That 30:1 Kill Ratio Might Have Something to do With It

Stephen M. Walt wrote a great column over at Foreign Policy in response to Tom “Friedman Unit” Friedman’s scrawlings about why Muslim extremists want to kill Americans. This was about two months ago, but somehow I forgot to blog about it earlier.

Tom Friedman had an especially fatuous column in Sunday’s New York Times, which is saying something given his well-established capacity for smug self-assurance. According to Friedman, the big challenge we face in the Arab and Islamic world is “the Narrative” — his patronizing term for Muslim views about America’s supposedly negative role in the region. If Muslims weren’t so irrational, he thinks, they would recognize that “U.S. foreign policy has been largely dedicated to rescuing Muslims or trying to help free them from tyranny.” He concedes that we made a few mistakes here and there (such as at Abu Ghraib), but the real problem is all those anti-American fairy tales that Muslims tell each other to avoid taking responsibility for their own actions.

I heard a different take on this subject at a recent conference on U.S. relations with the Islamic world. In addition to hearing a diverse set of views from different Islamic countries, one of the other participants (a prominent English journalist) put it quite simply. “If the United States wants to improve its image in the Islamic world,” he said, “it should stop killing Muslims.”

To repeat: I have deliberately selected “low-end” estimates for Muslim fatalities, so these figures present the “best case” for the United States. Even so, the United States has killed nearly 30 Muslims for every American lost. The real ratio is probably much higher, and a reasonable upper bound for Muslim fatalities (based mostly on higher estimates of “excess deaths” in Iraq due to the sanctions regime and the post-2003 occupation) is well over one million, equivalent to over 100 Muslim fatalities for every American lost.

It is also striking to observe that virtually all of the Muslim deaths were the direct or indirect consequence of official U.S. government policy. By contrast, most of the Americans killed by Muslims were the victims of non-state terrorist groups such as al Qaeda or the insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan. Americans should also bear in mind that the figures reported above omit the Arabs and Muslims killed by Israel in Lebanon, Gaza, and the West Bank. Given our generous and unconditional support for Israel’s policy towards the Arab world in general and the Palestinians in particular, Muslims rightly hold us partly responsible for those victims too.

Contrary to what Friedman thinks, our real problem isn’t a fictitious Muslim “narrative” about America’s role in the region; it is mostly the actual things we have been doing in recent years.

This unrelated article at Dawn News says Predator drones in Pakistan have killed 700 civilians and 5 al-Qaeda or Taliban leades.

According to the statistics compiled by Pakistani authorities, the Afghanistan-based US drones killed 708 people in 44 predator attacks targeting the tribal areas between January 1 and December 31, 2009.

For each Al Qaeda and Taliban terrorist killed by US drones, 140 innocent Pakistanis also had to die. Over 90 per cent of those killed in the deadly missile strikes were civilians, claim authorities.

The success percentage for the drone hits during 2009 was hardly 11 per cent. On average, 58 civilians were killed in these attacks every month, 12 persons every week and almost two people every day. Most of the attacks were carried out on the basis of human intelligence, reportedly provided by the Pakistani and Afghan tribesmen, who are spying for the US-led allied forces in Afghanistan.


Filed under Our glorious war in Iraq, Our glorious war on terror, War in Iraq

5 responses to “That 30:1 Kill Ratio Might Have Something to do With It


    Remewmber, your definition of “civilian” is anybody not in a uniform (which is all insurgents or terrorists,there is a difference). So when we catch 20 “civilians” with weapons and hit them and kill them,now they dont have weapons in their hand for the news media to see. All of a sudden they are civilians!

  2. Pingback: Where Are Our Gray Beards? | Three Sigma Systems

  3. Garant

    Ground troops are protection for a spotter in this modern war. As soon as it gets too hairy, artillery and CAS is called in, which is a smart move. There is no reason to not use ammunition which would just rot on the shelf to preserve the lifes of your soldiers.

  4. Moe

    Obama administration classifies militant as “military aged male in combat zone” and only declares them innocent if “evidence is found posthumously”. Many children have been targeted by these so called surgical drone strikes including 16 year old Abdul Rahman al Awlaki,his father had been killed earlier and the strike was later deemed a mistake.

  5. oni

    If they would turn in the terrorists and not letting the hide among them it would cut down on civilian deaths

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