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Iraq Metrics: success outside the front page
Posted by: Jon Henke on Friday, April 14, 2006

About two years ago, in response to an open question from Orin Kerr at Volokh, I laid out my metrics for success in Iraq. Results since then have been mixed, with the ongoing security problems, unreconstructed militias and sectarian strife being the major problems.

Still, at the time I wrote that the "propogation of free media in the Middle East" was "perhaps most important [metric] of all". I've been banging on this for a number of years now. Nothing "is more important to our long-term Mid-East strategy than the promulgation of a free media".

On that front, at least, the progress in Iraq is good...
Fully 86 percent of Iraqi households reported having satellite TV at the end of 2005. The number of Iraqi commercial TV stations is now 44, and there are 72 commercial radio stations (there were none of either prior to 2003). The number of newspapers exceeds 100.
The integration of a free media into Mid-East society isn't glamorous, but it is vital. Car bombs are obvious setbacks, but a free media has been an almost invisible mark of progress. The same can be said about the Iraqi economy (via Instapundit), which is growing far faster than those of their neighbors.

The problem, of course, is that it's very difficult to discern the factors which will lead to success. Which basket of improvements is optimal: Economic growth? Social stability? Security? Sectarian assimilation? Education? More US responsibility for security...or less? Etc.

What I can say, though, is that derisive comments about the unglamorous small stuff we have accomplished — e.g., building schools, which Oliver Willis and others mock — misses the point. Maybe Iraq will fall apart despite our efforts. But if it does succeed, it will be because of the little, unglamorous successes. Like building schools, creating an environment where a free media can thrive, and gradual economic progress...
After two decades of classroom deterioration, Iraqi children are now flooding back to school. Making this possible is a jump in teacher salaries from just a few dollars per month under Saddam to an average of $100 per month today. Parents are delighted: the proportion saying their locals schools are good has risen to 74 percent. By 3:1 they say local education is better than before the war.
All of those successes may be for nought if the sectarian security situation cannot be brought under control, but they are necessary predicates for a successful Iraq.
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Previous Comments to this Post 

McQ, you were a "Dog Robber" poor man, better to have been a lobbyist for NAMBLA, sorry couldn’t pass that up.

I would agree with you on whether Rumsfeld ought to resign, I don’t think he should, BUT he has compounded his "enemies problem" with his philosophy and attitude.

I thought he treated Shinseki shabbily in announcing his decision to NOT re-appoint him as CoS, one year prior to his retirment! I believe Rumsfeld ruffled feathres in failing to appoint a new SecArmy for the longest period and then moved to bring the SecUSAF over or was SecNav over, any way the appointee had NEVER served with the Army! And he brought the current CoS out of retirement, which said, "I have NO confidence in the Army’s current senior management/leadership positions." Finally, mostly he axed ARMY programs, Crusader, Comanche. I didn’t see very many Navy or USAF projects axed. He has gone out of his way to antagonize the Army, at least.

The Army, I believe, does not want to try its hand at prefers WWII and Desert Storm, clean, popular victories. I think Rumsfeld has forced the Army and the other services into nation-building and reasonable people could disagree about going to war in Iraq. I think it was a good idea, a very good idea. But, people can differ. Rumsfeld is forcing the miliarty to do things it is uncomfortable with AND, it seems, being a arse whilst doing it. So it’s no wonder he’s got a smaller fan club than many.
Written By: Joe
URL: http://
Wrong, post sorry...
Written By: Joe
URL: http://
You mischaracterized what I’ve said about building schools. I think its a great thing that we’re building schools in Iraq, but building schools in Iraq isnt worth the loss of 2300 American lives, yet it is constantly used by the right as some sort of rationale for going to war and "the media not covering the good stories".
Written By: Oliver Willis
I don’t think I’ve mischaracterized it at all.

On the other hand, nobody argues that building schools was the rationale for going to war and that they were worth the loss of 2300 US lives. The argument is that building the infrastructure of Iraq is important to any eventual success. When that argument was pointed out, you mocked it.

Now, you invent a previously unmade argument about rebuilding schools being the rationale for war? I think that’s the mischaracterization.
Written By: Jon Henke
nobody argues that building schools was the rationale for going to war and that they were worth the loss of 2300 US lives
Have you been paying attention? Almost every time someone has said yes, the Iraq war was not worth it, almost instantaneously the right wing bloggers can be counted on to say - how can you say the Iraq war was bad when this school was being built?
Written By: Oliver Willis
Can you produce an actual example of that?

I’m certain that people cite rebuilt schools as an example of some of the positive things going on in Iraq, but I’ve never seen somebody argue that rebuilding schools itself justifies going to war. That’s ridiculous and it would be correct to mock a person who argues that as the justification for the war.

It’s equally ridiculous to mock people who cite the rebuilding of schools as a positive development in Iraq. And that’s what you’ve done.

