Sunday, April 13, 2008

Measuring Stability and Security in Iraq (March 2008)

Over the last two years, I’ve followed a Department of Defense report made regularly to Congress known as “Measuring Stability and Security in Iraq”. The most recent version is March 2008 and the report amounts to the Pentagon’s attempt to put the best objective face it can on the war to justify continued funding. In the meantime, it often appears that no one in Congress or the administration actually reads these reports all that carefully. While the administration has made much of the alleged progress of the “surge” citing “dramatic” percentage improvements in the reduction in violence, these can often be a bit misleading when taken out of context. For one thing, if you look carefully at the many graphs in the report all of this alleged improvement in the “security” sector has brought things back to where they were in January of 2006.

Think of it as one of those diet reality shows. Sometimes the competitors are about two hundred and fifty pounds overweight. They go on the show and after drastic and expensive lifestyle changes, the person is now only a hundred and fifty pounds overweight. That’s certainly progress, but the individual still isn’t healthy and he/she is still pretty far from being sleek looking.

Imagine also if no one mentions anymore that the same person started on the show at a hundred and fifty pounds back in 2003. Has it been worth it? Would you advise another ninety thousand dollars in diet interventions when five years later your hundred and fifty pound five foot three inch woman is now 250 pounds?

Okay, maybe the show shouldn’t have put her on that Mallomar diet in the summer of 2006? Also telling her to throw away all the exercise equipment that hadn’t worked in the past wasn’t such a good idea. You can maybe blame it on that horrible neighbor who keeps sabotaging her by slipping into her kitchen with gallons of ice cream. In the meantime, you made her get rid of that mean old husband who used to beat her. That was certainly a good thing.

So what if you told everyone that she was going to be cover model for the next Sports Illustrated swimwear edition? Two hundred and fifty is certainly a lot better than 450 isn’t it? If we kick her off the show now, who knows what’ll happen. She might wind up being 500 pounds in a year and pretty soon all the women in her neighborhood will be 500 pounds. You can’t abandon her now. For the last five years, you’ve been such a big help. There is that minor habit that she consumes an entire chocolate cake every night which has never changed in five years on the show (In Iraq, it’s called the hydrocarbon agreement as in how to share the oil revenues among the different groups that make up Iraq. The report tells us that there’s been no progress). Other than that though, there’s been all this great progress at least since compared to when she got to 450 pounds on the show.

Here are some real measures. Seven months after the surge, Iraqi oil production has flatlined. No section of the country outside the Green Zone has electricity twenty four hours a day. In fact, the average in Baghdad is still nine. Fresh water supplies are more or less the same as they were seven months ago. The official unemployment rate is still eighteen percent and in many areas of the country it’s still fifty percent. The Iraqi government is bizarrely enough still only capable of spending less than fifty percent of the money it allocates for various projects across the country (the report says it’s a problem with corruption). In the meantime, Iraq, the second biggest oil reserve in the world, is importing diesel fuel from Kuwait to get it’s power lines and oil pipelines operational.

Here’s the good news though. In the last six months the average Iraqi’s perception that the country is getting safer has improved by two hundred and fifty percent. Sounds pretty spectacular doesn’t it? In the summer of 2007, eight percent of Iraqis said that the country was “calm”. Today that figure is all the way up to twenty six percent. Even more impressive, nationwide polls indicated that seventy four percent of Iraqis have at least some confidence in the Iraqi army. Imagine that, just one out of four Iraqis has no confidence whatsoever in the supposedly improving Iraqi army. Should I mention that after that poll, the Iraqi army fired 1,300 soldiers and policemen for refusing to fight against the Mahdi army last month?
In the meantime, the report and General Petraeus have been very big on the 92,000 strong sons of Iraq, former Sunni insurgents in many cases who've decided to help with the security situation. The report doesn't mention that there remain real concerns about which side these guys will be on in six months.

You want something even weirder, Iraqi confidence in the ability of multi-national forces (as in us) to protect them has decreased by 18% in the last six months (page 36). Somehow, the media and our politicians haven’t mentioned that one. The report’s been public for more than a month btw.

