[Reader-list] Fisk on Bush

S. Jabbar sonia.jabbar at gmail.com
Sun Apr 13 11:39:16 IST 2008

Robert Fisk: Semantics can't mask Bush's chicanery

This goes beyond hollow laughter. Since when did armies go around

Saturday, 12 April 2008

After his latest shenanigans, I've come to the conclusion that George Bush
is the first US president to march backwards. First we had weapons of mass
destruction. Then, when they proved to be a myth, Bush told us we had
stopped Saddam's "programmes" for weapons of mass destruction (which
happened to be another lie).

Now he's gone a stage further. After announcing victory in Iraq in 2003
and "mission accomplished" and telling us how this enormous achievement
would lead the 21st century into a "shining age of human liberty", George
Bush told us this week that "thanks to the surge, we've renewed and
revived the prospect of success".

Now let's take a look at this piece of chicanery and subject it to a
little linguistic analysis. Five years ago, it was victory – ie success –
but this has now been transmogrified into a mere "prospect" of success.
And not a "prospect", mark you, that has even been glimpsed. No, we have
"renewed" and "revived" this prospect. "Revived", as in "brought back from
the dead". Am I the only one to be sickened by this obscene semantics? How
on earth can you "renew" a "prospect", let alone a prospect that continues
to be bathed in Iraqi blood, a subject Bush wisely chose to avoid?

Note, too, the constant use of words that begin with "re -". Renew.
Revive. And – incredibly – Bush also told us that "we actually
re-liberated certain communities". This, folks, goes beyond hollow
laughter. Since when did armies go around "re-liberating" anything? And
what does that credibility-sapping "actually" mean? I suspect it was an
attempt by the White House speech writer to suggest – by sleight of hand,
of course – that Bush was really – really – telling the truth this time.
But by putting "actually" in front of "re-liberate" – as opposed to just
"liberate" – the whole grammatical construction falls apart. Rather like

For by my reckoning, we have now "re-liberated" Fallujah twice. We have
"re-liberated" Mosul three times and "re-liberated" Ramadi four times. The
scorecard goes on. My files show that Sadr City may have been
"re-liberated" five times, while Baghdad is "re-liberated" on an almost
daily basis. General David Petraeus, in his pitiful appearance before the
US Senate armed services committee, was bound to admit his disappointment
at the military failure of the equally pitiful Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri
al-Maliki in Basra. He had not followed Petraeus' advice; which was
presumably to "re-liberate" the city (for the fourth time, by my
calculation but with a bit more planning).

Indeed, Petraeus told senators that after his beloved "surge" goes home,
the US will need a period of "consolidation and evaluation" – which is
suspiciously close to saying that the US military will be, as the old
adage goes, "redeployed to prepared positions". Ye gods! Where will this
tomfoolery end?

In statistics, perhaps. By chance, as Bush was speaking this week, my mail
bag flopped open to reveal a letter from my old American military analyst
friend, George W Appenzeller. He gently (and rightly) corrects some recent
comparative figures I used on US casualties in Korea, Vietnam and Iraq.
"In previous wars," he writes, "the US army has not reported to the public
the number of wounded who are treated and immediately released back to
duty. They have reported these casualties in the Iraq and Afghanistan

So here are a few Appenzeller factoids (glossed by Fisk, so the
responsibility is mine!). The correct ratios for wounded in action vs
killed in action for Iraq and Afghanistan is 8.13 to 1; for Korea, it's
7.38 to 1 and for Vietnam it's 6.43 to 1.

The true number of US wounded in Iraq until 18 March this year was 13,170,
of whom 8,904 were so badly wounded that they required air evacuation to
hospitals outside Iraq. The number of killed in action in Iraq is 3,251.
(The other 750 died in accidents or of sickness.) But this does not
include the kind of figure that the Pentagon and Bush always keep secret:
an astonishing 1,000 or more Western-hired mercenaries, killed in Iraq
while fighting or killing for "our" side.

But now I'll let George Appenzeller speak in his own words. "There are
widely ranging estimates, but roughly 450,000 individuals ... fought on
the ground in Vietnam ... At the height of the Vietnam war there were
67,000 ground combat troops there. That is roughly the number of ground
combat troops the US presently has deployed in Iraq. Interestingly enough,
that is also about the number of ground combat troops the US had fighting
at any one time in the Korean war.

"The US army now has a much leaner and meaner organisation than in the
past with a higher proportion of combat troops to total troops. All those
American civilian truck drivers and Bangladeshi cooks have freed up troop
slots that have gone to the combat arms."

No, Iraq has not yet reached Korea and Vietnam proportions. The three-year
Korean war resulted in 33,686 US battle deaths and about 250,000 US
wounds, an average of 94,562 casualties per year. The American phase of
the Vietnam war lasted 14 years and resulted in 47,378 US battle deaths
and 304,704 US wounds, an average of 25,149 casualties per year and an
average of 66,792 during the four years of 1966-1969, the height of
American fighting.

The Iraq war has lasted five years and has resulted in 3,251 battle deaths
and 29,395 wounds, an average of 6,529 casualties per year. "Thus, the
average number of killed and wounded during the Korean war was three times
the total number of killed and wounded in the five years of the Iraq war.
The average number of killed and wounded during each of the most difficult
years of the Vietnam war was twice the total for the five years of the
Iraq war."

Now for much more blood, the civilian variety. According to George, "About
1,600,000 were killed in the Korean war, 365,000 (according to American
authorities) and four million (according to the Vietnamese government)
during the American phase of the Vietnam war, and who knows how many in
Iraq. No fewer than 250,000, certainly."

Not that long ago, Bush claimed that civilian fatalities in Iraq were
"30,000 more or less" – again, note the "more or less" – but I can see why
these statistics matter even less for him. It's not just that we don't
care a damn about Iraqi lives. We are going to care even less about Iraqi
civilian casualties when we walk backwards, when we are renewing and
reviving and re-liberating all over again.

Robert Fisk's new book, 'The Age of the Warrior: Selected Writings', is
published by Fourth Estate

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