army
of approximately 2,000 hired guns, the equivalent of three military battalions.
Cost of Aegis' armored vehicles and the guards manning them: Approximately
$150,000 per vehicle and $15,000 a month per guard.
Percentage of team members in the $2 billion U.S. civilian-military Provincial
Reconstruction Team (PRT) program with "the cultural knowledge and Arabic-language
skills needed to work with Iraqis": 5
percent or just 29
out of 610 PRT members, according to Ginger Cruz, the deputy special inspector
for Iraq reconstruction
Number of U.S. criminal investigations underway for contract fraud in Iraq,
Kuwait, and Afghanistan: 73,
according to an Army spokesman.
Percentage of U.S. military deaths by roadside bomb (IED), 2004: Approximately
Percentage of U.S. military deaths by roadside bomb (IED), 2007: Approximately
Amount Pentagon invested in counter-IED jamming technology in the last year:
billion since the war began.
Amount needed to make a typical IED (which can be built from instructions
on the Internet): "About the cost
of a pizza," according to Newsweek magazine.
Cost for hiring Iraqis to plant a successful IED in 2005: $100.
Cost for hiring Iraqis to plant a successful IED in central Iraq in 2007:
As low as $40.
Percentage of the West Point class of 2001 who chose to leave the U.S. Army
last year: Nearly
46 percent, according to statistics compiled by West Point. More than 54
percent of the class of 2000 had chosen not to re-up by January 2007. Over the
previous three decades, the percentages for those departing the service at the
five-year mark after graduation ranged from 10-30 percent. The major reason
given now: wear and tear from multiple deployments to Iraq.
Number of U.S. Army suicides, 2006: 99
(more than one quarter while serving in Iraq or Afghanistan), according to the
Army, or 17.3 per thousand, the highest rate in 26 years (during which the average
rate was 12.3 per thousand). 118
U.S. military personnel have committed suicide in Iraq itself since 2003, according
to Greg Mitchell, editor of the Editor & Publisher Web site; and
Army suicide numbers do not, Mitchell notes, include "many unconfirmed reports
[of suicides], or those who served in the war and then killed themselves at
Percentage of 1,320 soldiers interviewed in Iraq who ranked their unit's
morale as "low or very low": 45
percent, according to the Los Angeles Times. Seven percent ranked
it "high or very high."
Percentage increase in U.S. Army desertions in 2006: 27
percent or 3,196 active duty soldiers, according to figures corrected by
the Army, which had inaccurately been reporting much lower numbers. The percentage
rise for 2005 had been 8 percent. From 2002 through 2006, the average annual
rate of Army prosecutions of deserters tripled
(compared with the five-year period from 1997 to 2001) to roughly 6 percent
of deserters, Army data shows.
Number of states authorized by the Army National Guard to accept "the lowest-ranking
group of eligible recruits, those who scored between 16 and 30 on the armed
services aptitude test": 34
(plus Guam), according to the New York Times. ("Federal law bars recruits
who scored lower than 16 from enlisting.")
Percentage of Army recruits since late July who have accepted a $20,000
"quick ship" bonus to leave for basic combat training by the end of September:
percent, part of an Army campaign to meet year-end recruiting goals after
a two-month slump. A soldier coming out of basic training is paid on average
$17,400 a year.
Percentage of U.S. military equipment destroyed or worn out in Iraq (and
percent or $212 billion worth.
Percentage of Iraqi national police force which is Shiite: 85
Number of Iraqis in American prisons in Iraq: 24,500
(and rising), up 50 percent since the president's surge plan began in February, according
to Thom Shanker of the New York Times; nearly 85 percent of these prisoners
are Sunnis. (U.S. holding facilities at Camp Bucca in southern Iraq and Camp
Cropper near Baghdad are still being expanded.)
Number of foreign suspected jihadists held in those prisons: 280.
Number of juveniles, aged 11-17, held in those prisons: Approximately
800 (also 85 percent Sunni).
Number of U.S. reconstruction projects officially considered "completed"
in al-Anbar Province by July 2007: 3,300
projects "with a total value of $363 million," according to the U.S. embassy
in Baghdad; 250 more projects at a price tag of $353 million are supposedly
Percentage of U.S. reconstruction money estimated to go to Sunni insurgents
and al-Qaeda-in-Iraq militants for "protection" for any convoy of building materials
entering al-Anbar Province: 50 percent or more, according to reporter Hannah Allam
of the McClatchy Newspapers. ("Every contractor in Anbar who works for the U.S.
military and survives for more than a month is paying the insurgency," according
to a "senior Iraqi politician.")
Estimated number of full-time al-Qaeda-in-Iraq fighters: 850
or 2-5 percent of the Sunni insurgency, according to Malcolm Nance, author of The
Terrorists of Iraq, who "has worked with military and intelligence units
tracking al-Qaeda inside Iraq."
Number of times President Bush mentioned al-Qaeda in a speech on the Iraqi
situation on July 24, 2007: 95.
Percentage of unemployed in the now-"secure" city of Fallujah, three-quarters
of whose buildings were destroyed or damaged by U.S. firepower in November 2005
in al-Anbar Province: More
than 80 percent, according to local residents.
