Spinning Progress

I have a theory. It’s a real simple theory, actually. If the Bush administration just once put out an intellectually honest and unspun report on the real situation on Iraq, no matter how bleak the picture, he would actually be able to garner more support for further efforts over there.

I know, it seems far fetched, but bear with me. Our run up to our war in Iraq was “sexed-up”, “cherry picked”, however you want to put it. Bush made a case that Saddam was reconstituting his nuclear weapons program, the proof; aluminum tubes that the Department of Energy almost immediately asserted were not of the type, size, or quality used in nuclear centrifuges, and an apparent attempt by Saddam to buy yellow cake out of Niger, a claim that Joe Wilson was tapped to check out by the CIA based on his past experience as an ambassador to Africa. This claim he rather easily debunked, yellow cake Uranium being TIGHTLY controlled by the Nigerian government, with no evidence that even price haggling occured.

Bush also made a claim that Saddam was pumping out the biological and chemical weapons complete with mobile labs, and unmanned air vehicles. But as it turned out, those mobile labs were not even close to being properly equipped to develop and distribute biological or chemical weapons, and the pictures of the unmanned aerial vehicles came from a Czhech catalog!

The NIE produced to congress in the run up to the war stressed heavily assertions that were gleaned from single, non-credible sources, while the dissents based off of technical experts were widely marginalized and minimalized. And when the white paper based off of the NIE was made public, even those dissents disappeared.

Bush was making reality, and we, the reality based community, had little to do but to judiciously study it and react.

And throughout the Iraq war, we’ve been subjected to Bush’s whims at creating reality. Out of whole cloth was spun implications that Saddam and Osama were best friends forever, though no intelligence analyst with any kind of experience with the players in this particular fabrication could get behind it. We were to be welcomed with flowers and candies. We’re turning the corner.

The ultimate effect has been this; here we are, in a Quagmire of a war, and the Commander in Chief is so used to fabricating reality that it has become clear that he can not contend with true reality. It is not merely that we can not trust this man to tell the truth, we can not trust him to act upon the truth if it were to smack him in the face he is that out of touch.

So I think that if he were to just once sit back and release a report without spinning the data, without trying to put any kind of spin on it, it would go a long way to showing that the man can actually at least recognize reality when it becomes unavoidable.

Unfortunately this isn’t the case.

Since the inception of the Surge, many of us have been monitoring the progress, or lack there of, and have been able to see for a while now that it’s just not working. Iraqi lawmakers have not found themselves particularly disposed towards playing nice with one another, and meanwhile, the violence continues to rise, and in no small part this is because not only has the administration wrongly pointed towards al Qaida in Iraq as the primary threat, but it seems also that there is a great misunderstanding of the fluidity of the insurgency as a whole. Local insurgent groups of all shapes and sizes are able to rely upon Iraqis to learn when to expect coalition forces, evade them, and then return when they leave.

The short view culmination came days ago when the revelation hit the wires that none of the Iraqi Benchmarks would be met. While this may have been a shock to some, this news should have come as no shock to anyone who writes here or reads here.

What does come as a shock, however, was the actual benchmark report itself. Of the eighteen “benchmarks” reported upon in the official White House Report, eight have shown “satisfactory” progress, six have shown “unsatisfactory” progress, two benchmarks which were plural in nature showed mixed results, and two benchmarks were shown to be “not present” but not significant as a near term goal.

Wait a minute, hold the phone. How did we get from no benchmarks being met to eight benchmarks showing satisfactory progress? Well, for anyone who has paid this administration a single iota of attention, it should be blatantly obvious that the intention with this report like every scrap of evidence that has oozed out of this presidency, was going to be ginned up to paint a rosy picture:

The Bush administration will assert in the next few days that progress in carrying out the new American strategy in Iraq has been satisfactory on nearly half of the 18 benchmarks set by Congress, according to several administration officials.

But it will qualify some verdicts by saying that even when the political performance of the Iraqi government has been unsatisfactory, it is too early to make final judgments, the officials said.

These “qualifiers” are a helpful indicator in revealing what the report really is; just another manufacture and organize evidence in such a way to keep the war going. Nearly every unsatisfactory attribute is appended with the statement that this does not mean we need to change our strategy. Likewise we find in some cases that the progress is unsat only because we have such high standards.

Twice we see benchmarks where there can not be any progress, sat or unsat, because there simply is no system present, and yet this is brushed aside because the White House apparently doesn’t think these benchmarks are necessary.

But underlying this is how poorly sourced this document is. There is no evidence to back up the claims made in the document, some of which are absurd. For instance, we see the report claim that the terrorist group al Qaeda in Iraq is again characterized as the most significant threat, despite evidence to the contrary even provided by the director of the CIA. Another interestingly false assertion is the role that Iran plays in the Iraq war, which has been debunked time and time again as administration officials, particularly those of the Cheney faction, which have tried desperately over the past few months to use friendly news outlets to spin a yarn about Iranian aggression against the US via a phantom proxy war. Many of these stories have since been shown to be untrustworthy.

