Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Iraq, aims and evaluation

I am an evaluator and analyst by training and profession. When I have an initial meeting with the stakeholders who want me to do an interim or a post-facto outcome evaluation of a big project I ask three initial questions.

1) Is it okay to park where I parked?
2) Where's the coffee?
3) What were the reasons/objectives that this project/program was started and what are the desired end-states?

The third question allows me to start building an analytical framework to see whether or not the project was able to achieve desirable outcomes. Any action has to be fitted into a matrix of past history, surrounding environment, capabilities, constraints, worldviews, resources, and value based outcomes. Actions should be taken that further goals, and these goals should fit into a comprehensible and coherent strategy of change. Benchmarks, way points, quick-look dashboards, indicators of some sort should be built into every phase of a project so that the basic question of 'does this action make sense in relationship to a larger goal' and ' is this doing what needs to be done' can be asked and quickly answered.

A good indicator of a program in trouble is one in which the benchmarks frequently and randomly change, low accountability is rampant, individual actors are engaged in activities that are mutually contradictory to any strategic outcome and evaluation does not occur or is a farce. This basic policy analysis framework can and should be applied to most public policy problems and programs, including an analysis of the war in Iraq.

Tigerhawk, a proud 24%-er is kicking the goal posts so far that soon American football will be played on a cricket pitch as he engages in both objective re-setting and evaluatory punting

other than to say that the many contemporaneous objections to OIF -- including fatuous assertions by presidential candidates and their surrogates that it was the greatest foreign policy mistake in American history -- will shrink into nothingness upon the full rendering of the verdict of history. That will depend on one result and one only -- whether the Persian Gulf and the Arab world are much changed in the time elapsing before the writing of that history and whether that change has a salutary impact on the many in competencies of that region, or not. And who will write that history? A young scholar who was born too late to have experienced the passionate arguments and sharp politics of the last five years.

He is arguing that we can not evaluate properly for at least another ten to fifteen years (figure a 10 year old in 2003 will be finishing up his dissertation when he is between 27 and 30) and only if we assess against one, often unstated, metric of success that was not central except to a bunch of fringe bureaucratic infighters. And also while we ignore any concept of opportunity cost. Wow, Tigerhawk had a reputation a couple of years ago as a 'smart' warhawk.

Let's go back to the tape and see what the stated war aims were. Let's see what case Congress thought it was authorizing, what President Bush stated in his biggest address to the country concerning Iraq, and what was stated the night the war started. I think this is a fair collection of documents to read to discern the stated intentions of the United States government.

From the March 19, 2003 pre-war speech by President Bush ---

My fellow citizens, at this hour, American and coalition forces are in the
early stages of military operations to disarm Iraq, to free its people and to
defend the world from grave danger....
The people of the United States and our friends and allies will not live at the mercy of an outlaw regime that threatens the peace with weapons of mass murder. We will meet that threat now, with our Army, Air Force, Navy, Coast Guard and Marines, so that we do not have to meet it later with armies of fire fighters and police and doctors on the streets of our cities.

Okay, so we got the precursor of 'fight them over there so they don't come here' as well as fear mongering on WMDs. We also get a hint of liberating the Iraqi people, although as soon as they wanted early local elections in the summer of 2003, we quashed that notion of local autonomy. But the primary stated purpose of this war was disarm Iraq. Iraq was already effectively disarmed years ago and the UN was able to verify that this process was nearing completion. Whoopsie!

From the 2002 Joint Authorization to Use Military Force (CSPAN PDF)

(a) AUTHORIZATION.—The President is authorized to use the
Armed Forces of the United States as he determines to be necessary
and appropriate in order to—
(1) defend the national security of the United States against
the continuing threat posed by Iraq; and
(2) enforce all relevant United Nations Security Council
resolutions regarding Iraq.

The pre-amble full of Whereas... is not legally binding but it mostly contained statements on disarming Iraq, enforcing UN sanctions or allegations (cleverly worded of course) on the connections between Iraq and Al-Queada. Again, this is being framed as a war of self-defense against a terrifying threat of a secretly re-armed Iraq.

Let's move to the next selection to see what the stated war aims are.
2003 State of the Union
America is making a broad and determined effort to confront these dangers. We have called on the United Nations to fulfill its charter and stand by its demand that Iraq disarm. We're strongly supporting the International Atomic Energy Agency in its mission to track and control nuclear materials around the world.....
The dictator of Iraq is not disarming. To the contrary; he is deceiving. From intelligence sources we know, for instance, that thousands of Iraqi security personnel are at work hiding documents and materials from the U.N. inspectors, sanitizing inspection sites and monitoring the inspectors themselves. Iraqi officials accompany the inspectors in order to intimidate witnesses.
Iraq is blocking U-2 surveillance flights requested by the United Nations. Iraqi intelligence officers are posing as the scientists inspectors are supposed to interview. Real scientists have been coached by Iraqi officials on what to say. Intelligence sources indicate that Saddam Hussein has ordered that scientists who cooperate with U.N. inspectors in disarming Iraq will be killed, along with their families....
If Saddam Hussein does not fully disarm, for the safety of our people and for the peace of the world, we will lead a coalition to disarm him....
And as we and our coalition partners are doing in Afghanistan, we will bring to the Iraqi people food and medicines and supplies -- and freedom.

Again, the war aims here are disarming Iraq and assisting the United Nations in enforcing its resolutions and sanctions. Nothing is written in the official war aims as promogulated by both Congress and President Bush in his two biggest speeches about the war concerning the creation of a cascade of positive externalities (which btw we aren't seeing) in the entire region.

Furthermore his analytical framework excludes both opportunity cost and the closely related concept of the counterfactual which are some of the core tenets of anything that vaguely wants to be called high quality policy analysis. As an whimper of begging for intellectual mercy, Tigerhawk and the sentiment he expresses of neglecting the next twenty years so that it can be properly analyzed while continuing on the same path is a joke, and not even a particularly funny one at that.

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