How Many Troops will Obama Withdraw from Iraq?

The InTrade prediction markets allows individuals to bet on the winner of the presidential elections and US recession timings.  They can also be used to bet on US foreign policy.  The graph below shows the contract price for the outcome “Number of US Troops in Iraq (given a Democratic president) as of June 2010.”

A couple of features stand out.  First, the price was relatively constant for almost all of 2008.  Second, the price has fluctuated wildly since November 5th and is now 30% below its 2008 average.  Here is how you calculate the implied June 2010 troop level from the contract price:

expected 2010 troop level = contract price x 2000

As of the end of June [pdf], there were 183,100 troops participating in Operation Iraqi Freedom.  So a price for a “no change in troop levels” is 91.55 compared to a current price of 29.9. This price says that the Intrade “market” expects about 60,000 US troops in Iraq by the end of June 2010. (Note: As a thinly traded contract, it is difficult to infer true market expectations from the price.)  If you predict less “change” from this administration, you might think this is an extremely low number.  If you have little hope for real change, then perhaps you should purchase the contract today.  Contracts on other foreign policy-related issues are also available:

Gitmo closed by December 31st, 2009 (low number –> low predicted likelihood)


Gates as Sec. of Defense (high number –> high expected likelihood)


Summary Executions in Iraq

The Independent’s Robert Fisk has a great article tonight about the summary executions being carried out in Saddam’s old intelligence HQ, now a “high-security detention facility.”

Of particular note is that the government’s “security officials” are so inept that they couldn’t even properly hang a man with a rope. After several failed attempts they just gave up and shot the guy in the head.

Though Iraq has only officially executed 33 people since the reintroduction of the death penalty in 2004, these killings are completely off the record, and the Independent says there have been hundreds of them.

Every Iraqi Was Murdered

In the excellent article by Ann Wright, “When Refusing to Kill Has a Higher Sentence Than Murder,” mention was made of the light sentences that were given out to U.S. soldiers for murdering Iraqi civilians. Many who support the war are also outraged about this. Yet, we should never forget that since the invasion and occupation of Iraq was itself aggressive, unnecessary, and immoral–every Iraqi killed by U.S. troops could be said to be murdered. There is no such thing as state-sanctified murder.

Extrude Mahmoud

In an interview in Der Spiegel, former Mossad agent and current cabinet minister, Rafi Eitan suggested that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad might find himself in front of an International Criminal Court in The Hague if he doesn’t watch himself. Anyone with even modest knowledge of the 81-year-old Eiten’s activities, in particular his role in Adolf Eichmann’s capture, can’t rule this out as idle speculation, but as my friend Tom wondered, “why would Eitan say this publicly?”

Sure, Ahmadinejad must already figure he is one of the top picks on Mossad’s hit list, so this simply can’t be a clumsy message to the yappy Iranian leader. Besides, Mossad gets off on well-planned and highly secretive operations anyway. Why would Eitan blow the surprise for his former bosses if high profile abductions were still high on their docket? Hmm….

I might’ve glossed over this morning’s story as politics as usual if it were not for last week’s revelation, also by Eitan, that Mossad allowed Nazi witch doctor Josef Mengele get away when agents in Buenos Aires had the opportunity to nab him. Of course, that wasn’t a botched effort: Mossad had to let Mengele escape so they could be assured of completing the more important Eichmann abduction.

Now, I’m not a psychologist, nor do I generally play one on the Internet, but this paroxysm of Eitanmania is too juicy not to analyze. All fisherman great and small have a fish-that-got-away story, and the Mengele tale smells like Eitan’s. Could the Ahmadinejad story likewise be the ramblings of a famous fisherman, whose best days are long over but likes to make people believe he has live bait on his rusty but still sufficiently bent hook? Or is it possible that someday we’ll learn that Mossad did try to kidnap Ahmadinejad, and failed. I only hope we don’t have to wait 50 years for that fish story.

A tip of the pen to Tom Walls for the headline and this morning’s news story.

War Doesn’t End With Treaties

Something made me perk up this morning, going through the weekend’s news. After two weeks of reading about South Ossetia’s irregulars, the militiamen blamed for everything from looting to attempted genocide, in the periphery of news stories, this morning I read this in the Washington Post:

In Khetagurovo, housewife Ofelia Dzhanyeva said she had lost her brother during the war in the early 1990s when South Ossetia threw off Georgian control, and after the latest conflict nothing would induce Ossetians to accept Tbilisi’s rule.

“None of the Ossetians is even thinking of reconciliation with Georgia now,” she said. “In 1991 our children turned into refugees. Now they have grown up to defend their homeland.”

She’s talking about the 1991-92 South Ossetia War, when the Ossetians declared independence from Georgian rule, and Georgia retaliated by invading the territory. The children who suffered in that conflict grew up internalizing simmering hatreds. When Georgia once again attacked this year, bombing South Ossetian villages, they finally had a chance to unleash their pent-up rage. The comportment of the official South Ossetian Army, some 2500-3000 men, was eclipsed by the rampaging of nearly 20,000 irregulars.

A cease-fire was agreed upon in the 90s conflict, but officials cannot sign away the damage done to a generation of young people by their policies. The latest conflict, with its thousands of refugees, may be setting the stage for the next generation of children obsessed with revenge. Official independence, especially if only recognized by Russia, isn’t likely to paper over those wounds.

Even though the scale of this conflict is relatively tiny, with “mere” tens of thousands of refugees, the entire world has been in some way affected. Western-Russian relations are at the lowest point since the cold war — and one shudders to think of the possibilities if Georgia had been allowed to join NATO.

Now consider the numbers we’re dealing with in Iraq. A “ripening,” so to speak, of the personal crises of every young Iraqi may be 10-15 years in the future. Barring a far-reaching patching up of grievances between Westerners and Iraqis, as well as between groups throughout that ethnic maze, the world might be in for another South Ossetia — times 1000.

The Arrogant Hypocrisy of the U.S. Government

Is there any government more hypocritical than the U.S. government? Has there ever been? The United States is considering punishing Russia for its military actions in Georgia by cancelling U.S. participation in an annual Russia-NATO naval exercise. Read the full story here. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice insists that “the Russians need to stop their military operations as they have apparently said that they will, but those military operations really do now need to stop because calm needs to be restored.”

Well, how about the United States stopping its military operations in Iraq so calm can be restored? The very idea that the U.S. government would seek to lecture Russia about its military actions in Georgia is ludicrous. Has Uncle Sam no shame about the genocide its military has unleashed in Iraq?