Percentage of U.S. military supplies carried on the vulnerable "Route Tampa,"
the 300 miles of highway from Kuwait to Baghdad: 90 percent
of the food, water, ammunition, and equipment, according to John Pike of GlobalSecurity.org.
Percentage increase of alcoholics in care in Iraq: Up
34 percent in May-June 2007, compared to previous year, according to the Iraqi
Psychologists Association, based on a study of 2,600 of patients and inhabitants
of Baghdad's suburbs.
Amount spent by the average household in Baghdad for a few hours of electricity
a day: $171
a month in a country where $400 is a reasonable monthly wage.
Number of Iraqi civilian deaths in August: 1,809,
according to an Associated Press count, the highest figure of the surge year
so far. Surge commander Gen. Petraeus is evidently going to claim a 75 percent
drop in sectarian killings as well as a drop in civilian deaths (especially
in Baghdad) in his upcoming report. To the extent that those questionable figures
are accurate, they may, in part, result from the fact that, in the surge months,
the ethnic cleansing of the capital actually increased
significantly. Experts also believe
the U.S. military's figures for "surge success" rely on carefully defined and
cherry-picked numbers. The AP, in fact, claims that sectarian deaths have nearly
doubled since a year ago. All such figures are, in any case, considered significant
undercounts in a country where it is no longer possible to report anywhere near
the total number of deaths from violence.
Average number of deaths per day from political violence in 2007: 62,
according to the AP count.
Average number of deaths per day from political violence in 2006: 37,
according to the AP count.
Number of daily attacks on civilians, February to July 2007: Unchanged,
according to the nonpartisan Government
Number of Iraqis fleeing their homes on average during each surge month,
February to July 2007: 100,000,
according to the Iraqi Red Crescent Society. The United Nation's International
Organization for Migration offers the lower, but still staggering figure of
50,000 Iraqis fleeing their homes each month.
Number of internally displaced Iraqis during the surge months: Over
600,000, more than doubling the number of internal refugees to 1.14 million,
according to the Red Crescent Society. (The United Nations High Commissioner
for Refugees has offered the higher estimate of 2.2
million internal refugees.)
Percentage of Iraqis who fled their neighborhoods in the surge months due
to direct threats on their lives: 63 percent,
according to the UN. ("More than 25 percent said they fled after being thrown
out of their homes at gunpoint.") Iraqis leaving their homes in Baghdad in the
same time period "grew by a factor of 20."
Number of Iraqi "bus people" now in exile in neighboring lands: 2.5
million, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
This is the fastest growing and already the third-largest refugee population
in the world.
Number of Iraqi refugees admitted to the U.S. in August: nearly
530, more than all those admitted in the previous 11 months. Number of Iraqi
refugees estimated to be in Syria
alone: 1.5 million.
Total number of Iraqis killed, sent into exile, or turned into internal
refugees: More than 4 million by a conservative estimate, or somewhere between
one out of every five and one out of every six Iraqis. (There is no way even
to estimate the numbers of Iraqis who have been wounded in these years.)
Total number of Americans who would have been killed or turned into refugees,
if these numbers were extrapolated to the far more populous United States:
million, according to Gary Kamiya of Salon.com, a figure "roughly equal
to the population of the northeastern United States, including New York, New
Jersey, Maryland, and all of New England."
Percentage of people across the globe who "think U.S. forces should leave
Iraq within a year": 67 percent,
according to a just-released BBC World Service poll of 23,000 people in 22 countries.
Only 23 percent think foreign troops should remain "until security improves."
Percentage of people across the globe who think the United States plans
to keep permanent military bases in Iraq: 49 percent.
Percentage of Americans who think U.S. forces should get out of Iraq within
a year: 61 percent, according to the same BBC poll, including 24 percent who favor immediate
withdrawal and 37 percent percent who prefer a one-year timetable; 32 percent of Americans
say U.S. forces should stay "until security improves." In a recent Harris poll,
of Americans favored U.S. troops leaving Iraq "now"; 30 percent in a recent
CBS poll (with another 31 percent favoring a "decrease").
Percentage of citizens of U.S.-led "coalition" members in Iraq, who want
forces out within a year: 65 percent of Britons, 63 percent of South Koreans, and 63 percent
of Australians, according to the BBC poll. Even a majority of Israelis want
either an immediate American withdrawal (24 percent), or withdrawal within a year (28 percent);
only 40 percent opt for "remain until security improves."
Percentage of Americans who believe, "in the long run," that "the U.S. mission
in Iraq [will] be seen as a failure": 57 percent,
according to a poll by Rasmussen Reports. Only 29 percent disagree.
Tom Engelhardt, who runs the Nation Institute's TomDispatch.com, is the
co-founder of the American
Empire Project. His book The
End of Victory Culture (University of Massachusetts Press) has just been
thoroughly updated in a newly issued edition that deals with victory culture's
crash-and-burn sequel in Iraq.
[Note: Let me thank, yet again, the many Web sites which collect crucial
Iraq material and so make a piece like this possible, especially Antiwar.com,
Juan Cole's Informed Comment, and Paul
Woodward's the War in Context.]
Copyright 2007 Tom Engelhardt