John Murtha is missleading the public about the war

| 12 Comments

The top Democrat on the House Defense Appropriations subcommittee, and decorated war veteran, John Murtha is demanding US withdraw from Iraq within 6 months.

Murtha voted for the war, but quickly turned defeatist. Already in midd 2004 he described the Iraq war as “unwinnable”. Certainly he is entitled to his view. What is unacceptable is giving the public a false impression about the millitaries situation in Iraq war by biased or incurrect data. He writes in USAToday:

unemployment remains at 60% and insurgent incidents have increased from 150 to more than 700 per week. Average monthly death rates of U.S. servicemembers have grown since the Abu Ghraib prison scandal from one per day to almost four.”

Looking at center-left Brookings Iinstitutes Iraq Index we can see that most of Murthas statements about Iraq are grossly misleading.

Brookings has estimates of Iraqi unemployment at 27-40%, hardly 60%. Their data indicates a drop on unemployment from the earliest stated figure of 50-60% in June 2003, stabilizing at 27-40% in 2005.

GDP growth has been revised downward from previous estimates, but Iraq per capita GDP has increased from 518 $ in 2003 to 1051 $ in 2005, by amazing 103%. The increase from 2002 is 31% (it should be noted that Iraq had negative economic growth even before the invasion, although most of the fall 2002-2003 was caused by war). The projections are real GDP growth well above 10% the coming years. While Murtha is right that oil production is still below pre-war levels, oil revenue is higher, 23 billion last 12 months vs. 18 billion in 2002.

The economic situation is the exact opposite of the image he is paiting, progress, not decline. As simple examples the number of registered cars is doubled per-war figures (3.1 million vs. 1.5 million). Telephone subscriptions continue to rise, from pre-war 0.83 million to 4.59 million this august.

He is not an economist, and all of his credibility is in military matters. Yet the congressman's most misleading figures are about casualties and attacks. While the number of attacks indeed has increased somewhat, this is an irrelevant , since the type and efficiency of attacks has changed. A mortar attack or a coordinated suicide attack are not the same thing. It is much more relevant to look at the results of the attacks.

Murtha write that “Average monthly death rates of U.S. servicemembers have grown since the Abu Ghraib prison scandal from one per day to almost four.”

This is blatantly false, as the number of killed Americans fluctuates widely. In April it was 4.9 (Abu Gharib story broke in late April, with higher casualties before than after that month). In March 2004 it was 1.7 per day. In April it was 4.9. In June 2004 again 1.5. In 2005 we have 1.6 in September and 3.1 in October. So far this month the figure has been 2.66.

So when Murtha gives the impression the casualty rates accelerate he is not telling the truth. In fact death figures in 2005 are slightly lower than 2004, 2.3 per day compared to 2.45.. By comparing extremes he is giving the impression of increase, where we have seen the same average for two years.

Murtha refers to poll figures to give the impression that the US presence is causing terrorist attacks. He cites a recent poll where “45% believe attacks against Americans are justified”. (soon after the war the figure was 36%). But Murtha neglects to mention that polls taken in 2004 showed similar and higher figures, for example a 2004 Gallop poll where 51% stated that attacks were justified, and only 25% "never justified". Again the defeatist vision of ever worsening situation is in Murtha’s mind, not in reality.

An even stronger trend can be seen in polls measuring support for insurgent attacks on Iraqis. Unlike the figures above the same polling agencies is used. While in 2004 in Baghdad 9% supported “the use of violence [against Iraqis] towards political ends?” the figure was down to 4% in 2005. Support for attacks against Iraqi security forces went down from 6% to only 2%. Clearly the insurgency is loosing support by murdering civilian Iraqis, something Iraqis can understand but apparently not Murtha, who only blames US military presence.

I am sure Murtha is privately a brave and decent person. But that is irrelevant here. He is (either by being grossly misinformed himself or purposefully) giving a false image of an ever worsening military and political situation in Iraq. This hysterical image conveided to the public has no basis in reality.

We can respect Murthas long and brave service to his country, but not his misinformation about the military situation. The soldiers are fighting hard and winning the war in Iraq, while a veteran and leader is trying to cause Ameriacan defeat by distoring data.

12 Comments

Just went after one number, unemployment. I'm thinking his numbers may be more honest than yours.... Certainly it is generally agreed that unemployment in Iraq is hard to measure.

From the Washington Post: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/06/19/AR2005061900729.html

A report published last month by the government and the United Nations put the unemployment rate at 27 percent. But many experts here say the actual number is probably closer to 50 percent or more because the survey was not conducted in some of the least stable parts of the country and because many Iraqis work unreliable part-time jobs.

The Brooking's report to which you refered:
http://www.brookings.edu/fp/saban/iraq/index20050829.pdf
There is an inherent difficulty in measuring the Iraqi rate of unemployment over time. Because
recent estimates are likely to be more accurate than older ones, but also higher, this means that despite an improvement in the economic situation nationwide, the numbers give the impression that it is getting worse. Considering the increase in entrepreneurial activity after the
end of the war, we have for the purposes of this database assumed that there has been an improvement in unemployment levels, and hence weighted information supporting such a conclusion heavier than contradictory data reports.

UPDATE FROM IAN AT 1:47 PM WEDNESDAY 11/23/05: This comment was originally blocked by the Movable Type comment filter. It has been published with ONLY THIS UPDATE as a change.

Murtha, Brookings, the Administration. Can we believe any of them?

Amazing bit of editing. I take it my previous response was "spam"?

Sorry to question you....

