by Mike Kimel
Wrong v. Mark Steyn Wrong
Every so often I come across one or another columnist or tv personality making some
Steyn’s latest! ( Mark Steyn )
If you had buttonholed me in the Senate men’s room circa 2003 and told me that a decade hence Joe Biden would be America’s vice president, John Kerry secretary of state, and Chuck Hagel secretary of defense, I’d have laughed and waited for the punch line
I get it. Steyn is telling us his powers of prognostication are very poor. Its commendable, albeit odd, of him to warn his readers, but we should check to make sure it is more than false modesty on his part. Since he discusses his forecasts circa 2003, let’s check that out. What was he writing circa 2003? This article is one of the first things that comes up in a Google search of Mark Steyn’s writings from 2003, and the first with any forecasts. It begins:
On to the next quagmire! Don’t get mired in the bog of yesterday’s conventional wisdom, when the movers and shakers have already moved on to new disasters. America may have won the war but it’s already losing the peace! Here’s your at-a-glance guide to what the experts who got everything wrong last week will be getting wrong next week
Sounds promising, doesn’t it? Here is his first point:
“Iraq’s slide into violent anarchy” (Guardian, April 11). Say what you like about Saddam, but he ran a tight ship and you didn’t have to nail down your nest of tables: since the Brits took over, Basra’s property crime is heading in an alarmingly Cheltenhamesque direction. MBITRW (Meanwhile Back In The Real World): A year from now, Basra will have a lower crime rate than most London boroughs.
Let’s see… a year and nine days after this article appeared, a series of car bombs went off in Basra. 74 people were killed, over 100 injured. Just like the East End, Mark Steyn might say. And since we’re talking about the British, here are a few entries from a BBC timeline looking at the rest of the country:
2004 March – Suicide bombers attack Shia festival-goers in
Karbala and Baghdad, killing 140 people.
2004 April-May – Shia militias loyal to radical cleric Moqtada Sadr
take on coalition forces.
Hundreds are reported killed in fighting during the month-long US military siege of the Sunni Muslim city of Falluja.
But “it’s hard now to paint Basra as a success story,” said a senior U.S. official in Baghdad with long experience in the south. Instead, it has become a different model, one that U.S. officials with experience in the region are concerned will be
replicated throughout the Iraqi Shiite homeland from Baghdad to the Persian Gulf. A recent series of war games commissioned by the Pentagon also warned of civil war among Shiites after a reduction in U.S. forces.
For the past four years, the administration’s narrative of the Iraq war has centered on al-Qaeda, Iran and the sectarian violence they have promoted. But in the homogenous south — where there are virtually no U.S. troops or al-Qaeda fighters, few Sunnis, and by most accounts limited influence by Iran — Shiite militias fight one another as well as British troops. A British strategy launched last fall to reclaim Basra neighborhoods from violent actors — similar to the current U.S. strategy in Baghdad — brought no lasting success.
“The British have basically been defeated in the south,” a senior U.S. intelligence official said recently in Baghdad. They are abandoning their former headquarters at Basra Palace, where a recent official visitor from London described them as “surrounded like cowboys and Indians” by militia fighters. An airport base outside the city, where a regional U.S. Embassy office and Britain’s remaining 5,500 troops
are barricaded behind building-high sandbags, has been attacked with mortars or rockets nearly 600 times over the past four months.
So I think we can safely say that either Steyn is woefully ignorant of British crime statistics, or we can safely say his first forecast in his article was spectacularly wrong.
Steyn moved on:
2) “The head of the World Food Programme has warned thatIraq could spiral into a massive humanitarian disaster” (Australian, April 11). MBITRW: No such disaster will occur, any more than it did during the mythical “brutal Afghan winter” and its attendant humanitarian scaremongering.
Steyn must have been disappointed that the World Health Organization was still “scaremongering” a year later:
Insufficient food intake endangers the nutritional status of a large part of the population increasing morbidity and mortality due to communicable diseases.
As indicated before, the situation of food safety seems to be serious. In three quarters of districts, the local manufactured food stuff did not meet the standard specifications. In more than half of the districts there were imported food products which were considered unfit for human consumption. A survey conducted, by the
MOH, on food processing factories revealed that only 58% complied with food safety regulations.
And perhaps you remember this story from 2004:
Blackwater Security Consulting — whose four employees were viciously killed and their corpses mutilated by a mob in Fallujah, Iraq — is one of a growing number of private security contractors that are hiring veterans for jobs previously assigned to
Those jobs include the protection of personnel working for private companies and non-government organizations in Iraq.
They provide very focused security for detailing out how a protectee’s day occurs — from the beginning of the morning until they tuck that person back into bed at night,” said CNN national security analyst Ken Robinson, “whether that be an NGO trying to conduct operations trying to provide food or water or support to the
The four men killed Wednesday were providing security for a convoy delivering U.S. government food.
