Is the surge working? (or why I need more metrics)

Here’s an excellent opportunity to use the hive mind to look for classic techniques of deception for political benefit on the question of the “surge”.

Reading the news stories about the progress in Iraq, I can’t help but notice a certain partisan nature to interpretation of events. You have the conservative Washington Times saying The Surge is Working, meanwhile, the liberal Washington Post (although as supporters of the Iraq war I feel this designation is non-descriptive for WaPo) indicates the results are at best mixed. We have a GAO report indicating poor performance with only a bare minority of benchmarks being achieved that is regarded as “strikingly negative”. And on top of all that the last three months in Iraq civilian deaths have been increasing. The proponents of the “surge is working” side seem to indicate that military victories and insurgents killed should be a measure of success. However, this is reminiscent of the death ratios in Vietnam which were ultimately meaningless in terms of “success”.

So, what metrics do people feel are more informative? I am of the opinion that military victories are largely meaningless – we can win every battle and lose the war as long as no political solution is reached – consistent with the failings described in the GAO report. The pro-war types seem to think that as long as we’re killing the enemy we’re successful, however against an insurgency I don’t think this is a meaningful result. It’s just whackamole, and insurgencies are historically resistant to suppression by force.

I would like to see the data from the pro-war side that demonstrates that progress is actually happening. I don’t want to hear about new hope in the streets, or markets safe enough for senators to walk through with a brigade of soldiers with them. I want to hear metrics that indicate Iraq is moving towards a peaceful stable state. Are there any?

I guess what I’m saying is, I’m seeing all the signs of a belief forming that is due to wishful thinking, and no real hard data. All the pro-surge people seem to be using three of the tactics, cherry-picking data, getting positive reviews of the surge published in friendly publications, and moving the goalposts. Ad hominems and other fallacies are a given. All they need is a conspiracy and we’ll have a full-fledged denialist campaign to suggest that the Iraq war is being won, when all the data I see suggest the opposite. Increasing deaths, increasing magnitude of violent attacks indicate continued worsening of the situation. Last month a single attack killed 250 – possibly more – the deadliest attack since the beginning of the war. Suicide bombings for this August were almost twice what they were last August. If you look at our casualties there is no indication of a decrease – if anything this looks like the deadliest year yet.

So we have a report indicating no political solutions emerging – the most critical factor for a lasting peace. We have increasing numbers and magnitude of suicide bombings. We have more civilian deaths. We have more soldiers dying. We have millions of refugees who have left the country. We have decreasing provision of public utilities and fuel. I simply can not find any data suggesting things are getting better. Instead, all the usual suspects, including Bill Kristol (or Krissandra – the mythical figure who is never right but is still listened to) are arguing it is working with no clear information to back it up.

How is it working? Tell me. I’m asking in good faith because I want to know, where are the positives? Please, something more than whackamole with insurgents. Give me data. Prove to me this isn’t just a classic denialist disinformation campaign.