One of the measures that I’ve followed for two years is the number of provinces in which the Government of Iraq has taken the “lead” for security. It’s better. Of the eighteen provinces, it’s up to nine. I just need to make a small point. Eighty six percent of the violence has always been in four provinces. None of the four have transitioned. The bulk of the surge effort was dedicated to Baghdad where the idea was to take pressure off the Iraqi parliament. Dark green is good on the DOD’s chart on page 29. Baghdad and the three other provinces remain bright yellow. In the same section, the DOD discusses the progress made by Iraqi forces in Basrah. Guess where they fired the bulk of those 1,300 Iraqi security forces who refused to follow orders? Not too surprising, one of the major factors in the reduction in violence cited in the report was a truce with Al Sadr. Doesn’t it make you wonder how some of these charts are going to look 2 months from now? The US military just had more deaths in Iraq than any week in 2008.

How is the Iraqi army doing? The good news is that we’ve now trained 425,000 Iraqis to serve in their security forces. Measuring Stability likes this number, it’s sort of their version of the sign they used to have outside McDonald’s. Interestingly, two years later there’s still not talk of how that translates into any kind of US troop withdrawal. No one has dared to say that the Iraqi army is ready to stand on its own in any parts of the country where the violence has been extreme. Here’s one measure. The Iraqi military will get its first helicopters in 2009. Mmmm….who mans and supplies the helicopters used over there in the meantime? Back to our Diet Show competitor. She’s done a lot of stuff in the last couple years, but honestly can anyone project how she’ll do once she’s off the show and doesn’t have the network’s resources to help her in her quest? The Pentagon is pointedly refusing to answer that question. The simple answer is that Iraqi forces do not have the lead in any of the four provinces where most of the violence has been nor is there any indication that they will have the lead any time in the near future. In fact, the surge was necessary to make it possible for the 130,000 US forces who were already there to get things back to the way they were in 2006. Let me put this as plainly as I can, the war wasn’t going all that well in January of 2006. No one then was talking about letting the Iraqis take over again or that we’d be able to get out with all our goals accomplished.

Let’s be real for a bit here. The Department of Defense itself, the same people General Petraeus works for, isn’t saying that the surge has gotten us any closer to America’s original objective in Iraq. For the cynical among us gas was a dollar sixty a gallon back then. Iran and Syria seem even more dangerous. Saudi Arabia doesn’t appear any less likely to be overwhelmed by Wahabi influences already in the country. Iraq is nominally now a democracy, but it’s not even remotely stable. The people insisting that the surge has helped to reduce the violence are comparing the figures to the summer of 2007 when our diet show contestant ballooned to 450 pounds after starting the show at 150. Where we once worried about her tyrant of a husband, Al Qaeda of Iraq has moved in with her instead. We’re now afraid that she’ll be seven hundred pounds in a month and that shes’s going to marry this Al Qaeda guy and sign her house and all her oil stocks over to him.

Let’s keep her on tv for another ten years and spend another million dollars or so on diet solutions for her. Look how successful we were in getting her back to two hundred and fifty pounds. Who cares that we put her on the show to be a runway model? Who even remembers that. Now we’re just trying to save the woman’s life. Did I mention that the woman spent so much time on the show that she lost her job and the bank foreclosed on her house in the meantime? Oh year, she lost her health insurance too.

It all makes perfect sense to me. Don’t you see how great these diet shows are for average Americans?



At 4/15/2008 12:17:00 PM, Blogger Gifted Typist said...

Was it you who posted on the numbers of dead and wounded since Geo. Bush's infamous Mission Accomplished stunt?

The devil's in the details and the math.

At 4/15/2008 12:49:00 PM, Blogger Chancelucky said...

I've talked about it and posted about how the Department of Defense determines if someone's been "wounded", but I think there are other sites that have been much better about getting the numbers.
DOD uses something called DIOR to get its official numbers.

Since the major fighting did stop 4 years ago according to the president, the number of dead and wounded has been pretty high.

With this particular report, the magic question is "How do we measure when the Iraqi's are able to take over their own security so the coalition can withdraw more troops?" The Pentagon pointedly never answers that question.