Thus combining Steyn’s predictions 1 and 2 together in a medley of wrongness.
As a bonus, Steyn mentioned the food situation in Afghanistan. Clearly when he wrote this piece, he didn’t realize there are different kinds of predictions. One type involves absolute statements: “X will happen” or “Y will not happen.” Examples
include: “A year from now, Basra will have a lower crime rate than most London boroughs” or “No such disaster will occur.”
Then there are statements that call for action, that either flat out state or imply “If we don’t act, then Z.” I’m guessing the World Food Program’s worries about the food situation in Afghanistan fall under the latter category. Here’s a story from 2007:
WFP aims to supply over half a million metric tons of food
to 6.6 million people in Afghanistan yearly.
Perhaps this is also just like London’s East End in Steyn’s version of reality. And it seems that a decade later, the World Food Program is still delivering food to Afghanistan.
So where are we at? 2 forecasts thus far, of which 2.5 of them wrong. (Yes, I do think he deserves to be dinged for the bit about Afghanistan.)
3) “Iraqis Now Waiting for Americans to Leave” (AP, April 10). MBITRW: There will be terrible acts of suicide-bomber depravity in the months ahead, but no widespread resentment at or resistance of the Western military presence.
A year later, though, the situation looked like this:
But while they acknowledge benefits from dumping Saddam a year ago, Iraqis no longer see the presence of the American-led military as a plus. Asked whether they view the U.S.-led coalition as “liberators” or “occupiers,” 71% of all respondents say “occupiers.”
No doubt to Steyn, the Iraqis meant “occupiers” in a positive way.
With ponies. And unicorns.
In the multiethnic Baghdad area, where a Gallup Poll last summer of 1,178 residents permits a valid comparison, only 13% of the people now say the invasion of Iraq was morally justifiable. In the 2003 poll, more than twice that number saw it as the right thing to do.
Americans regard their men and women in uniform as liberators who are trying to help Iraq. But the Iraqis now see them as a threat and focus their anger on them.
“When they pass by on the street, we are curious, so we go out to look and they immediately point their gun at you,” says Muia, the bicycle shop owner.
Except for the Kurds, such feelings are widely held. For example:
Two-thirds say soldiers in the U.S.-led coalition make no attempt to keep ordinary Iraqis from being killed or wounded during exchanges of gunfire.
58% say the soldiers conduct themselves badly or very badly.
60% say the troops show disrespect for Iraqi people in searches of their homes, and 42% say U.S. forces have shown disrespect toward mosques.
46% say the soldiers show a lack of respect for Iraqi women.
Only 11% of Iraqis say coalition forces are trying hard to restore basic services such as electricity and clean drinking water.
Our talley on Steyn’s forecasts: 3 forecasts made, 3.5 big forecasting errors.
Steyn’s next forecast reads like this:
4) “If Saddam is not found dead, or caught alive, it will be the worst of all possible closures for the war against Iraq. Bin Laden himself continues to elude capture” (Roland Flamini, UPI) MBITRW: Obviously, it would be preferable if the late Saddam’s future media appearances were confined to guest-hosting Good Morning, Hell! with Osama. But if he’s reduced to bin Laden’s current schedule – mailing in bi-monthly audio cassettes of Islamist boilerplate – what’s the difference? Even if he’d escaped to Syria, he’d be spending the rest of his days as a Bedouin goat-herd. Right now, Boy Assad is doing his best not to attract Rummy’s attention.
Steyn gets this one right – Saddam didn’t play much of a role from that point forward.
So, four forecasts, 3.5 errors, 1 successful forecast.
Moving on to Steyn’s next forecast:
5) “Iraq was a new country cobbled together from several former Ottoman provinces, its lines drawn by the Europeans” (Mark Mazower, Independent, April 7). It’s a phony state, you can never make a go of it. MBITRW: There’s nothing in the least bit “cobbled” about it. The three Ottoman vilayets of Mosul, Baghdad and Basra have been
bound together by geography and trade for millennia. As a coherent jurisdiction, it makes more sense than, say, Belgium. As long as you respect its inherently confederal nature, it’ll work fine: think St Kitts and Nevis writ large.
As I understand it, the Iraqi constitution allows Iraqi Kurdistan to maintain its own military forces (the Peshmerga) and does not allow the military from the rest of Iraq to operate in Kurdish territory. So far, so “confederal” to quote Steyn. But ten years on, there are still armed clashes between Kurdish and Iraqi forces with people getting killed. Sometimes they’re “misunderstandings”, sometimes they’re territorial grabs, but one thing is certain: the two forces remain eyeball to eyeball.
This is less St. Kitts and Nevis than Pakistan and India during a
particularly hot period.
Score – 5 forecasts, 4.5 errors, 1 success.
Steyn’s error roll rolls on:
6) “Turkey is concerned that a Kurdish capture of Kirkuk could help bankroll moves to establish an independent Kurdistan” (AFP, April 9). MBITRW: Nothing to worry about. The Kurds are the only part of the indigenous population that were part of the liberation force from the start. They’re not going anywhere now. They’ll settle for
being Scotland or Quebec rather than Pakistan.
