Monday, November 21, 2005

Of Mice and Metrics

For those who support our military involvement in Iraq, regardless of whether you believe they caved to the bleating of anti-war forces, or that their best laid plans were foiled because they miscalculated the press' response to passing the Warner amendment, in some ways the Senate Republicans better resembled mice last week than men; and it is all in their motivation to avoid a confrontation in clarity with the President's detractors. (You can check Hugh Hewitt, Michelle Malkin, and Captain Ed, among others, for all the appropriate outrage.) Be that as it may, and Secretary Rumsfeld's wise-cracking aside as to how many reports are already sent to Congress, the Warner amendment has in fact swerved into highlighting a significant failure by the administration.

The US has introduced a disruptive cultural change in the Mideast since following through on its holdover policy from the Clinton administration for regime change in Iraq, what Tom Barnett calls a system perturbation. Like other disruptive changes, leveraging a model I've used before, implementing, or assimilating, regime change requires the execution of three iterative processes: 1.) sourcing - identifying a system design based on common values that enables the integration of the selected direction for change (sounds like a constitution), 2.) competency development - just like it sounds, expanding the skills and (including political and economic infrastructure) knowledge sharing of the Iraqis so that they may fulfill the responsibilities of self-government, and 3.) re-evaluation - the continuous assessment of progress and adjusting as necessary through iterative management processes.

Any fair reading of the situation will conclude that the first and second processes are being executed with better than mixed success, but it is in the area of continuous re-evaluation where performance has fallen short. More specifically, the president apparently has failed to define clearly, much less communicate publicly, a set of innovative measures for evaluating the progress of our involvement in Iraq. What's more, it also seems, from administration apologists, that to raise the issue is to call into question one's support for the war, which is mind boggling to me given that measuring progress is a fundamental management practice and something I would expect to be a priority for any executive with a Harvard MBA.

The three processes of creating new societal rules, determining how to live by those rules, and defining how to measure progress of implementing those rules have analogs in politics and in economics, the 20th century's lenses for viewing history. What they point to, however, is something more fundamental. Last August, Michael Barone noted that while polls in the US show Americans are less supportive of our efforts in Iraq with our steady diet of daily death tolls and homicide bomber success stories (something still true today, of course), the Pew Global Attitudes Project has shown that minds are changing for the better in general, when sampling from six Muslim countries, i.e., support for terrorism in defense of Islam is on the decline, and interest in democracy grows. To be sure, this trend is not uniform througout the region, but clearly shows that culture, the engine of history, is on the move.

The president would do well to follow Mr. Barone's lead here to more accurately define the measures of success. With the Warner amendment, President Bush has the opportunity to address anew this performance gap in his historic attempt to change the culture of the Middle East. If he doesn't, I don't think we can rely on Congress to do it for him while they scurry to their corners, and then we will really have a quagmire.

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