Friday, November 05, 2004

Juan Cole publishes an essay entitled "We Are All Israelis Now" by Mark Levine, from the history department at UC-Irvine.

There was a time when I wanted to be a historian - what could be more interesting than studying the intellectual traditions of humanity? Then I discovered that historians have a tendency to say the most asinine things, the above essay being a good example.

The thesis of the piece is that America has become, like Israel, "a criminal state." In support of this position, the author tries to find every bit of similarity between the two countries:
...the willingness of a plurality of the electorate to support parties and policies which are manifestly against their economic and social interests (as demonstrated by the increase in poverty and economic insecurity across the board in Israel and the US produced by the last two decades of neoliberalism) sadly characterize both societies today.
To which I say: Israeli economic neoliberalism? Dude, what kind of crack are you on? Israel's huge tariffs result in non-luxury cars costing close to ~$100,000, to give one concrete example that is keenly felt by a majority of the population. This is a country that was founded on a socialist vision and governed with a heavy government hand - to the extent that even today to get an academic job one must rely on a -government-sponsored subsidy. Accuse Israel of being a "criminal state" if you must, but, please, don't accuse it of being economically neoliberal.

And I won't even bother to point out the obvious fact that living standards have seriously improved over the last two decades, both in Israel and the U.S.

Levine also writes,
As for the country’s “liberal” opposition, it’s in a shambles, politically and morally bankrupt because in fact it was a willing participant in creating and preserving the system that is now eating away at the heart of Israeli society.
Uhh, no. The labour party is in shambles because its policies have led to the largest increases in terrorism in Israeli history, and, by contrast, Ariel Sharon's policies have led to the largest decrease of terrorism in recent memory. The liberal opposition has consistently argued over the past decade or so that the key to peace in the middle east are concessions to the Palestinians and a negotiated sovereignty of the PA. In this way, it was argued, terrorism would decrease. In fact, events have unfolded in the reverse manner, with vastly increased terrorism during Ehud Barak's term and vastly decreased terrorism during Sharon's.

Levine writes,
To put it bluntly, Americans have chosen to return a man to the White House who has supervised the killing of more civilians than Slobodan Milosevic...
This is simply morally idiotic. Milosevic slaughtered and uprooted huge numbers of Kosovars, while any harm to civilians caused by Bush's policies came as an unintended side effect of military action. Comparing Bush's actions with deliberate ethnic cleansing is simply repugnant.

Tangential rant: By the way - ignoring for the moment the appalling conflation of Milosovic' intentional murders with the effects of casualty-minimizing military operations by U.S. troops - Levine's basic facts are also wrong. To argue that Bush has killed more people than Milosevic, he cites the Lancet study giving ~100,000 people estimate for the increased number of deaths in Iraq.

Levine misunderstands the conclusions of the study. The 100,000 number is a best estimate of the increased mortality rate in post-Saddam Iraq. So, it doesn't measure the number of deaths U.S. troops caused directly - rather it measures the increased deaths in today's Iraq regardless of what caused them, whether it is U.S. troops or heart attacks or overeating.

Milosevic started four wars. If one were to measure the increased mortality due to these wars and extrapolate the casualty figure, the number would most likely be in the millions. But we only have numbers for the direct number of deaths and uprootings caused by Milosevic. Comparing these to the ~100,000 deaths indirectly caused by the war is comparing apples and oranges.

Also: citing the 100,000 number is misleading. The confidence interval is pretty wide: 8,000 - 200,000. [The main significance of the study is not the ~100,000 estimate per se - its that zero is not in the confidence interval - which completely destroys the humanitarian case for war - one would have thought that if Saddam remained in power more people would have ended up dying than are dying today - and the study rules that out (well, loosely speaking, it says that the probability of that is at most 2.5%)]. If you are going to cite the results of the study, its more honest to give an account of the margin of error, rather than only citing the best available estimate of 100,000 as if we know its an accurate number. All we know is, loosely, that with 95% probability the extra deaths caused by the U.S. invasion, over Saddam's rule, lie between 8,000 and 200,000.


At 2:30 PM, Blogger angela said...

There was a time when I wanted to be a historian - what could be more interesting than studying the intellectual traditions of humanity? Then I discovered that historians have a tendency to say the most asinine things, the above essay being a good example.
you rule.

At 8:28 PM, Blogger alex said...

I knew a cheap shot at historians would score me some points with you :)


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