Tuesday, May 15, 2007
The Metric System
As you might have noticed, I've taken a bit of an interest in the administrative and accounting morass affectionately known as Iraq Relief & Reconstruction. Which means, among other things, sifting through some of the official State Dept and DoD publications mandated to keep tabs on the various projects that have been contracted. Here's something that caught my eye in the latest Weekly Reconstruction Report, from a description of an elementary school project in north Baghdad Province:
Lt. j.g. Robert McCharen, who is the Army Corps of Engineers officer in charge of the area, says the 23-classroom facility will be capable of handling up to 900 students, both boys and girls, ages 6 through 12. It also contains a 90-square-meter four-room guardhouse.
The gist of the article is that the new school will open "...a whole new chapter of opportunities..." for the community it serves by replacing one that was too far away to be of much use. To be fair, the story is an example of one of the better approaches to Iraq reconstruction: Relief funds made available to local military commanders to disburse according to the needs of the area under control.
And yet, there's still that four-room guardhouse, made necessary by the fact that the insurgency targets schools and teachers that "collaborate" with American forces. From a report in the Guardian titled "Iraq School Crisis":
More than 300 teachers and Ministry of Education employees were killed last year and 1,158 were wounded, the ministry reported. A U.N. report released last month said the killings continued "at an alarming level'' this year.
The attacks have paralyzed the government's plan to build 1,000 new schools this year and even forced it to close existing schools across the country, Hussein said.
The fact that these two reports appeared within two weeks of each other perfectly captures the hollow nature of our accomplishments (which are numerous) in Iraq.
One of the great failures of the Vietnam War was the use of metrics conceived not to accurately measure the war effort, but to register its every engagement as a "plus": Body counts, secured villages, controlled territory. All of them gave the illusion of progress, even while we were steadily losing any chance of victory in the theater of war itself.
The same thing has happened in Iraq. Supporters of the war, the few that remain, aren't wrong when they say that we often fail to appreciate the occupation's many accomplishments. What they fail to realize, though, is that in a realistic appraisal of the war effort, a schoolhouse built with an integrated guardroom doesn't go under the plus column.