Iraq Political Progress Benchmarks
Jason Campbell, Michael O’Hanlon and Amy Unikewicz say that Brookings has come up with some metrics to measure political progress in Iraq and that, contrary to conventional wisdom, there actually has been some.
The most intriguing area of late is the sphere of politics. To track progress, we have established “Brookings benchmarks” — a set of goals on the political front similar to the broader benchmarks set for Baghdad by Congress last year. Our 11 benchmarks include establishing provincial election laws, reaching an oil-revenue sharing accord, enacting pension and amnesty laws, passing annual federal budgets, hiring Sunni volunteers into the security forces, holding a fair referendum on the disputed northern oil city of Kirkuk, and purging extremists from government ministries and security forces.
At the moment, we give the Iraqis a score of 5 out of 11 (our system allows a score of 0, 0.5, or 1 for each category, and is dynamic, meaning we can subtract points for backsliding). It is far too soon to predict that Iraq is headed for stability or sectarian reconciliation. But it is also clear that those who assert that its politics are totally broken have not kept up with the news.
So, I checked the Brookings website and in less than a minute found the Brookings’ Iraq Index page which links the most recent edition (March 3rd) in PDF format. Essentially, it just gives the in depth numbers behind the “clipboard” included with the NYT op-ed. It’s 62 pages and I haven’t had time to do more than skim it but it looks to be a fairly impressive collection of data.
Whether these indicators are the best for assessing political progress, let alone whether the trends are anomalies and sustainable, is debatable. But there is indeed an “Index” that’s publicly available to those who want to make such assessments.
UPDATE: I attended a luncheon hosted by Steve Coll and Steve Clemons of the New American Foundation bringing together some representatives of the “Wonkosphere.” Two of the participants, Spencer Ackerman and Ezra Klein, have some interesting insights on the piece. (Yglesias, linked previously, was also in attendance.)
Spencer says, “O’Hanlon isn’t just moving the goal posts, he’s building a whole new playing field.” Moreover, there’s a larger issue:
O’Hanlon isn’t calling his new measurements O’Hanlon Benchmarks. He’s calling them Brookings Benchmarks. The whole institution, which contains real scholars, has been sucked into this morass. What does Strobe Talbott, Brookings’ president and Bill Clinton’s deputy secretary of state, think about this? Do the undefined Brookings Benchmarks represent responsible scholarship?
Ezra adds that,
[T]he New York Times shouldn’t simply be reprinting O’Hanlon’s “benchmarks” without giving readers some way to evaluate whether they’re worth listening to. O’Hanlon, after all, is anything but an objective source. He’s a media beast who’s currently fighting a war over his reputation, a war started when the army gave him a guided, planned tour demonstrating their “progress” in Iraq, and he wrote a puff piece on it. Now he desperately needs to advance a narrative of progress if he’s not going to be laughed out of every foreign policy room forevermore. If the Times wants a set of Iraq benchmarks, they should convene a panel of independent experts, or develop one themselves. Letting O’Hanlon grade the conflict is rather like letting Scott Templeton fact check his own work.
The general topic of O’Hanlon, the legitimacy conferred by institutions such as Brookings and the NYT consumed much of the luncheon conversation. It’s an interesting topic that I expect will be revisited here and elsewhere.