Friday, April 11, 2008

Fragile and Reversible

Life is certainly hectic
When it comes to the war metric
What you measure and when
Over and over again
Tells us all so much
About philosophy and such
Recall the count of bodies
Was called so very shoddy
But now there is no hope
Without a microscope

I would not want to defend the Bush Administration’s position on staying the course. For this, General Petraeus deserves credit. He is loyal and articulate. Unfortunately, the performance measurements are essentially microscopic and movement toward success is surely not available to the naked eye. Hence, with some sensitivity, he called the gains “fragile and reversible.” While that description is not a common yardstick of progress, it does provide cover in the event of a tragic collapse. Each year now since the invasion in March 2003, we have been entertained by an Administration dog and pony show citing progress. In between, we have been provided a variety pack of “significant measures” that were “turning points.” We captured Baghdad. We toppled a statue. We de-Baathified. We disbanded the Iraqi Army. We killed Saddam’s two sons, Uday and Qusay. We established a provisional government. We tried Saddam. We executed Saddam. We killed the second or third most important insurgent (several times). We had a new president. We had a charter. We had a constitution. We had purple fingers. We had a power-sharing plan. We stood up the Iraqi Army (so we could stand down). We re-Baathified (at the cost of $10 per Sunni per day). We pacified Basra and secured Umm Qasr and the Brits went home. We got an agreement for a truce with Muqtada al Sadr. We fought Muqtada al Sadr in the streets of Basra and al Amarah and secured Umm Qasr. All this seems to verify that if you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there…wherever “there” is.

Having quickly reviewed the Administration practice of using selected dramatic events as proof of progress, we are struck with the contrast of looking at other areas and practices of measurement. No Child Left Behind (NCLB), has been the centerpiece of domestic policy. The policy is dependent upon the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), which is a survey of student achievement that uses assessments in a variety of subject areas including reading, math, science, writing, history, geography and the arts. Without getting into the quagmire of unfunded federal mandates, the entire program is dependent upon measurement, measurement and more measurement. In fact, the major criticism has been that since Bush tied test scores to school performance, that teachers are teaching to tests and not teaching for learning. More important, schools have long been the nearly exclusive territory of local government and this top down measuring frenzy has reversed a couple hundred years of tradition. If you receive Title I funds, you must submit a plan to the US Department of Education that demonstrates that you have sufficient academic content and state wide standards that support the plan. Although the system is administered by a federal contractor, the numbers are salient yardsticks, even if compromised by fear of losing funds and teachers teaching to the test. Now, many of you may argue that NCLB has been a dismal failure perhaps because it focused too much on measurement of easily manipulated testing and I won’t defend the practice, but clearly, it provides a contrast to the evaluation of the war in Iraq. Or does it?

Do the real purposes of NCLB and the war in Iraq coincide? The answer that I submit to you is that both are intended to claim that Bush is a winner. He is a “winner” who took Baghdad, unlike his more tentative father and a “winner” who has upgraded American education with little or no money and with numbers to prove it. This evaluation of winners and losers is human nature and also a matter of perception. Bush is also sensitive to propaganda and has twice approved multi million dollar contracts for the Lincoln Group to promote the best side of the Iraqi war to Iraqis in Iraq. The whole purpose of the FOX-Bush connection appears to be promotion of Bush in exchange for Administration promotion of the network. Have you been to any military base and seen any public television set NOT tuned to FOX? Think of it as putting your best foot forward, not as either truth or prevarication.

As a military retiree who devoted over 30 years to supporting the government and the supremacy of the civilian to the military in policy decisions, I am troubled by current events where Petraeus has essentially provided a policy endorsed by the President instead of the other way around. The Secretary of Defense and Admiral Fallon (the nominal boss for Petraeus) have both been circumvented to promote the illusion that we are winning in Iraq. There is no metric that I know of that will prove him wrong, but we have heard that mantra of victory before and it has become hollow. Merely pretending that we could somehow “win” a civil war as an occupying force is bizarre, but pretending that there is no civil war is just as strange. Without metrics we can agree upon, we are left with the prospect of winning Iraq for the next hundred years, but remember that is fragile and reversible.

George Giacoppe
11 April 2008

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