Why Bush Can’t Make The Sale on Iraq

President Bush and other members of the administration have consistently held that “progress is being made” in the global war on terrorism and they are looking to gather some objective data to bolster the veracity of that disputed claim.

To this point, most recently in his Oct. 6 address, the president has relied on little more than anecdotal evidence to support his assertion that terrorism’s grip is eroding while those opposed to war in Iraq and other initiatives taken under the president’s direction point to countervailing reports to establish the effort is not proceeding well.

As far back as October 2003, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld acknowledged he lacked the “metrics to know if we are winning or losing the global war on terror” and pondered a means to determine how to accurately answer the question.

“Are we capturing, killing or deterring and dissuading more terrorists every day than the madrassas (Islamic schools) and the radical clerics are recruiting, training and deploying against us?” he asked in an internal memo, first reported in USA Today.

Now, two years later, with polls showing the American public beginning to lose faith in the direction of the war on terrorism, the administration is looking to develop a method for measuring success of its effort. The Department of the Army posted on Sept. 8 a solicitation for contractors interested in developing “a system of metrics to accurately assess U.S. progress in the War on Terrorism, identify critical issues hindering progress and develop and track action plans to resolve the issues.”

Responses are due Thursday.

A draft statement of objectives requires potential contractors to “conduct research, analysis and provide recommendations on the best criteria by which progress in the War on Terrorism is to be assessed” and “establish a means to identify critical issues and/or shortfalls that are inhibiting progress toward accomplishing the objectives comprising the metrics system.”

The United States in the past has traditionally used various means to measure progress in its military actions. During the Vietnam War, viewers of the evening news were constantly bombarded with “body counts” _ the number of American troops killed as opposed to the number of enemy dead.

During the more traditionally fought WWII, battlefield success was measured “inch-by-inch” _ a measurement of how much land the allies were able to maintain or grab from the enemy.

The administration already has developed a method for measuring progress in Iraq, but not the more expansive war on terrorism. A provision in the Pentagon spending bill adopted by Congress last May requires Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld to forward a report to Capitol Hill every 90 days providing a “comprehensive set of performance indicators and measures of stability and security.”

The first of those reports _ released July 21 with the second due later this month _ provided information on political, economic and military progress in Iraq.

Lt. Gen. Walter Sharp, the head of strategic plans and policy for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the results establish, among other things, that the people of Iraq maintain high confidence in the abilities of Iraqi security forces and oppose the insurgency _ two key U.S. objectives.

Measuring success in the war on terrorism likely will prove more complicated. There’s no identifiable battlefield and those plotting against the interests of the U.S. and others cloak themselves in secrecy.

Tim Roemer, a former Indiana congressman and member of the 9/11 Commission who serves as president of the Center for National Policy, a non-partisan think tank, said one of the determining factors of success the Pentagon and others need to consider in assessing success should center on the ability of the United States to prevent the creation of future terrorists.

“Our troops can prevail on the battlefield, our intelligence agencies can identify terrorist cells and our defensive measure can foil plots, but the long term key to our national security is isolating the extremists and radical terrorists by helping create a competing and more powerful vision of the future of the Middle East and the Muslim world,” Roemer said, adding that it is essential to the long-term success of the war on terrorism to support the voices of moderation in the Islamic world.

“To date, effective long-term initiatives have been piecemeal and have paled in comparison with the resources dedicated to attacking terrorists and protecting the homeland,” he said.

Arnaud de Borchgrave, director of the Transnational Threats Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, said any measurement will show the war in Iraq “has served as a recruitment poster for al Qaeda and the Iraqi insurgency”‘ and that the growing network of Islamist terrorists has only become energized.

Three years into Operation Iraqi Freedom, de Borchgrave said, “anti-Americanism is now deeply entrenched in much of the world,” fueled in part by the perception that “we have long lost our moral compass and the moral high ground.”

“Terrorism is a weapons system,” de Borchgrave said. “From time immemorial it has been the weapon of the weak against the strong. The real war on terror is about culture, ideas and perceptions as much as roadside bombs and suicide bombs.”