The fact is that the unexciting stories like increasing schools and media are important. But they’re not as easy to report as car bombs. I don’t blame the media for covering car bombs and the security situation in the least. Those are important, as well, but it’s very, very difficult to figure out how these things stand in perspective to each other while we’re in the middle of it. Is the increase in infrastructure sufficient to overwhelm the violence? I don’t know how we measure that, and it’s damned hard to do a story about it.
Written By: Jon Henke
When private investment exceeds public investment in Iraq, we will know that we have succeeded, and not before. Capital flows always reveal the real story.
Written By: cllam
URL: http://
Well, this report does have some metrics you can look at to estimate if things are getting better.

Primary School Enrollment 3.6 million in 2000, 4.3 million in 2004

Media -
TV 0 pre-war, 44 10/05
Radio 0 pre-war, 72 10/05
News/Magazines over 100 10/05

Internet, 4,500 est pre-war, 147K 4/05

Telephone, 883,000 est pre-war, 6,836,854 4/06

Registered Cars, 1.5 million pre-war, 3.1 million 10/05

Felony Cases resolved in Iraqi courts, 4,000 in 2003, over 10K in 2005

Inflation, 36% in 2003, 20% in 2005


The fact that schools, hospitals, etc, are being built, is being brought up to show that there are good indicators, and they aren’t being discussed by the MSM. They aren’t a be-all or end-all. They are part of an overall mosaic.

If schools, and hospitals are being built in Fallujah this year, and businesses there are opening up and prospering, that shows a measure of success, even while a car bomb going off in Fallujah shows some measure of insecurity.

But, it is the overall picture that is important for determining the "state of where we are" then the individual acts of terror, or school building.

That is something that is not being presented in an accurate way on the nightly news. We are shown the destruction du-jour, and left to wonder what we are doing over there. That is a travesty as far as I’m concerned.
Written By: Keith, Indy
URL: http://
What was the Life Expectancy, Infant Mortality rate, number of doctors/1000 people, in the pre-war days and what is it now ?? I couldn’t find anything in Keith’s link above and cannot find it anywhere on the Internet either...That will give us a better understanding if the situation is improving/deteriorating.

On another note, Don’t you find it ironic that folks in qando rant about "more government" being the source of problems in our society, but majority of the social work(like building schools, hospitals, etc.) is being done in Iraq by the very same government(through the bureaucracy-ridden USAID) ?? What kind of impact will "our" government have on "their" society ?
Written By: Ivan
URL: http://
Regarding infant mortality, from 3 days ago:
BASRA, 11 April (IRIN) - As a result of water-borne diseases and a lack of medical supplies, infants born in the southern city of Basra are subject to abnormally high mortality rates, say officials of an international NGO devoted to child health issues.

"For weeks, there were no I.V. fluids available in the hospitals of Basra," said Marie Fernandez, spokeswoman for European aid agency Saving Children from War. "As a consequence, many children, mainly under five-years old, died after suffering from extreme cases of diarrhoea."

Fernandez went on to cite a number of problems facing local hospitals in Basra, which is located some 550km south of the capital, Baghdad. "Hospitals have no ventilators to help prematurely-born babies breathe," Fernandez said. "And there are very few nurses available, so hospitals often must allow family members to care for patients."

Many doctors in the area say that the local health situation has deteriorated markedly since the US-led invasion of the country in 2003. "The mortality of children in Basra has increased by nearly 30 percent compared to the Saddam Hussein era," Dr Haydar Salah, a paediatrician at the Basra Children’s Hospital, pointed out. "Children are dying daily, and no one is doing anything to help them."
Remmber, this is Basra, in the so-called "peaceful" South.

The following excerpt is from an editorial concerning the same subject as addressed in this post - it appeared on April 11 in the Washington Times. It was written by Michael O’Hanlon, of the Brookings Institute. Considering the source, and where it was written, it seems to fairly sum up the situaiton:
But the broad argument by the American media’s critics is often badly overstated. While the overall image of Iraq conveyed by the mainstream media may be somewhat more negative than reality, it is not far off. If we lose in Iraq, it will most likely be because of events on the ground there, not a prematurely wavering political support here.

In fact, one can make a reasonable argument that the American public’s view on Iraq is just about where it should be given the facts. The public is enormously impressed by our troops, but depressed about the general lack of major progress on the ground and upset with the Bush administration for overpromising and underpreparing in regard to the war. Yet it still hangs with the effort — after having stayed with the president who took us to war during his re-election bid in 2004 — because the alternatives all look worse.

Consider how things are going, and how they are being reported, in each of the three major areas we are emphasizing in Iraq — security, economics and politics. On the latter, the American media has for the most part accurately reported the horse-trading, backroom dealing, and maneuvering that has been prevalent in liberated Iraq, as it is in most of the world’s democracies. In fact, the impressive steps toward democracy we have witnessed in Iraq the last couple of years have inspired Americans and peoples the world over, largely because the media has covered them thoroughly and fairly.