I think using the Brookings Institute as a source is honest, unless you know a bunch of better sources he could have used. I will point out that Tino called a turnaround in Iraq July based on some upticks in Brookings' numbers for that month. That didn't pan out.

Sure it's a reasonable source. But there are three basic problems.

#1 there is reasonable disagreement about the actual numbers.
#2 Tino is choosing to use a source which states "we have for the purposes of this database assumed that there has been an improvement in unemployment levels" I mean, sure it's getting better if you assume it's getting better!
#3 Saying "most of Murthas statements about Iraq are grossly misleading" when the numbers are unclear and then using a source which admits it assumes things are improving is much more misleading, IMO, than anything Murtha said. Murtha chose the high-end of the range. Tino choose the low-end and then called Murtha "highly misleading"....

1. What exactly is Murthas source for unemployment? Uncertainly is not an argument, if he is uncertain he should have said so, not flatly stated it was 60%. This is a national leader in an extremely important situation (essentially telling people the war is unwinnable), and you ACCEPT he is using made up figures?!?

The WAPO article is a joke, as I also wrote in my July blogpost. It mentions the UN figure of 27%, than refers to “experts” that say the figure is 50% or higher. No references, no names of experts, no calculations. Of course it has the normal media article tone on economics: clueless, relying on anecdotal evidence.

I am not taking the lower end, I am taking the most reliable estimate available, the center-left think thank Brookings, 27-40% (The lowest end is 25%). The assumption on how to weight uncertain data the analysts at Brookings make is both reasonable and common, not some excuse to ignore them and rely on Murthas fantasies or WAPOS unnamed “experts” .

I did write about the Iraqi economy in July, and with two exception stand by it. Electricity production is the big one, since it has fallen since July. Also GDP growth rate is revised to +3.7% (it was +10-12% when I wrote it), on the other hand the index has very high estimates of GDP growth for the coming years they didn’t have in July.

If we look at the data that has been updated my claim that the Iraqi economy is improving is substantiated:

I wrote that the number of telephone subscriptions went from 0.8 million to 3.8. It has further increased to 4.6 million. The 9.5 billion figure of disbursed funds is now up to 11.4, plus another 2 billion from other countries.

The number of security forces was 172.000, not 212.000. And so on. As I said they also have new figures that point to substantial improvements in economic standards, such as doubling in the number of registered cars.

“a source which admits it assumes things are improving is much more misleading, IMO, than anything Murtha said”

I find this statement simply unbelievable. Murtha doesn’t even STATE WHERE HE GETS THE FIGURES FROM or mentions uncertainty! He just writes 60% it as if it was a fact. And you find him more believable than Brookings, that is hones with all their sources and the inherent uncertainly of such figures?

With your logic the stupid or dishonest debater would always win, because he would not have any problem pretending he is sure about his made up numbers. Of course the person that tries to give a nuances and more accurate version would loose, because they used the word “assumption” and Murtha didn’t.

PS. He claims the number of dead have increased from 1 to 4 per day, when it fact it has been steady at 2-2.5. How do you defend this one?

My guess is Murtha is reading extreme left blogs and not doing his own analysis, but that’s not excuse for someone in a position of responsibility.

Hey, Tino: thanks for looking up the rest of those statistics. I had just checked unemployment and electricity. I thought about looking up the cellphone one but didn't because it seems like even African countries can afford high cell phone penetration. Anyway, I'll take your statistics with links that I can check for myself over a Congressman's ass-pulled statistic any day.

I don't know why I keep overlooking the increased auto ownership and media outlets. The numbers are right in front of my face.

Let's go through them one at a time. His speech on the same topic is at:
http://www.house.gov/apps/list/press/pa12_murtha/pr051117iraq.html

Murtha doesn’t even STATE WHERE HE GETS THE FIGURES FROM.

In the speech he does:


Last May 2005, as part of the Emergency Supplemental Spending Bill,
the House included the Moran Amendment, which was accepted in Conference, and
which required the Secretary of Defense to submit quarterly reports to Congress
in order to more accurately measure stability and security in Iraq. We have
now received two reports. I am disturbed by the findings in key indicator
areas. Oil production and energy production are below pre-war levels.
Our reconstruction efforts have been crippled by the security situation.
Only $9 billion of the $18 billion appropriated for reconstruction has
been spent. Unemployment remains at about 60 percent. Clean water is scarce.
Only $500 million of the $2.2 billion appropriated for water projects
has been spent. And most importantly, insurgent incidents have increased from
about 150 per week to over 700 in the last year. Instead of attacks going down
over time and with the addition of more troops, attacks have grown dramatically.
Since the revelations at Abu Ghraib, American casualties have doubled.
An annual State Department report in 2004 indicated a sharp increase in global terrorism.

So the answer to your question is that the almost 60% is coming from the SecDef.

The death rates I agree with. Looks wrong. His speech spells it out differently, but that is no excuse for the editorial.

I want the truth about the retired Marine Col Senator service record as Pres Bush'record, not Kerry's record?, and mine if you wish. How many good years does he have? Is Col the top rank available after 37 years of his service?? Thanks for the assistance with this data.

I'm confused about his record also. Public bio's say he enlisted in 1952, didn't serve in Korea, but made 4 raises in grade to become a DI at Parris Island before 1956, when he went to OCS. Then in 1959, he was in the reserves in Johnstown PA as a Captain. Two raises in grade in three years.

Then he was either called up or volunteered and served in 67/68 in Vietnam. From 68 he was in politics in Johnstown as first a state rep, then a US Rep. He retired from the reserves as a Colonel in 1989 after 37 years.

It looks like 7-8 years regular service, 30 years in reserves.

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