Thursday, January 06, 2005

S.M.A.R.T. goals & the WSJ

UPDATE: The ginger haired Yank said it was too much hassle to scroll back and forth between the WSJ metrics & my critiques, so placing my critiques just below his metrics.

My previous employer had the slogan S.M.A.R.T. goals. Like all work exhortations, this one was a bit cheesy, but also had some substance to it. The acronym stood for :


A bit redundant to be sure, but I have thought of the slogan many times including yesterday when reading the WSJ's editorial "The 'Boom Factor' Drowns Out Progress in Iraq" by Robert D. Blackwill (sorry no link on and doesn't allow a search without registering).

"So if the boom factor is not an accurate way to understand the direction of developments what metrics should we use instead?

  1. President Bush will not waver. So Bush will not cut-and-run. How does this tell us the direction of development?
  2. Even if every Sunni Arab of any age joins the fight (which will not happen), the insurgency cannot get larger than about 20% of Iraq's population.
    A valid metric would be determining the size of the insurgency, not the upper bound of 5,000,000 insurgents (20% of Iraq) which would not be a positive metric at all. Present estimate is 20,000 which means a very sizable insurgency. Add sympathizers and you're probably talking 200,000 or the same size as our coalition forces. Not a positive metric either.
  3. The Iraqi government is steadily increasing the amount of territory it controls.
    Per Bush & Allawi, the control does not extend to four Sunni provinces, which contain roughly 50% of the population. That has been pretty static for sometime now.
  4. The Jan. 30 elections will take place and there will be an impressive turnout in most of Iraq, urged on by Shiite Grand Ayatollah Sistani and Kurdish leaders Massoud Barzani and Jalal Talabani. Why not state what percentage of the Sunni triangle you believe will vote? In the US we have roughly 60% of the eligible population vote. What percentage of the country do you believe will vote?
  5. Prime Minister Allawi has a political-economic-military Sunni strategy. Has a strategy?? Not a very SMART metric.
  6. The Iraqi Army is beginning to fight. This should be easy to set a metric, albeit a morbid one. How many troop deaths does the Iraqi security forces experience (1500 through October). If the Iraqi army is fighting the death toll will increase substantially, and if winning will eventually go down.
  7. The overall Iraqi economy is recovering rapidly from its condition just after the war, fueled in large part by U.S. and international reconstruction aid. Recovering rapidly? Give oil production and unemployment rate and electricity. Both have improved very slowly, last I read oil production is now slightly below pre-war totals & unemployment is still below pre-war. Electricity is still less than pre-war.
  8. International help for Iraq is on the upswing. Outside of debt reduction, I would argue that help is not on the way. How many countries have left the coalition? Are Saudi Arabia and Jordan and Iran sealing their borders?

Looking at the Brookings Institute's report drives home how touchy-feely Mr. Blackwill's metrics truly are - you can see the Brookings metrics in a nice table every quarter in the NYTimes - and how non-specific and non-measurable.

This all returns to Mr. Blackwill's incorrect key argument - that the 'boom factor' is not a better metric. Ultimately what is important is how many US troops are dying each month? The average for the past 6 months (July-Dec 2004) has been 78.8 and has not been below 60 since last July. If the government really controls more territory, if the Prime Minister truly has a Sunni strategy, and if the Iraqi army is beginning to fight, then our death toll will lower substantially within the next few months.

However if direction of development is truly not improving, then expect US death toll to stay a steady-state of 60/month, and you can ignore any of the 8 metrics proposed by Mr. Blackwill.

UPDATE ADDENDUM: Kevin Drum has a nice synopsis of "three stories today paint a very grim collective picture of Iraq". Can only hope that the talk of 'disengagement' is true & that we'll be out of Iraq shortly after Bush is out of office.

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