Colin Powell Redefines “Solid”

It’s hard to keep up with slang. I remember when we used to use the word “bogus” to refer to anything disagreeable. But by expanding the use of that word from its original meaning of “counterfeit, fake, phony, misrepresented as genuine” it left a gap in the syntactosphere and some new slang had to come in to fill in for the vacated specificity.

Leave it to that master wordsmith Colin Powell to come up with the replacement: “solid”

I was meandering wordfully on the topic of how ideology distorts or governs assertions of fact and in passing I mentioned the post-Gulf War economic sanctions against Iraq:

During the long Clinton-era warm war in Iraq, the peacenik community sobbed and moaned over the children killed by sanctions-caused deprivation. (The more sober-minded wondered if Saddam might be persuaded to raise some milk money by renting out one or two of the palaces he’d built for his family.) As the war threatened to go hot in , “let sanctions work” was the new cry. Now, if the Lancet numbers are to be believed, the infant mortality rate in Iraq was nowhere near as bad as the sanctions critics believed — will you wonder if they fail to criticize the Lancet for its cover-up?

I’m no expert on the Iraq sanctions, not even really an especially well-informed amateur, but I do remember this back-and-forth and the impressively-large and -precise estimates of how many Iraqi children were being killed by the sanctions. The Lancet study did not show such an inflated infant mortality rate as would be expected from these figures.

Today we have some more data that might help to explain the discrepancy. The Lancet study compared mortality rates from the months before the recent invasion to the rates since the invasion.

Iraqi health officials like to surprise visitors by pointing out that the nutrition issue facing young Iraqis a generation ago was obesity. Malnutrition, they say, appeared in with U.N. trade sanctions championed by Washington to punish the government led by President Saddam Hussein for invading Kuwait in . ¶ International aid efforts and the U.N. oil-for-food program helped reduce the ruinous impact of sanctions, and the rate of acute malnutrition among the youngest Iraqis gradually dropped from a peak of 11 percent in to 4 percent in .

So the protesters who were anguished about the effects of sanctions weren’t just whistling Dixie, but they were working with out-of-date data. The negative effects of sanctions (or of sanctions combined with Saddam’s greed) on infant mortality had been ameliorated by the oil-for-food program… but alas, this same program seems to have been played like a kazoo by Saddam’s regime and by unscrupulous countries and companies that exchanged circumvention for kickbacks. As the sanctions were becoming less like a starvation siege, they were also becoming less effective at defunding the regime.

You might ask how the infant mortality rate has changed since the invasion. The Iraqi Health Ministry did:

Acute malnutrition among young children in Iraq has nearly doubled , according to surveys by the United Nations, aid agencies and the interim Iraqi government.

After the rate of acute malnutrition among children younger than 5 steadily declined to 4 percent , it shot up to 7.7 percent , according to a study conducted by Iraq’s Health Ministry in cooperation with Norway’s Institute for Applied International Studies and the U.N. Development Program. The new figure translates to roughly 400,000 Iraqi children suffering from “wasting,” a condition characterized by chronic diarrhea and dangerous deficiencies of protein.…

Iraq’s child malnutrition rate now roughly equals that of Burundi, a central African nation torn by more than a decade of war. It is far higher than rates in Uganda and Haiti.

See also: Changing views on child mortality and economic sanctions in Iraq: a history of lies, damned lies and statistics (Tim Dyson & Valeria Cetorelli BMJ Global Health ). They say that there was no spike of child mortality because of the sanctions, but that Saddam Hussein had successfully manipulated the studies that suggested there had been. They also say that child mortality in Iraq hasn’t gotten any better . ―♇

It’ll take forever to dig out what’s been carefully buried in the latest omnibus spending bill, but among the first things unearthed: