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On Point

What is the Score in Iraq?


by Austin Bay
December 10, 2003

How do you know if you're winning or losing?

Football fans check the scoreboard, clock and field position, and if they know the inside game, estimate team morale. In a political campaign, polls clue candidates.

Gauging success in war --as the battle progresses -- is iffy, more art than science. Measures of Effectiveness (MOE) is military jargon for assessing an operation's success. After an air strike, the USAF conducts Bomb Damage Assessment. The basic metric: Is the target smashed? If the target is a bunker and the recon photo reveals concrete chunks and a hole, good job. If the target is the command team in the bunker (e.g., Saddam), then it may take many uncertain months to score the attack.

How to measure the effectiveness of Free Iraq's flickering battle with the Baath and Al Qaeda fascist opposition?

At the conflict's "operational level," security and cash are key -- and closely related -- issues. In each category, the Free Iraq coalition gets an interim and very speculative grade.

Measuring security:

  • The number of Free Iraqi police and paramilitary personnel in the field is a rough yardstick, but ultimately Iraqi security is their job. The major U.S. mistake prior to Operation Iraqi Freedom was failing to create a functioning Iraqi constabulary. The United States had 3,000 exiles training in Hungary, but that simply didn't cut it. Interim coalition grade: D.
  • The number of violent incidents involving the Baath or "foreign" terrorists is a gauge. This figure can also mislead. The paradox: Incidents can increase due to coalition success. Bet that incidents will spike prior to Iraqi elections, but that will be desperate violence by vicious losers. Interim Grade: C
  • The geographic distribution of violent incidents. Most are confined to the "Sunni Triangle." Interim Grade: A-
  • Prisoners and casualties. If the 5,000 Baath fighter estimate is accurate, arresting or killing them is an MOE. Dare call it "body count?" The analog isn't Vietnam, it's the Untouchables breaking Al Capone. Interim Grade: B- Capture or kill Saddam? A-
  • Implementing "Rule of Law." War crimes trials recommended by the Iraqi Governing Council are a key milestone. Grade: Incomplete

Measuring cash (economic capability)?

  • A crude indicator (literally) is Iraqi oil exports. Oil makes money. Electric power generation is a "macro" measure of restoring economic infrastructure. Interim Grade: B
  • Fascist funding. The battle for Saddam's bank stashes matters, since his bucks buy car bombs. Grade: Incomplete
  • Jobs for Iraqis. USAID business projects and the Pentagon's Commanders' Emergency Response Program are critical economic kickstarts. Interim Grade in Kurdistan: B; South Iraq: D; Baghdad: C+

Measuring "success or failure" at the strategic level:

  • The March-April military campaign was a huge success. Saddam's regime collapsed quickly, with few civilian casualties. The strategic demonstration of American power was dramatic, and it put teeth in the U.N.'s 1991 resolutions. Some day, U.N. sanctions may mean something again. Final Grade: A (No attack from Turkey, so no A+. A northern attack would have swept Tikrit and the Sunni Triangle, conceivably diminishing the current opposition in these Baathist districts.)
  • Tracking Weapons of Mass Destruction programs in outlaw states. Nuke, chemical and bio weapons allow the barbarians to kill the civilized en masse. Even if Iraqi weapons appear, our intelligence failed. Interim Grade: D-
  • We're fighting The War on Terror in the Middle East, not middle America. Bin Laden's "War on America" is fundamentally a Saudi Arabian civil war and a war for control of the Middle East. Bin Laden tried to internationalize that conflict; he thought 9-11 would shatter American will and reveal American weakness. "American clients" like the Saudis would then topple. Afghanistan surprised Al Qaeda, but Iraq is the offensive shocker that shows America means to defeat bin Laden in a most canny fashion. America has recast the strategic conflict as Middle Eastern democracy versus dictatorships, be the autocrats Baath fascist or Islamo-fascist, or (ultimately) petro-sheiks. Interim Grade: a fragile A
  • International contributions to Iraqi reconstruction, both in number of contributors and total capital is a strategic political measure. Interim Grade: C-

We'll review the grades next May.

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