One of my favorite pastimes these days is nit-picking public statements made by public servants. A fine candidate came up this morning. General George Casey, Commander of the Multi-National Force in Iraq (the military wing of The Coalition of the Willing), was on the radio in an interview on NPR.
General Casey says you can’t judge our success in Iraq by enemy action, or by statistics on violence which show increasing numbers of “violent acts.” In making this argument, he provides a good point. General Casey admits that the number of “acts of violence” have been on the rise. However, he points out that some “acts of violence” can be something as relatively benign as a single shot being fired. So when you say that X number of violent acts is occurring per week, the public perception may be that it correlates to X number of car bombs (when it isn’t, necessarily). The point is that not all acts of violence are equal.
Here’s my quibble with General Casey. In a WAR, enemy action is precisely how you measure success; in my view anyway. Well, maybe we aren’t in a war. Here, the Bush administration is a bit confused. Apparently we’re not in an Iraqi “Civil War,” but he keeps insisting that we’re in SOME kind of war. After all, aren’t we reminded CONSTANTLY by the Bush administration that we are at war, and that our involvement in Iraq is part of a broader “War on Terrorism?” Hasn’t the administration been arguing for four years that the congressional “Authorization to Use Force” is tantamount to a congressional declaration of war, which serves as a constitutional trigger for the special authority Bush has been attempting to wield since 9/11? If we’re not at war, then Bush’s veil of constitutional legitimacy to exercise the power of a wartime president, and particularly on some of his controversial anti-terrorism initiatives (holding enemy combatants, wiretapping, data mining, etc) completely disappears. O.K., we must be at war (or we better be, lest someone have some ‘splainin to do). Last I checked, success in war is gauged one of several ways: 1) the land controlled by each force relative to the start of hostilities, or 2) the ability to “wage war” by each force relative to the start of hostilities. It seems to me that enemy action (and the resulting level of violence) is not merely a measure of success in war… but may be the BEST measure of success in the kind of guerrilla war (or insurgency) we find ourselves embroiled in Iraq.
But so far (in this entry) General Casey’s point regarding how an “act of violence” is defined still holds. Surely a car bomb is more significant that a single gun shot. Fifteen car bombs a week in 2003 versus 90 single gun shots a week in 2006 (hypothetically speaking) would not prove anything about the true level of violence in Iraq. Comparisons of the number of simple, broadly defined “acts of violence” mean little if the level (or intensity) of individual acts of violence has fluctuated. Here’s where General Casey’s argument falls flat. The number of deaths, or casualties of violence, serves to quantify the relative level of violence… and these numbers have also been on the rise since the insurgency in Iraq began.
So we’re at war, the number of (vaguely defined) “acts of violence” is on the rise, and more people are dying as a result. With all due respect to General Casey, that certainly doesn’t sound like success to me. It doesn’t even sound like progress. In fact, one could even call that the opposite of progress. You could call it failure.