Measuring the Troop Surge's Success

July 7, 2008 - 8:32 PM

(CNSNews.com) - Amid signs of increasing American support for the Bush administration's troop surge policy in Iraq, questions remain about how to accurately measure success in this phase of the war against terror.

A USA Today-Gallup poll on Monday showed increasing support for the troop surge: Thirty-one percent of respondents said the additional troops were "making the situation better" -- up from 22 percent a month ago, the poll showed.

People who said the added troops were "not making much difference" dropped to 41 percent from 51 percent.

In addition, a recent report by the liberal-leaning Brookings Institution was upbeat in its conclusions about the surge.

"We are finally getting somewhere in Iraq, at least in military terms," wrote Brookings analysts Michael E. O'Hanlon and Kenneth M. Pollack in the New York Times on July 30.

"As two analysts who have harshly criticized the Bush administration's miserable handling of Iraq, we were surprised by the gains we saw and the potential to produce not necessarily 'victory' but a sustainable stability that both we and the Iraqis could live with."

But how can Americans tell if the surge is really working? A panel of experts convened by the conservative Heritage Foundation tried to answer that question last week with a discussion that focused on combating insurgencies.

Lt. Col. Gian Gentile, with the U.S. Military Academy, noted that his parameters for measuring success in Iraq last year were flawed, in retrospect. He looked at (1) enemy kills; (2) protecting his troops; and (3) minimizing the number of Iraqi civilians killed by enemy forces. Gen. David Petraeus's counterinsurgency strategy pursues those goals in opposite order, Gentile said.

Ivan Eland, a senior fellow with the libertarian Independent Institute, told Cybercast News Service that insurgencies defy efforts to measure success.

"The U.S. tries to avoid using enemy body counts [as a measure of success] but hasn't been completely successful," he said. Other counts, such as U.S. troop casualties and Iraqi casualties, may substitute for enemy body counts. But Eland said those counts also are inadequate, because even if both categories drop, the enemy can go into hiding or pop up somewhere else, as they are doing.

"The enemies only have to wait for the powerful democracy to become war-weary and go home," Eland said.

Gentile said that his key measurements of success now focus on things such as the demographic make-up of the Iraqi Security Forces; the number of insurgents captured; the effectiveness of public services; and the number and quality of tips provided from local citizens.

Frederick Kagan, a resident scholar at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, is regarded as one of the architects of the administration's new strategy. He claims that other measurements of success Iraq - the political "benchmarks" set by Congress in the Defense supplemental appropriations bill passed this spring - were ineffective.

"We have a problem in that we've got a huge political progress taking place at the grassroots in Iraq -- especially in Anbar, but not just Anbar -- that isn't accounted for in these benchmarks," said Kagan in a recent appearance on Fox News Sunday.

"And so the question is, at the same time as you have people demanding that we change our military strategy from month to month, they're insisting that we continue to pursue the same political strategy all through without any changes and any accounting for variations in the situation in Iraq. It doesn't make sense."

But Ivan Eland told Cybercast News Service that even if all of the political benchmarks mandated by Congress are met, "they are still on paper." The fractured Iraqi society will prevent them from ever being implemented, he said.

"If the administration is smart, they would say that the Iraqis didn't meet them...and use it as an excuse to withdraw."

Christopher Preble, director of foreign policy studies at the Cato Institute, another libertarian think-tank, argued that recent military gains trumpeted by the White House (dislodging al Qaeda from Ramadi, increasing tribal resistance to al Qaeda, and the elimination of al Qaeda leaders) may be temporary, and that more troops are needed to impose order on the Iraqi population.

The troop surge -- introducing another 20,000-30,000 troops -- "doesn't even begin to close the gap [in what is needed]," said Preble. "By concentrating forces in one key city, this gives an opportunity for insurgents to move their operations elsewhere, as we are seeing in Basra, for example. In short, I fear that this is a case of too little, too late. But the same can be said of Bush administration policy since the very beginning."

Historical perspective

The American military has long debated how to measure success in the global war on terror.

In October 2003, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld wrote in a memorandum to senior Defense officials: "Today, we lack metrics to know if we are winning or losing the global war on terror. Are we capturing, killing or deterring and dissuading more terrorists every day than the madrassas and the radical clerics are recruiting, training and deploying against us?"

Rumsfeld also prophetically noted in that memo, "It is pretty clear that the coalition can win in Afghanistan and Iraq in one way or another, but it will be a long, hard slog."

Mackenzie Eaglen, senior policy analyst for national security at the Heritage Foundation, said, "Unfortunately, no diplomat, soldier, or pundit can know with total accuracy what tactics, techniques, or procedures will succeed in quelling an insurrection. ...Victory in counterinsurgency operations requires patience, dedication, and resolve."

Next month, Gen. David Petraeus, the top general in Iraq, will report to Congress on the U.S. military progress in Iraq. Even before he presents his conclusions, many Democrats are demanding a troop withdrawal.

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