Thursday, August 30, 2007

Is a 17% a passing grade?

The success, failure or muddling nature of the Surge/Escalation plan needs to be measured against the metrics that everyone agreed before the action plan was adapted would be the valid measures of success. As I noted in a recent post, President Bush's overarching metric of success would be if the government will have the breathing space it needs to make progress in other critical areas.

That has not happened, and now the GAO is looking at the eighteen Congressionally mandated benchmarks that President Bush signed into law as the relevant evaluation criteria and is reporting back on them. The Washington Post has the first look and it is ugly:

Iraq has failed to meet all but three of 18 congressionally mandated benchmarks for political and military progress,.....

While there have been fewer attacks against U.S. forces, it notes, the number of attacks against Iraqi civilians remains unchanged. It also finds that "the capabilities of Iraqi security forces have not improved."....

One of eight political benchmarks... has been achieved,... "Prospects for additional progress in enacting legislative benchmarks have been complicated by the withdrawal of 15 of 37 members of the Iraqi cabinet,"

Overall, the draft report, titled "Securing, Stabilizing and Rebuilding Iraq," says that the Iraqi government has met only two security benchmarks.

So the government's internal program evaluators are saying that progress is being seen on 17% of the metrics that all program stakeholders had agreed were the important metrics, and a massive amount of money has been spent. I know from my professional experience working as a program evaluator for programs that receive federal grant monies, reporting these types of results back to the funding agency is an excellent way for either a massive organizational overhaul as the board steps in frantically to show involvement and change, or the loss of the contract.

Furthermore, this is the information that fuels my intense skepticism of the reports that things really are getting better this time, and only another six, nine, or twelve Friedman units will be needed; as well as a couple trillion dollars according to the latest Petreaus estimates.

Blue Gal notes that this GAO report, combined with the NIE's dour assessment (current conditions are as good as we can expect) should put a damper on the Petreaus and Crocker testimony in two weeks. I doubt it, as the traditional response for a failing program with bad numbers will be adapted before Congress in the next two weeks --- run out the happy smiling kids, tell some uplifting and tear jerking stories, bring in puppies and kittens and then tearfully cry against the big mean evaluators for crushing the spirit and joy of these kids, stories and furry, and oh so cute animals.

So the relevant question is 17% a passing grade that deserves further support, further loss of money, further loss of life, further degradation of American moral standard or is it time to start planning a deliberate withdrawal.

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