Who would you say is responsible for killing more innocent people: George W. Bush or Osama Bin Laden? The question is objectionable only if you fear the answer.
The numbers in Bush’s column vary, but they horrify by any measure.
The British journal Lancet published a 2004 study placing the number of Iraqi civilians killed as the result of Bush’s actions at roughly 100,000. Epidemiologists from Johns Hopkins University and physicians in Iraq reached this conclusion using “cluster sampling,” an accepted statistical method frequently used to estimate losses from famine and natural disasters. The updated October 2006 report showed the figure had climbed to 655,000 civilians killed.
Iraq Body Count (iraqbodycount.org) compiles the most widely cited record of the carnage. The project derives its casualty figures “from a comprehensive survey of online media reports and eyewitness accounts.” It states that between 53,553 and 59,189 civilians have been killed due to Bush’s war of choice. Those numbers will be higher by the time you read this.
The administration initially announced it would not count civilian deaths. It has only reluctantly admitted to killing thousands of the very people Bush claims to be liberating. Last year, Bush acknowledged having liberated at least 30,000 Iraqis from their earthly lives.
Bush achieves these staggering levels of gore even without factoring in civilian losses in Afghanistan (e.g., wedding parties being “smart-bombed”) or such incidents as the 100 Somalis slaughtered this month when American planes strafed their villages trying to kill a man who had bombed U.S. embassies a decade ago.
Is it unfair to charge Bush with all this bloodshed? After all, he didn’t specifically order that Iraqi or other civilians be massacred. Indeed, Iraq Body Count concedes its numbers include civilian deaths caused by coalition military action, by insurgent and terrorist counterattacks and also deaths caused by crime resulting from the breakdown in law and order following the coalition invasion.
Bush certainly knew many people would be killed when he set out to conquer a populous country. He accepted that fact. Then he set in motion the forces that have created the nightmare. Scores of Iraqis weren’t being killed every day before he invaded. But for Bush, Iraq today would not be gagging on blood.
Turning to Bin Laden, unfortunately no website tabulates his atrocities. We can venture our own estimate. He murdered approximately 3,000 Americans on 9/11. We must add in the lives lost in bombings of our embassies in Africa, the Khobar Towers, the U.S.S. Cole, the Madrid and London transit systems, a Bali nightclub, Egyptian tourist attractions, a hotel in Jordan, a training center in Riyadh and so on. Continue until his full score of horrors is covered, and we’re still talking the 3,000 on 9/11 and hundreds, but not thousands, of deaths in other attacks.
Returning then to the original question: If we count the loss of every life even remotely caused by Bin Laden anywhere on the planet, do those numbers exceed the loss of innocent lives attributable to Bush?
To prolong dodging the question, someone may retort that, whatever he’s done elsewhere, Bush has prevented further terrorist attacks on American soil. Maybe, maybe not. There’s no way of proving or disproving that claim.
Perhaps Bin Laden got what he wanted by provoking Bush to reveal his true character and start a senseless war and thereby cause more profound damage to America than further Al-Qaeda operations could possibly accomplish. Consider again the example of Bush’s strafing Somali villages to kill a single bad man, who, incidentally, may not have been there. How does killing Africans who could never hurt us make us safer? By what right does Bush snuff out innocent life to avenge an evil act committed by someone else? At what point does Bush himself become an “evil-doer”?
Iraqis have compared Bush to Saddam and the vast majority of them say life was better under the dictator than The Decider. Saddam was ruthless, certainly, and was convicted of crimes against humanity for ordering the deaths of 148 people in retaliation for a plot against his life. Bush, in contrast, ordered the siege of Falluja in retaliation for the deaths of four mercenaries. That punitive expedition killed more than 600 civilians. And there persists the possibility that Bush’s real motivation for the war was that Saddam may have once plotted to assassinate his father.
As he escalates our part in the violence, the human toll of Bush’s Iraq adventure is already on historical par with the suffering inflicted by Tamerlane, who sacked Baghdad in 1401, and the Mongol warlord Hugelu, who destroyed the city in 1258. Few historians would dispute that these men were monsters.
I shudder at what all these comparisons say about an American president. But Bush wanted a place in history. He got it.