Classified Afghanistan Metrics

BY Herschel Smith
7 years, 2 months ago

The administration is taking a troubling stand on metrics for the campaign in Afghanistan.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton wants to keep things secret that Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton found it expedient to politicize.

The Obama administration wants to keep its metrics of progress for the war in Afghanistan under wraps. Secretary Clinton and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates told the Senate Appropriations Committee last week that the executive branch, not Congress, should craft the Afghan benchmarks, many of which will be classified. Times certainly have changed – two years ago, then-Sen. Clinton demanded benchmarks be included in the May 2007 Iraq war supplemental appropriation.

Mr. Obama promised a benchmarked war effort in March when he announced his Afghanistan strategy. He rejected “blindly staying the course,” a tart reference to one of Mr. Bush’s pet phrases, and promised instead that there would be “clear metrics to measure progress and hold ourselves accountable.” Perhaps the president could explain how accountability can function if Congress and the public do not know what the clear metrics are.

Mrs. Clinton stated that the government is “going to be measuring from every perspective,” but more metrics are not necessarily better. Once this multitude of measures is set in place, they can calcify thinking and destroy the spirit of innovation that is critical in waging unconventional war. Benchmarks are not a substitute for strategy, but pursuit of them can wind up driving the war effort when they should be a trailing indicator. We saw that in Defense Secretary Robert S. McNamara’s metric-mad approach to fighting the war in Vietnam. A clever enemy will use publicly published metrics to focus its efforts on the things the U.S. government deems to be important, seeking to shape perceptions of failure and defeat by the bureaucracy’s own definition. It is unwise to hand the enemy the ability to create meaningful strategic effects by our own criteria.

Public metrics also can create political problems, as Mrs. Clinton well knows. In September 2007, the Government Accountability Office reported that Baghdad had “met 3, partially met 4, and did not meet 11″ of the 18 benchmarks Congress had established the previous May. Opponents of the surge strategy, such as Mrs. Clinton and then-Sen. Obama, seized on the report to declare the surge a failure. But the war was, in fact, being won. Had the United States been guided by congressional politics rather than sound military thinking, we would have withdrawn from Iraq last year and marked it as a defeat (editorial comment, italics mine).

Some learning has occurred over the past two years. The Obama administration does not want to face the kinds of political problems that some of its leading members created for their predecessors. We applaud the administration’s newfound respect for secrecy in warfare and only wish it had dawned on these officials sooner.

Take note of the sophisticated nuance in the editorial above, for while it maintains the appearance of patriotism and support for the campaign, it falls into the trap laid by the administration.  Mr. Obama promised clear metrics to hold ourselves accountable.  Ms. Clinton later promises that the government is going to be “measuring from every perspective.”  But be aware that handing the enemy knowledge of what you think is important tells them where to focus their energies, so many of the metrics used by the government will remain classified, or so we’re told by Ms. Clinton.

This argument is a pig in a poke.  The administration is counting on the unthinking population buying into the notion of the campaign in Afghanistan being similar to, say, the war in the South Pacific with Japan, or D-Day, or the Battle of Inchon, where troop movements, timing of operations and so forth, are operational security, and divulging them to the enemy causes loss of lives and irreparable harm to our own battle plans.

Nothing could be further from the truth.  General deployment plans such as the 10th Mountain Division to the area around Kabul in order to stabilize the ring of security around the central government are well known and laid out for us by not only open source information but official military sources as well.

Counterinsurgency has its moments (such as troop movements and intelligence-driven raids) that fall into the OPSEC category, but comprehensive battle space metrics is not one of them.  In fact, note the very specific data given to us in the most recent report on Iraq by the DoD.

Note that the title of this report is Measuring Stability and Security in Iraq: March 2009 Report to Congress.  Very specific metrics indeed, collected and collated by the executive branch and presented to the legislative branch, and for very good reason.  The legislative branch controls the money.

We have made it an obvious priority to train and stand up the Afghan forces, a strategy that the Bush administration pursued in Iraq.  It didn’t work in Iraq until force projection by the U.S. forces provided security for the population, and so concerns like drug use by the Afghan police and army are serious issues that must be tracked and communicated to planners and legislators; that rate of casualties, trust in government, and fidelity of internal governmental systems are important metrics to be studied and communicated to the voters.  The voters get the final say.

A communist system controls the flow, rate, quality, quantity and target of information.  In the free market of ideas, the U.S. stands alone as the nation most willing to let the people themselves judge the rightness or wrongness of things.

What the administration doesn’t like is not the potential operational security concerns associated with metrics in the Afghanistan campaign.  That’s a pitifully crafted argument that can be dismissed rather quickly by most thinking men and women.  They fear that there are forces out there who might use the metrics in the same dark and ill-intentioned manner that those in this current administration used them to undercut and under-resource the campaign in Iraq.

For the record, The Captain’s Journal isn’t among those detractors who would undercut the campaign because we weren’t meeting targets.  We would propose funding and resourcing the forces better so that we could meet those targets, while also analyzing the reasons for failure.  It would appear that this administration doesn’t hold to similar thinking.

  • Warbucks

    I get it. Sort of like Mel Brooks talking to himself when he says:

    “I kept leaning on him and I finally said, ‘Mel, this isn’t fair.’ So I asked him to come on board as a co-writer with credit. And he was happy to do it.”

    Mel Brooks.


You are currently reading "Classified Afghanistan Metrics", entry #2825 on The Captain's Journal.

This article is filed under the category(s) Afghanistan,Department of Defense,Obama Administration and was published May 4th, 2009 by Herschel Smith.

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