I am, as readers know, generally of the opinion that the Iraq War has been a clusterbomb of badly made decisions leading to even worse outcomes. And those who opposed the war had every right to become frustrated and angry when the war's more gung-ho supporters refused to acknowlege evidence that things were going very, very badly.
Lately, however, the anti-war side is beginning to sound a lot like the boosters they were so angry at. This is the particular example that caught my eye, but there is an increasingly rich body of blog posts and other writing that are the collective equivalent of sticking your fingers in your ears and chanting "La la la la la la la I can't HEAR you!"
Look, data from Iraq are bad. Bad, bad, bad. We don't know to any reasonable degree of certainty how many civilians have been killed, how many are displaced, how many are now living abroad; how the material condition of Iraq's many millions has changed since the war; or how many have lived or died because of the secondary effects of our invasion. We will never know those things well, but right now we don't even really know them badly, because it's very hard to gather data.
So one has to be cautious in making any statement about conditions in Iraq, and whether they are getting better or worse. But the best collection of data we have is Brookings' Iraq Index. To be sure I find a lot of their data kind of sketchy--David Petraeus may be a swell chap, but I'm not sure I want to rely on a powerpoint presentation he gave to Congress as my sole source of information about Iraqi civilian casualties. However, in the cases where the data is sketchy, they're nonetheless the best we have.
So while I wouldn't make any definitive statement about many of these data individually, collectively, they present a pretty powerful case that things in Iraq are imrpoving rapidly. All the indicators are going in the same direction. Yes, there could be some explanation for reverse refugee flows other than the obvious, which is that people love their country, and want to live there if it is not too dangerous. Any of the improvements could be explained away. But taken as a group, the various quibbles are easily sliced by Ockham's Razor.
The improvement may not last. And even if it does, there's still a fine argument to be made that the suffering which preceded it made the invasion a terrible, terrible idea. But the current strategy of ignoring the news from Iraq, or quibbling with it, doesn't lay a sound foundation for making that argument.
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