My analysis says 10 years at our current level just to keep things where they are. My question is whether it's worth it to do that?
I don't think it is. The politicians in the meantime all hide behind "We'll withdraw when we can be sure the country's stable". They never admit that that's probably not going to happen.

At 4/16/2008 02:23:00 PM, Blogger Gifted Typist said...

With the present administration, there is so much vested interest in doing nothing. To do anything different than nothing is to admit they were wrong.

Maybe, just maybe (if John McC. doesn't get it) there will be a shift in direction.

My question is: where are the university students? Why aren't they protesting like they did against Nam in the 60s? Are they all so sauced on WalMart and YouTube that they can't be bothered? Such complacency.

At 4/16/2008 03:17:00 PM, Blogger Chancelucky said...

good points. My question is where's Congress been. They've been getting reports like this for a few years now and they supposedly set up 18 benchmarks for progress in Iraq...that we're not really making progress on. If you don't do anything when you can't make benchmarks, are they still benchmarks?

I think one difference between 2008 and 1968 is that there's no draft. The college students aren't the ones who have to go.

At 4/17/2008 10:15:00 PM, Blogger Unknown said...


Great analogy.

Check for the best data on casualty numbers. Their server was recently maliciously attacked, so that have not restored everything yet. They have been tracking data since the war/occupation started. 3896 have been killed since Mission Accomplished, including my son, as you know. Ken was still in Germany when Bush landed on the carrier. I briefly wondered why he still had to go to Iraq, but I was much more naiive in those days.

on a side note, when Ken was killed I asked the Army what number (of casualtiy) he was. They told me that the Army doesn't keep track "like that" (yeah, right!)

The bottom line is, if ending the occupation/bringing the troops home was a priority, they would be home already. It is just not a priority, it's that simple.

University/ HS students aren't engaged in ending the war because they don't have to be. Heck, who has to be engaged in this war other than the military and their families? even more- who wants to be- I don't, but I have no choice.

As for the draft, I respectfully disagree. As badly as the troops are being treated with stop losses, IRR call-up, tour extensions, etc, etc....if this administration had more young men & women to recycle through the middle east, there is no question that Iran would be next, then another country and another. Besides, Blackwater & their fellow mercenaries probably number more than the military currently serving in Iraq. That means there are 300K+ attempting to stablilize Iraq.

It's time to end this luncacy once and for all. I was glad to hear the Dem candidates both say that as Commander in Chief, they would change the mission in Iraq. Unfortunately, as Senators, they don't think it is necessary to stop approving emergency funding requests. And in the meantime, how many more will die and be injured??

(guess I added more than my $.02!)

At 4/18/2008 01:48:00 PM, Blogger Chancelucky said...

thanks....I've seen before, but that's sad about their being hacked.
I don't know if you saw the report from the National Defense College yesterday, but it goes much farther than Measuring Stability....

As you always do so ably....People need to understand that we're talking about real wives, husbands, sons, friends when we throw around these numbers. The question very much remains "What have we accomplished and what do we hope to accomplish in exchange?"

At 4/19/2008 01:20:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I like all the info Cl, but cheezz whizz, lay off us Fat People. (Brains are mostly fat, y'know, so we're no doubt smarter & evidently less gratuituously offensive than you Thinnys.)We're somehow the last group it's just fine to trash for everyone's supercilious amusement. Aarrgghh. Fat this -- or somesuch!

I sum it up as too many dead people American & Iraqi, too many hideously wounded people, & $50,000 every 4 seconds.

I'm going to solace myself from the Attack the Fat onslaught with another doughnut!

At 4/20/2008 04:22:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

By the way, gifted, FABULOUS cat in your pict!

At 4/20/2008 05:25:00 PM, Blogger Chancelucky said...

I do realize that my metaphor ran the risk of offending people who are overweight (I'm one of them though not TV diet show level). I wanted to keep it simple though and everyone understands and obsesses about weight and the notion of gaining or losing it.
If you read it carefully though, the bashing is about diet shows not the people on them or at least it's supposed to be.

btw, I think that Gifted Typist is a person, though she might be a cat.


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