Data Points

You will have to excuse me if I fail to hop on board the “We’re Finally Winning in Iraq” bandwagon.  I’m not so sure there’s enough room for me there.  Don’t get me wrong, I’d definitely love to hop on board.  I just can’t.

Today, USA Today reports that there has been a decline in Major “al Qaeda style” attacks in Iraq, nearly fifty percent since March.  And of course the implication is, to this end, Bush’s shift in strategies are largely the cause.

This has been echoing a large theme among media outlets and conservative bloggers alike; that despite the naysaying defeatist attitude of the anti-war left, we’re making inroads and slowly setting ourselves on a path to victory.

I can’t agree.  Strangely, I can’t disagree completely either, but that’s the point.  Let us take a look at the USA Today article specifically.  The focal point of the article is that we’re winning, and then bases that on a very small amount of data that focuses on one single type of attack from a single group.

In the very same article, however, we are subjected to this:

Violence from Shiite militias remains strong in some areas. In Baghdad, attacks from powerful armor-piercing roadside bombs, called explosively formed penetrators, or EFPs, increased to 35 in July from an average of 23 per month between March and June, said Maj. Steven Lamb, a spokesman for the U.S. division in Baghdad.

The U.S. military says the EFPs are supplied by Iran primarily to Shiite militias. Iran has denied the allegation.

Targeting militias has proved more sensitive than attacking al-Qaeda, since Iraq’s Shiite-dominated government draws some of its support from Muqtada al-Sadr, the anti-American Shiite cleric whose followers form one of Iraq’s largest militias.

When taken into deliberative consideration, it tends to skew the analysis offered by those who would be so quick to rush to the “we’re on the road to victory” theme.  The reasoning behind this is simple.  AQ and AQI have never posed the largest bloc of violence in the conflict riddled nation.  Their presence there is in fact a construct of our presence there, and doesn’t characterized the primary conflict at hand.

To this degree, Bush succeeding in at least minimalizing al Qaeda’s influence in the country is the very least he could do; the tip of the ice berg of responsibility soundly weighing down on his shoulders.

Of this singular data point that is being heralded as signs of victory, though, there are other significant questions:

But the sources told me that the lower death toll reflects not some impending victory but just a slowdown in the U.S. ground offensive after the early phases of the surge, which poured more than 20,000 additional troops into Iraq. The sources cited a variety of factors contributing to the decline in U.S. casualties.

One U.S. military source said the American troops have not pushed as far from their forward operating bases as the U.S. news media has been led to believe. When Bush unveiled the surge, a key goal was to get American forces out of their secure bases and into small police outposts in Iraqi neighborhoods.

The exposure of U.S. troops to the additional hazard of such front-line assignments was a factor in the upswing of American deaths in the early months of the surge. This forward positioning also presented risks for U.S. logistical personnel who had to brave roadside bombs and ambushes to supply these isolated units.

Further complicating those assignments was the brutal summer heat — reaching temperatures of 130 degrees — at a time when electricity in many Iraqi neighborhoods is spotty at best. By slowing or postponing these deployments, the dangers to the troops — not to mention their discomfort — were reduced.

Still, this source said the decline in violent incidents involving U.S. troops could be viewed as a combination of two factors — a drop-off in activity by the Iraqi insurgency as well as a pull-back by the Americans.

Another source said the precise reason for the reduced U.S. military activity inside Iraq wasn’t entirely clear, but noted that the slowdown in the Iraqi theater was in sharp contrast to more aggressive operations in Afghanistan.

 The bigger point being, this resurgence of pro war fervor is bolstered by a relatively small factor of the overall events occurring over there, and even this evidence is questionable.  In many ways, it mirrors the run up to the war, relying not so much on sound judgement as it does taking the evidence, underanylzing it, and sexing it up to meet the needs of the goal.

Through it all, it’s like polling.  You don’t base decisions on a single poll without analysis.  Statistical errors and noise can result in erroneous data processing, plus, taking the significance of a poll out of context can lead one to apply its wisdom improperly.  In truth, polls best serve when they are treated like data points and employed in trend analysis; this allows for the noise to be integrated or weeded out as necessary while true rises and falls in public estimation are tracked and characterized.

It is the accumulation of evidence over time, the careful analysis of this evidence, and finally the wise execution based off of this analysis that leads to good decisions.  This is not happening with the opinion makers in regards to Iraq.  There is seemingly little effort expended in tying this data point of reduced violence into the context of the make up of the entire conflict over there, where the majority of the violence comes not from AQ or AQI  but from Sunnis and Shias who are battling over the fate of their nation and their bloc’s place in that fate.

There is no discussion of the cyclical nature of Iraq.

There is no mention of the progress of the political process in Iraq, and without that progress, there can be no “victory” there.

Even more curious, there is not even a clear and cogent narrative of what victory looks like, instead it is described in abstracts and jingoistic jargon.  Bush, who has proferred himself as a plain spoken man, has through intent or accident taken this much needed narrative and over simplified it into the black and white winning or losing, with little regard for what the actual definition of winning is.  Nor how we get there beyond staying in Iraq until we win.

Instead of what we as a reasoned nation should be demanding before making any judgement, we are taking singular data points and staking everything we have on them.

Finally, the knowledge that we are waging a losing battle in Iraq was not come to overnight; it was built based on a mountain of evidence.  Why, then, should it be so easy to contradict that knowledge?

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