Friday, September 09, 2005

Measuring Success in Iraq

Critics of the Bush administration have the annoying tendency of not only failing to offer any plan of their own, but also changing their criteria for success when we embark on a challenge.

In 2004 a friend and I wrote an editorial that was published in two papers (including the much-criticized N&O - a rare moment of excellence on behalf of the paper). The piece pinned down one liberal (Thomas Friedman) who actually had the courage to propose six measures of success for Iraq. Since we wrote the article Friedman has forgotten his own measures and has frequently veered into the same kind anti-Bush insanity that has so dishonored so many on the left.

Still, it may be of some value to look at the editorial again a year later and see how we are doing. Of the six criteria Friedman proposed, we judged success in 3 and progress in 3 as of the fall of 2004. I now think numbers 4 and 6 below are also a success, but you judge:

Measuring Success in Iraq
By Scott C. Pierce and Charles J. McLaughlin

Measuring success in Iraq has proven to be a difficult task. Backers of the administration tout the thousands of schools opened, the capture of Saddam and the impressive achievements on a timeline relative to reconstruction in Japan and Germany. Critics of the administration keep a daily body count of American casualties, develop a conspiracy theory every week concerning Halliburton and claim that we are not safer even with Saddam in captivity. Most Americans, while supportive of the war, the capture of Saddam and the performance of President Bush, probably shift their view of success depending on the latest news. Explosions, helicopters down and coalition deaths damper our enthusiasm, while days of relative calm, letters from soldiers serving there and stories focusing on success (though hard to find in the popular press) cheer us.

In searching for a true measure of success, we should seek criteria developed prior to or just after the invasion began. Establishing fixed measures of success eliminate the temptation of commentators to shift their criteria as the situation changes. These criteria should come from someone with expertise in the area, preferably someone who is neither intensely partisan nor completely irrational.

Thomas Friedman’s recent collection of essays, “Longitudes and Attitudes,” offers us just such an opportunity. His column from March 26, 2003, titled “Milestones for the War” offers six sober and responsible measures of success for the U.S. and coalition forces in Iraq. Friedman has traveled extensively in the Middle East and has written two books (“From Beirut to Jerusalem” and “The Lexus and the Olive Tree”) dealing to some degree with the regional problems and issues. While he has been a consistent critic of the administration, he hasn’t fallen into the Angry Left hatred of Bush that has marred the objectivity of other liberal columnists, including some of his Times’ colleagues. As a result, even with his strong liberal credentials, Friedman is widely respected by the political right as a thoughtful and measured writer.

Now that nearly a year has passed since publication of the article, it is time to see how the United States has performed in light of Friedman’s six criteria.

1. Have we occupied Baghdad without leveling the whole city? - Success, and in shorter time and with less damage than most people believed could be accomplished.

2. Have we killed, captured, or expelled Saddam? – Success, with the added psychological advantage that we found him cowering in a hole rather than directing an effective resistance.

3. Have we won this war and preserved the territorial integrity of Iraq? - Success so far as the Kurds, Turks and Iranians have shown no signs of wanting to challenge the U.S. and break off a part of Iraq.

4. Is the Iraqi state that emerges from this war accepted as legitimate by Iraq's Arab and Muslim neighbors? - Given the clear indication that the U.S. is reducing our footprint, will continue to do so, and will turn over power to Iraqis in June, achieving this goal seems inevitable. Even though Iraq's neighbors may not like Iraq’s eventual form of government, and will worry about the instability that freedom can bring, they will recognize the government as Iraq's own by 2005.

5. Have we been able to explain why some Iraqi forces are putting up such a fierce fight? - Incomplete. Sources, even official ones, have provided various answers to this issue. The problem seems to be that those fighting the coalition and friendly Iraqi forces are comprised of various groups, some coordinated and some not. In addition, the fight against coalition forces is not all that fierce. Planting improvised explosive devices by a roadside or carrying out suicide attacks against primarily civilian targets constitutes the military version of cheap shots, not fierce fighting. Recent coalition operations suggest that success in the area of identifying and eliminating terrorist groups in Iraq continues.

6. Has an authentic Iraqi liberal nationalist emerged from the U.S. occupation to lead the country? - Incomplete. Of the six issues this will prove to be the trickiest, not because there are no candidates, but rather because there are so many who are capable and who are vying for power. We face the challenge of wanting to support legitimate candidates who will lead Iraq to freedom, independence and prosperity, but also fulfilling the challenge in number four above of ensuring legitimacy. A key factor will be finding and supporting a figure with nationwide interests, and not a leader interested in only his ethnic region.

Of Friedman’s criteria, we have succeeded in three and we are headed in the right direction in the other three. This is not a bad score after a little more than nine months, and it is bound to improve as time goes by. Keep this list handy and look again at the end of 2004, and we should see success on all counts.

The authors are West Point classmates, graduates of the Special Forces Officer Qualification Course at Fort Bragg and are members of the Council for Emerging National Security Affairs. These comments do not necessarily reflect the views of the Department of Defense or the US government.