Thursday, August 23, 2007
Since President Bush feels like making comparisons to the Vietnam War, here's one that seems more appropriate. One of the major problems of that war was the fact that the military based its assessment of the war's progress on metrics that, a) were conceived of in order to prove progress was being made; and b) bore no resemblance to how things were actually evolving on the ground.
Take body counts, for instance. In a conventional war of attrition, relative casualties might indeed indicate which side is actually winning. But in a guerilla insurgency, how many more insurgents you killed this week compared to last is only half the equation. Just as important is how many less civilians joined the insurgency this week compared to last. Throw in the fact that patrol leaders eager to "make" their quotas regularly counted any Vietnamese body as a Viet Cong casualty and you'll understand why the casualty figures had very little bearing on the war's outcome. A black & white photo of a young girl fleeing an American napalm attack on her village, on the other hand, was absolutely devastating.
I was reminded of the question of metrics by this article, admittedly on the Iranian state news agency's English language website, of a press conference held by Iraq's Minister of Electricity who, in the presence of two American military officers, thanked the Iranians for supplying Basra and Wasit with electricity.
Now, think about that for a second. Four years into an American occupation and reconstruction of Iraq, and the Iraqis are thanking the Iranians for their electricity. And this in the same week that the Iraqi Prime Minister was busy cosying up to our good friends, the Syrians.
It might very well be that the civilian death toll in Baghdad has decreased over the course of the Surge, although the numbers have been disputed by enough reliable sources that I have my doubts. And it might very well be that the Surge has improved the security conditions in Iraq, along with other serendipitous events, like the turning of Anbar Sunnis.
The question is, On which of these two metrics are we going to base a continued commitment of American forces to Iraq?