I am on record stating, before the Surge began, that I expected it to fail. I hope it succeeds – I hope something succeeds, but I don’t think this administration has the competence to get anything to work in Iraq at this point.
But a lot of people are insisting the Surge is working. Some of the signs are kind of dubious – we’re now arming and paying some of the Sunni fundamentalists that were previously shooting at US troops (and will likely be shooting at US troops again in the near future) because they’ve turned away from Al Qaeda. But there seem to be a bunch of folks who were predisposed to think the Surge was going to work telling us it is, the latest beig O”Hanlon and Pollack.
So what’s going on in Iraq? Are things getting better? Well, how would we know? The obvious metric would be – how many Iraqis are getting killed and/or fleeing their homes. But the administration won’t tell us that – they won’t even hazard a guess. Sure, we’re told that the figures printed in the Lancet were waaaay out of the ballpark, but what we aren’t told is what figures are in the ballpark.
What about alternative metrics? There was that report a month or two back, but according to the US ambassador to Iraq, electricity is “more important to the average Iraqi than all 18 benchmarks rolled up into one.” So electricity proviced to Iraqis it is… except that that funny things are happening with that metric too.
So how are we supposed to know if things are getting better? Well, maybe the lack of metrics is itself a metric. If things were getting better, wouldn’t the administration want to make it easier, not harder, for us to know? Wouldn’t they want to put out a report showing that fewer Iraqis are getting killed, that people are returning to areas that had been ethnically cleansed, that there was more electricity?
And that pardoxical metric… the lack of metrics – is a metric that everyone understands. Even the people who tell us things are getting better. Because after all, there is one more metric of how well or how poorly things are going in Iraq that we all understand. The number of westerners willing to walk the streets of Baghdad (and perhaps anyplace else in Iraq), openly, unarmed and unescorted by the military, dropped to zero per month somewhere in early 2004 and it hasn’t budged since. I think the first sign of improvement will be a change in that metric.