Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Am I the only one who remembers the benchmarks?

Peter Beinart on the myth that the surge "won" the Iraq War:
But they forget something crucial. The surge was not intended merely to reduce violence. Reducing violence was a means to a larger goal: political reconciliation. Only when Iraq’s Sunni and Shia Arabs and its Kurds all felt represented by the government would the country be safe from civil war. As a senior administration official told journalists the day Bush announced the surge, “The purpose of all this is to get the violence in Baghdad down, get control of the situation and the sectarian violence, because now, without it, the reconciliation that everybody knows in the long term is the key to getting security in the country—the reconciliation will not happen.”
Actually, the goals of the surge were even more clearly defined than Beinart recounts. When President Bush announced his new surge strategy on January 10, 2007, he stated that the success of the plan would be measured by 18 benchmarks and that "America will hold the Iraqi government to the benchmarks it has announced." (Note that although Bush was announcing an American military strategy, success or failure would be measured by whether the Iraqi government would meet the goals, thus guaranteeing that the U.S. could claim credit for success and blame failure on the Iraqis).

For in the months following the announcement of the surge strategy, I wrote a lot about the benchmarks and whether they were being met (see for example, here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here). But almost everyone else forgot about them pretty quickly after the January 10, 2007 speech. In my mind if you are going to measure the success of a strategy, the best measure to use are the goals the proponents of the strategy announces from the outset. For once, the Bush administration had laid out a fairly concrete way to measure the success of something it was trying to do in Iraq. But most commentators and the press at large paid no attention to the goals the President actual set. Instead, they bought into the after-the-fact political spin that the surge "worked" because some things got better in Iraq after January 2007, even though the things that got better were not, for the most part, the things that President Bush said would get better when he announced the strategy.

On its own terms the surge failed. People who talk about the surge's success are completely ignoring what President Bush said were the strategy's goals. That's the big surge fallacy.