Transcript: “I’ll answer your question as honestly as I can. That’s a hypothetical question that somehow frames up the simplicity of the hypothetical question. The complications in the Middle East, and I’m certainly not an expert there, I have a chapter on the Middle East, I do know [laughter], I know a little something about the Middle East. I spent a lot of time there. And I spent a lot of time in Israel with the prime ministers and others. You who are well informed on this issue know the complexities starting with go back to the Bible, go back to ancient times, thousands of years. I mean that, if you really want to start trying to understand the Middle East, Paul, or David Aaron Miller, who you may know, has a new book out on this, The Not So Promised Land [The Much Too Promised Land]. And if you want to read something that is very, very enlightening, this guy he’s getting tremendous reviews on it. He’s Jewish. He worked in the State Department, worked for Baker, worked for Albright, I think he’s worked for four secretaries of state, different Democrats, Republicans. But it’s a great, great book.”
Muhammad Idrees Ahmad, a sociologist and editor of Pulsemedia.org, discusses the highly contested estimated number of Iraqi deaths due to the 2003 US invasion; why Iraq Body Count (the media’s go-to source) vastly under-reports casualties; how “excess death” statistical studies work; and how low-balling the costs of war – in terms of blood and treasure – distorts the public debate.
‘So many’, wrote TS Eliot, reflecting on the waste land left by the First World War. “I had not thought death had undone so many.”
This notion is unlikely to cross the minds of those surveying the devastation left by the 2003 invasion of Iraq. The most frequently quoted fatality figure – about 115,000 Iraqis killed – is shocking. But compared to major conflicts of the past century, it is a relatively modest toll. The Battle of the Somme alone killed three times as many. More were killed by a single bomb dropped on Hiroshima during the Second World War.
Former British prime minster Tony Blair, and then-US vice president Dick Cheney, were perhaps conscious of this when they expressed “no regrets” on the 10th anniversary of the war last month.
That the perpetrators of an aggressive war should accept the lowest costs for their folly is unsurprising. What is less explicable is why so many supposed critics of the war are crediting the same estimate. Brown University’s Costs of War project and the Centre for American Progress’s Iraq War Ledger use it as their main source.
The Victorian period, often viewed in the West as a time of self-confident progress, was experienced by many Asians as a catastrophe. As the British gunned down the last heirs to the Mughal Empire, burned down the Summer Palace in Beijing, or humiliated the bankrupt rulers of the Ottoman Empire, it was clear that for Asia to recover, a vast intellectual effort would be required.
Pankaj Mishra, author of From the Ruins of Empire, explores the historical fallout of the end of the Qing, Ottoman and Mughal empires with historian and filmmaker Michael Wood. (See Pulse’s review of Mishra’s book)