But it is equally true that Iraq remains a long way from the type of strong political consensus needed to form a coalition government and address the key challenges that country faces. The American media cannot be blamed for failing to turn bickering between Ibrahim al-Jaafari, Ahmed Chalabi, Iyad Allawi, Jalal Talabani, Massoud Barzani, Muqtada al-Sadr and others — which is beginning to turn into political paralysis that increases the chances of civil war — into a happy narrative.

On economics, it is true one can find positive news stories all over the place. In a country of 25 million, where the United States has been spending more than $5 billion a year and high oil prices have also brought in large amounts of money, there are countless accounts of newly successful businessmen, of schools opening and telephone services mushrooming and TV satellite dishes sprouting, of bustle in the streets and cars on the road. To the extent the media should view its job as bucking up American morale, it could perhaps be criticized for not telling enough of these stories.

But is morale boosting really the role of media in a free society? Presumably, reporting reality is its main job. And despite the good anecdotes, the reality is simply not that good. For all the good economic stories, the performance of infrastructure remains at or below Saddam Hussein levels in oil production, electricity production and distribution, water and sanitation services, and transportation infrastructure.

Availability of heating and cooking fuels has declined substantially below estimated requirements. Unemployment remains 30-40 percent, perhaps higher in Sunni Arab regions.

Some initial data from the U.S. government in 2004 suggested more Iraqi children were in school, and more getting vaccines and adequate food supplies, than under Saddam. But those data have largely dried up, or become anecdotal rather than systematic, making it hard to conclude that health care and educational systems are performing very well either.

To be sure, there are not enough probing media stories about economics in Iraq. But from what the data show, it is hardly clear the additional stories, if told, would be mostly good.

On security, it is true the media have perhaps covered the violence too much, just as they do here at home. It is also true there have been other specific mistakes, such as the tendency to fixate only on how many Iraqi units are in the top state of readiness (typically 0 or 1 battalion at a given time) rather than the more important indicator of how many are at least reasonably competent.

But the Bush administration itself bred skepticism about the training and equipping of Iraqi security forces in the first year after liberation by constantly overstating progress made. It has taken a while for the journalistic corps to build up confidence in the training programs undertaken by Gens. David Petraeus and Martin Dempsey since spring 2004. Now, however, that story is getting out. The media are reporting frequently on how many raids are led by Iraqis, how many cities are primarily in the hands of Iraqis, and so on.

Still, let us remember that even recent events hardly constitute an unblemished success. Iraqi units may be more proficient technically at present. But they are poorly integrated ethnically and not yet truly dependable politically.

Moreover, just as with Iraq’s high unemployment rate, some bad stories about security have actually been underreported. For example, leaving aside the war, Iraq has far and away the highest criminal murder rate in the greater Middle East. And stories about how many Iraqis are being kidnapped only tend to be told when an American like Jill Carroll makes the news.
Bottom line? Things are getting worse. Sanitation, electricty, fuel, water, - all the basic necessities, haven’t gotten better and are often getting worse. What good are tv’s, or the internet, if there is no electricity to run those devices? Economies need energy, after all. And economies need security. Absent energy and security, you don’t have an economy.

And what about the militias? They are stronger, not weaker, than they have ever been. Sadr, for instance, is much stronger than he was in 2004. If the government does not have a monopoly on the use of force, there is no government.

Finally, Jon, you make the mistake of equating a "free" press with technological innovation. Sure, there are more tv stations and more satellite dishes and the like. But that doesn’t mean the press is more free. An Iraqi who blasphemes about Mohammed on tv is as likely or more likely to be killed today than he was under Saddam. China has 100 million internet users today. It will soon have more than the US. But that won’t make its press more "free" than that in the US.

Indeed, if anything is becoming more clear as the 21st Century proceeds, it is that technological innovation on the one hand, and freedom and human rights on the other, do not necessarily go hand in hand. Ever seen all the satellite dishes in Damascus? Indeed, technology is one of the most powerful tool the anti-Americans have in the Middle East. It allows the beam anti-American propaganda from all parts of the world into the home of the average person in the Middle East. The average Middle Easterner now has a ringside seat to Abu Gharib and Fallujah. And if you think the media in the Middle East presents an accurate picture of what is going on there, well, you are mistaken.

In fact, when it comes to Iraq, the unregulated nature of the media is as much a symptom of the problems in Iraq as it is a symptom of the progress. Imagine the United States had the same security situation as Iraq. You would probably see hundreds of pirate radio stations spring up, radio stations whose proliferation is now checked by the FCC. Indeed, if a functioning Iraqi government ever did come into existence, it would probably regulate many of the same radio stations out of existence, if only to make sense of the available bandwith.

Keep working at it Jon. Your optimism is admirable.

Written By: mkultra
URL: http://
I think you mistake agnosticism for optimism. I don’t pretend to know what the future holds for Iraq. I can point to various incidents, trends and data of varying relevance and reliability, but putting them in the proper perspective to predict the future is far harder.

As far as I’m concerned, people who claim certainty at this stage are mostly just revealing their preference. Nobody really knows.
Written By: Jon Henke

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