Friday, June 23, 2006

Facts About Iraq

(1) Bush has never defined what victory will mean. I think that it is clear that the major criterion for achieving victory will be that we can take all of our troops out of day-to-day security operations in Iraq without the country falling apart (perhaps we will leave some behind a la South Korea, Japan, and Germany, but they won't be involved in daily security/law enforcement/battle activities). However, what Iraq is supposed to look like by that time has never been made clear (e.g. how many Iraqi forces will there be, how many troops will we leave there, how secure does the government have to be). We can't achieve victory in Iraq if we don't know what victory looks like.

(2) Bush has offered us no evidence of progress toward victory in Iraq. To have such evidence, one needs a timetable or a benchmark table. I heard someone on a news channel the other day point out that the coalition, even without a timetable, can measure its prgoress by the benchmarks it has reached.

Sorry, but "benchmarks" are useulss unless we have an idea of where the benchmarks will lead. That is, we need a clear and conciose way to measure our progress toward victory. Accomplish A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, and I, and then you have won. That is setting benchmarks. We have to accomplish A, B, C, and D, and then we will set up a bunch of new goals, and eventually when we have accomplished enough of them, we will have won - that's not setting benchmarks. You can drag the war on forevr just by always finding new goals to meet.

(3) The only reliable way to measure the success of our progress toward victory is troop withdrawals/redeployment. That is, that we can reduce the number of troops in Iraq without the country falling apart. Absent some sort of benchmark table of timetable, troop reduction is hteo nly evidence of progress at all.

(4) When someone says we cannot set a date to withdraw because the insurgents/terrorists will simply wait us out and then go wild, the proper response is to ask why the Iraqis cannot take care of the insurgents themselves by the withdrawal date. The obvious subtext of the "we can't set a date" argument is that the arguer has no confidence that the Iraqi security forces will be able (or willing) to hold their own against the insurgents within the foreseeable future (or within any timeline that would be acceptable to the American people).

(5) I have heard arguments that Haditha was justified or that anyone (or any adult or adult male) who is in the neighborhood when a bomb kills some of our troops is automatically guilty of supporting the insurgency (at least through inaction, i.e. not warning our troops).

What most of these arguments ultimately mask is an ugly truth; and the claims of collective guilt are essentially simply a way to assuage the conscience.

The fact of the matter is, that in binary decisions (e.g. whether to kill someone or not, whether a drug is sufficiently pure), there are two types of errors: false negatives and false positives. When all else remains constant, the most certain way to decrease one error is to increase the tolerance for the other. For example, in court decisions on guilt and innocence, the most effective way to insure that no guilty person gets let off is to find everyone guilty. Likewise, the most effective way to insure that no one is convicted wrongly is to convict no one. Between these two points, one accepts a certain number of false convictions and of guilty people going free.

What those who support the idea that anyone in the area was guilty really are thinking is that they are tired of insurgents killing our troops and/or getting away. So they think that we should be more tolerant of false positives (shooting civilians) in order to reduce the number of false negatives (insurgents getting away).

The most effective way to blunt the guerilla tactic of blending in with the civilian population is to decide not to discriminate, and to treat any civilians that insurgents hide behind as the enemy. Much of the pro-war side, desperate to salvage Iraq, has decided that those tactics are the ones that we ought to use. Claims of collective guilt are simply a way to morally justify such a policy.

That is all.

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