Friday, January 11, 2008

Objectives and outcomes

Military action should be taken to achieve or to create conditions to achieve desired political outcomes. That is bastardized Clauswitz, bastardized Sun Tsu and bastardized 4th Generation thought. How you get to the point of military success within an integrated political/strategic framework changes over time, but the constant objective of successful military actions is integrating those actions into a broader scope and strategy. These are the evaluative standards of success --- have the desired political outcomes been achieved?

The Surge is a military campaign that had broad strategic outcomes and pathways in mind to see if it could achieve desirable political ends. So let's see what has happened within the political scope. We can start by looking at his political outcomes that he desired, which he was nice enough to actually enunciate and differentiate from pablum and crap last January. I'll break it down into bullet points:

  • To establish its authority, the Iraqi government plans to take responsibility for security in all of Iraq's provinces by November.

  • To give every Iraqi citizen a stake in the country's economy, Iraq will pass legislation to share oil revenues among all Iraqis.

  • To show that it is committed to delivering a better life, the Iraqi government will spend $10 billion of its own money on reconstruction and infrastructure projects that will create new jobs.

  • To empower local leaders, Iraqis plan to hold provincial elections later this year.

  • And to allow more Iraqis to re-enter their nation's political life, the government will reform de-Baathification laws,

  • * and establish a fair process for considering amendments to Iraq's constitution.

  • The underlying assumption on these metrics is that achieving these goals will move Iraq and Iraqi societies towards a unified, reasonably stable, US friendly nation state with a reasonably exercised near monopoly on force, and a monopoly on legitimate force. Let's keep that in mind.

    The first one has not happened. As Cernig noted earlier today, the plan is turn Anbar over to local security forces in March. A smart-ass may suggest that security in Anbar has always been in the hands of local security forces and it has been the damn foreigners trying to muscle in on local political/economic arrangements that have caused all the trouble, but I am not such a smart ass. Through mid-December eleven of eighteen provinces are under Iraqi government security responsibilities.

    Oil revenue sharing has been a morass. Shi'ite ministers have accused Kurdish oil deals of being negotiated illegally and in bad faith. Draft laws have been read and laughed in and out of committee, and any oil deal exposes massive fissures within every interested party at the national level. The few deals that have been cut seem to be pay-offs to Bush supporters first and foremost.

    Unemployment levels are hard to measure. Brookings Iraq Index published on 1/2/08 data stops by mid-summer of 2007, and they were guesstimating a constant 25 to 40% unemployment figure. This has been their rough estimate for the past two years. There is a reasonable chance that the decrease in violence levels from the peak 2006 and 2007 levels towards 2004 and 2005 levels will lead to increases in economic activity and thus increased employment. However I can not verify that assumption right now. There is a counter-argument that one of the major drivers of decreased violence has been the partitioning of major cities, especially Baghdad into walled ethnic enclaves. Cities exist economically as mixing grounds of loose ties and the combination of personal no-go zones, and walls decrease the opportunities of productive mixing. Furthermore the Iraqi government has not passed a 2008 budget as of last week so any additional expenditures that may have occurred due to the surge are one-off events. With this said, it is plausible that this goal was met.

    Local leaders have been empowered, but not through elections. The deals that the US has cut with the Awakening Councils have empowered Sunni Arab tribal leadership at the cost of de-legitimating the Shi'ite dominated central government. Press reports have consistently shown that the Sunni Arab 'Concerned Local Citizens'/insurgents who want a reliable paycheck believe that they achieved their basic political goals of not having to pay attention to Baghdad's central government. And now that they have been able to form large units they are 'competing armed interest groups' that as soon as US airpower is no longer a major concern, can ramp violence levels back up to conventional levels and reinvigorate a full fledged civil war.

    De-Baathification is a massive threat to the Shi'ite government as they remember exactly how the Sunni Arab minority has been able to wield power for most of the 20th century -- armed military coups. The social and political networks are in place if experienced Baath and insurgent individuals for such a coup to occur again, especially now that there are 'armed competing interest groups.' Not gonna happen.

    Same thing with the constitutional amendment process. This has always been Lucy's football.

    So on its overt political objectives, the surge has failed. There has been some good, mainly a drop in violence metrics from mid-surge/mid summer highs to levels last seen in 2004 (when the strategic situation was still a fiasco), and a rapid deceleration of ethnic cleansing (mainly because the first wave has been completed by the various militias), and no major US-Iran confrontation. But is has failed to produce a long lasting change in political coalitions, factions or trend lines.

    Now if you happen to be a bit cynical and believe that the surge's political objectives were to either kick the can for another year or to entrench the US as the primary balancing player between multiple armed interest groups with a weak client government that needs a massive US presence to survive, then either set of political outcomes has been achieved.

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