Back to the whole “Kurdish forces clashing with the Iraqi military thing.” Unless things have picked up in Scotland or Quebec, Steyn gets this one wrong. But I’ll give him half a point on a technicality – the Turks aren’t all that concerned that the Iraqi Kurds are formenting revolt in Turkish Kurdistan right now, largely because of the Iraqi Kurdish stand-off with the Iraqi military. Actually, even that’s not true – here’s a story from late 2011:
Already tense relations between Turkey and the Iraqi central government have now become critical following a decision made by Baghdad. Following the Turkish government’s request for parliamentary approval of cross-border operations by the Turkish military, Baghdad has decided to not to allow the Turkish army to enter Northern Iraq and to maintain its presence there.
In a meeting yesterday [Oct. 2], the Iraqi cabinet decided to annul all agreements that enabled the presence of foreign troops in Iraq. The decision will directly affect Turkey, which has been maintaining bases in Northern Iraq since the 1990s. Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh announced the move: “The government has decided to refuse the presence of foreign troops and bases on Iraqi soil. No foreign soldiers will be allowed to enter Iraqi territory. The government has advised the parliament to annul existing agreements and not to extend them.”
And how’s that going now? Well, the Turks are still there (and the Iraqis are still at it with the
Maliki described the objections to the formation of the Tigris Operations Command as “unconstitutional, because the federal army has the right to have a presence in Basra or Zakho, and no one has the right to prevent it constitutionally. There are implicit
intentions and a lack of desire for the federal authority to have control or a presence.”
He said that the army “is more [entitled] than the Turkish troops to have a presence [in Iraq’s Kurdish region].”
So giving half a point to Steyn and marking half a point against him is exceedingly generous,
That’s six forecasts, 5 errors, 1.5 successes.
7) “Rather than reforming the Muslim world, the conquest of Iraq will inflame it” (Jeffrey Simpson, Toronto Globe and Mail, April 10). MBITRW: Effective immediately, Palestinian suicide bombers are no longer subsidised by Baghdad; in Jordan, the Saddamite boot is off the Hashemite windpipe; Syria is under notice to behave. Despite the best efforts of Western doom-mongers to rouse the Arab street, its attitude will remain: start the jihad without me.
This one he got right. The Arab Spring came way later.
Seven forecasts, 5 errors, 2.5 successes.
8) “Looting is always unsavoury. Let’s hope the Americans don’t pilfer the oil” (Brenda Linane, Age of Melbourne, April 11). MBITRW: The pilfering of Iraq’s oil has just ended. Saddam parcelled his country’s wealth out to those companies willing to cosy up to him. The oil business will now be opened up to competitive tender. The only North American politician with a personal stake in any of this is not Bush, Cheney or any of their Texan oilpatch pals, but the Prime Minister of Canada, whose daughter is married to TotalFinaElf’s biggest shareholder. The liberation of Iraq is a victory for real markets over French cronyism.
I am not sure anyone can know enough about the oil situation right now, except to say that the Kurds seem to be signing their own deals with oil companies which the Iraqi central government say is illegal. Depending on how one looks that, it could be “pilfering” or not. I’ll give that one to Steyn rather than get into the weeds.
That’s eight forecasts, 5 errors, 3.5 successes.
9) “Weapons of Mass Destruction. Remember them? Not a single one has yet been found” (Bill Neely, ITV, April 10). MBITRW: Actually, I almost wish this one were true. Anything that turns up now will be assumed to have been planted. If I were Washington, I’d consider burying anything I found. After all, an America that feels no need to bother faking justifications for invasion would be far more alarming to most Europeans. Instead, horrible things will turn up, but will never be “conclusive” enough for the French, who’ve got all the receipts anyway.
I’m not even sure what this means. Best I can say, the “I almost wish this one were true” means Steyn feels WMDs were found. I think we have to ding him for it.
With nine forecasts, he has 6 errors and 3.5 successes.
Saving the best for last, Steyn tells us:
10) America is already losing the peace. MBITRW: In a year’s time, Iraq will be, at a bare minimum, the least badly governed state in the Arab world and, at best, pleasant, civilised and thriving. In short: not a bad three weeks’ work.
Despite the painted schoolhouses, I think even Steyn would admit this one was wrong putting him at 7 bad forecasts, 3.5 good forecasts. Two bad forecasts for every good one. Random guesses would have seriously outperformed the forecasts he made with such smug assurance on a topic on which, judging from Google, Mr. Steyn felt qualified to expend a lot of ink. And, don’t forget, we began with his admission that his ability to guess what is likely to happen in the US is completely off too.
Which raises the question – Steyn is a popular, very well paid columnist. Is there anything on which he has pontificated in the past on which he’s been proven largely right?