So too are claims made within the benchmark evaluations themselves. Sectarian violence supposedly has dropped, a particularly interesting claim I think considering that thus far this year, violence has only increased or risen throughout Iraq as a whole. Sure, maybe it’s talking about just July, but then the month’s not over yet is it?

And what about the Iraqi brigades?

(ix) Providing three trained and ready Iraqi brigades to support Baghdad operations.
The Iraqi Ground Forces Command (IGFC) had difficulty deploying three additional full Iraqi Army (IA) brigades at sufficient strength to Baghdad, but compensated by pulling units from a variety of IA divisions to provide the equivalent additional force. Since the initial deployment, the IGFC has continued to generate the required additional forces by first extending a brigade from 1 IA Division and battalions from 4 IA Division in Baghdad and then identifying and deploying a replacement brigade from 1 IA Division and battalions from 4 IA division to relieve other units by mid-June 2007. Manning levels for deploying units continue to be of concern. However, MNF-I is working with the Iraqi Ministry of Defense (MOD) to implement policies to improve present-for-duty numbers, and in the current 30-day period, for example, over 10,000 soldiers will have completed basic training and been assigned to units.

Iraq Study Group Recommendations 20 and 21 call for the Iraqi Government to shoulder a greater share of the security mission in Iraq, and ultimately take it over. Iraq Study Group Recommendation 25 calls for the Iraqi Government to establish milestones for reconciliation and improve security. Providing three trained and ready Iraqi brigades to support Baghdad operations reflects implementation of these recommendations.

Assessment: The Government of Iraq has made satisfactory progress toward providing three trained and ready Iraqi brigades to support Baghdad operations. While manning levels for the deployed Iraqi units continue to be of concern, the Iraqi Government has provided the equivalent of three additional brigades to Baghdad and has made provisions to sustain this level of effort and to address manning issues ?? in addition to steadily increasing the strengths of Iraqi units already deployed in Baghdad. The progress toward this benchmark has been satisfactory, and the effect is satisfactory in that the three brigades are operating in support of Baghdad operations.

This one I find particularly clever. First, we don’t know exactly how many brigades there are, just that we have scraped together the “equivalent” of three. How these are organized is unknown. Perhaps there are ten “mini-brigades”? Maybe just one sloppy unbrigade. And yes, they support Baghdad operations, but to what extent? Are they fighting side by side with our boys, or are we talking about glorified gofers and waterboys here? And of course, there is no metric applied to the EFFECTIVENESS of these “three brigades” at all.

They’re just there, and that’s good enough.

There are scarce few references, or easily referenced sources. No statistics to validate the claims. Merely attribute after attribute claimed to be sat or unsat, and in either case a caveat added that essentially claims that there is no need to change what we’re doing.

The very nature of the report is in and of itself problematic. There is no objectivity to it, the following paragraph provides the predominant metric in qualifying the entire report:

Section 1314 (b)(2)(A) The President shall submit an initial report, in classified and unclassified format, to the Congress, not later than July 15, 2007, assessing the status of each of the specific benchmarks…and declaring, in his judgment, whether satisfactory progress toward meeting these benchmarks is, or is not, being achieved

Unfortunately, it’s difficult to really trust the President’s judgement, isn’t it? Frankly, under this guideline, I’m a little shocked that the report declared progress in ANY of the benchmarks unsat, but then, maybe even he realized that might be reaching a little.

This particular aspect is of course Congress’ fault. By giving the president this particular vehicle with which to deliver his progress report, of course he can arbitrarily paint whatever picture he wants.

But the bigger picture is simply this; the administration has a well established history of cherry picking intelligence and mischaracterizing evidence. It advertises what it wants us to believe, while sweeping everything else under the carpet. Years ago, we KNEW that Saddam had WMD’s, we KNEW that Saddam and Osama were working together, and through it all, the intelligence was not only faulty, but there were dissenters pointing this out. Their version of the picture was not made public.

This report rings similar. We are not being treated to raw data. We are not being treated to claims bolstered by documented facts. Instead, like everything else with this administration, we are treated to merely more of the same, more of the same delusionary claims (al Qaida is the biggest threat in Iraq), more of the same rosy picture (sectarian violence is dropping), more of the same falsehoods that have characterized nearly every aspect of this war.

Assertions made by responsible people are bolstered by facts. They are the result of judiciously weighing all the evidence at hand, and taking seriously the advice of advisors with the technical expertise to interpret those facts. But the pattern shown by this administration is not to make claims based on facts, but to engineer facts around the claims.

This is not the behavior of a responsible administration. It is dangerously negligent and risks on a daily basis becoming a victim to the wolves it refuses to acknowledge. Until this president is capable of making RESPONSIBLE assertions, I think I’ll stick with the raw data, and expert analysis, if you don’t mind. It may not change anything while this guy is in power, but at least then I’ll know why everything is so screwed up.

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