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.

Iraq Benchmarks O’Hanlon Brookings 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.

Laura Rosen and Matt Yglesias reasonably enough, would like to see the actual metrics and know how they were calculated.

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.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Triumph says:

    But there is indeed an “Index” that’s publicly available to those who want to make such assessments.

    It seems quite odd that they don’t have a measurement that looks at internal and external displacement.

    While they claim that the number of displaced people has risen, the latest report from the International Organization for Migration contends that the number is tiny.

    There have been 2.5 million internal refugees and 2 million external refugees created by Bush’s war–any calculation of “political success” that doesn’t try to explain the consequences of massive displacement is lacking.

    Also missing–while not directly “political”–are indices of basic development–like access to electricity, water, and a functioning social infrastructure.

  2. yetanotherjohn says:

    I would like to see a similar index drawn up for the democratic congress on what they planned when they won congress in 2006. I suspect that they would be happy to score as high as 5 out of 11. I may be wrong and they have done more. I know they are not at 11.

    The point being that you should not hold a new democracy to a higher standard of political accomplishment than one with a couple orders of magnitude more experience. That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t look for and encourage political accommodation. It does mean that we shouldn’t knock the security underpinnings out from under the country just because it is convenient for our domestic political games or because they aren’t accomplishing political goals faster than we are.

  3. Michael says:

    I would like to see a similar index drawn up for the democratic congress on what they planned when they won congress in 2006. I suspect that they would be happy to score as high as 5 out of 11. I may be wrong and they have done more. I know they are not at 11.

    The difference being that the “goals” for Iraq are thing that can be accomplished by Iraq itself. The “goals” of the Democratic congress requires the support (or at least lack of obstruction) of the Republican party in congress and the Republican President.

  4. mike says:

    at $5 – $12 billion a month, I expect minor miracles – Iraqi officials will continue to drag their feet until there is a real threat of being dropped cold turkey – there is no incentive for them to do anything while they can feed from the limitless trough that is the US taxpayer and US military.

  5. Dave Schuler says:

    Iraqi officials will continue to drag their feet until there is a real threat of being dropped cold turkey – there is no incentive for them to do anything while they can feed from the limitless trough that is the US taxpayer and US military.

    That’s an assessment which insists on viewing politics in Iraq through the prism of American political experience. The Iraqi national government has plenty of incentives for political reconciliation: they’re lying in the streets of Baghdad, floating in their rivers, and being dug up from mass graves.

    So, why isn’t the progress faster? I don’t believe that it’s because of the lack of incentives due to the American presence. I think that, without a great deal of practice, they’re trying to work out solutions to problems that have been festering for decades or centuries. That isn’t going to happen overnight.

  6. yetanotherjohn says:

    Michael,

    Are you so seriously naive and uniformed about Iraq that you think the political differences between democrats and republicans is greater than the differences within the Iraqi Parliament? Despite having much less experience on compromise and much deeper divisions, I think the Iraqi Parliament is accomplishing more of their goals than the democrats.

    Mike,

    Are you suggesting that money is going straight to the bank accounts of the Iraqi officials? That some how they are having huge checks written to them so why should they want that gravy train to stop?

  7. Michael says:

    Are you so seriously naive and uniformed about Iraq that you think the political differences between democrats and republicans is greater than the differences within the Iraqi Parliament?

    Not at all, but these goals are for the entire Iraqi Parliament, not just the Sunni, Shia or Kurdish parties. This index measures progress on bipartisan objectives, and puts the responsibility on the government as a whole.

    You’re suggested comparison is measuring progress on Democratic party goals, which are not necessarily shared by the rest of the US government that is a part of implementing said goals, and puts the responsibility on the Democratic members of congress alone.

  8. Tlaloc says:

    So….
    five years and hundreds of billions of dollars to pull a 45%? That’s still an “F” in school, right? Or is Iraq on one hell of a curve?

    Or is the message that if we just stay another 6 years they’ll actually finish their list?

  9. Wayne says:

    Michael
    Are you being serious or trying for some satire?
    The entire Iraqi Parliament is made up mostly Sunni, Shia or Kurdish parties. Just like the entire U.S. Congress is made up of mostly Rep and Dems. Not all goals share by one party is share by all. Also the goals that are share by all seldom have consensus on the methods to reach them. The Reps and Dems all want a budget, a balance budget, energy independence, affordable healthcare, and the list go on and on. However they seldom agree on how to reach those goals. They have fail to reach a consensus time and time again on some very important issue like energy independent. So to say that there is no comparison between politics in U.S. and that of Iraq is mindboggling.

  10. Michael says:

    Wayne, yetanotherjohn said, quite explicitly, that he wanted to measure the progress made on the goals set forth by the Democrats in congress, not those set by Congress as a whole:

    I would like to see a similar index drawn up for the democratic congress on what they planned when they won congress in 2006.

    From the index’s description: “holding a fair referendum on the disputed northern oil city of Kirkuk”. That would be a parliament-wide goal. “Returning Kirkuk to the Kurdish people” would be a party goal. The Iraqi Parliament can achieve the first on it’s own and should be held responsible for failing to do so. However, the Kurdish parties cannot achieve the second on their own, and therefore cannot be held solely responsible for failing to meet it. See the difference?

    The goals of the “Democratic congress” cannot be achieved solely by the Democratic congressmen, therefore they can not be held solely responsible for failing to reach them.

  11. mike says:

    I am in no way suggesting that the money is going straight to the elected officials’ pockets – some, and some out of 5-12 billion (and this is just the US portion) is a huge amount of money – so much of their country/infrastructure is directly and indirectly paid by foreign money that there is no incentive to cut-off the gravy train. bodies in the streets etc… is certainly an incentive but clearly not enough for them which is why the go on vacations and take other breaks so often. talk to folks coming back from there who work directly with Iraqi officials and they will all tell you the same thing; they are in no rush to see us go and manage to stall anytime they can.

  12. Wayne says:

    Michael
    Agree that there are Democrat’s goals and Congress’s goals. Yetanotherjohn said he wanted similar index drawn up for the Democrats. He probably single out the Dems since they are mostly the ones complaining about Iraqi politicians. I sure he would be flexible on which goals were included in the index. Many of the Dems stated goals were restated goals of Congress as a whole including energy independence. I don’t believe anyone stated the inaction of Congress is solely Democrats fault only that they shouldn’t be so judgmental of others for not being able to do something that they themselves can’t do.

    Also even the stated goals of the Dems of which they do have control of that the Republicans can’t block are not being implemented. This includes having more open government, house procedures, and committee procedure. One example is having bills written and ready for review long before it reaches the house floor. They renege on that promise. They have written bills and submitted them to the floor without a single Republican ever seeing it.

    Regardless on how you want to slice it, the Democrats have done little in reaching any sort of goals in last two years. Therefore our Congress is just as bad if not worst at getting things done than the Iraqi parliament. We should clean up our house before we complain about other people houses.

  13. Sam says:

    A billion here, a billion there, and pretty soon you’re talking about real democracy. Or maybe not.

  14. Cernig says:

    Nice changing of the subject there, YAJ.

    James – there isn’t a single thing in that PDF you cite that equates to O’Hanlon’s “It goes to eleven!” scaling. Without a methodology, his NYT piece is just so much wasted ink.

    Regards, C

  15. yetanotherjohn says:

    Wayne, Michael,

    Are there goals (other than one party or the others) for the 2006 congress? Would you feel better if we combined the republican, democratic, socialist (don’t want to leave you out Bernie) and independent (nod to Lieberman) goals, assuming there was something published. Maybe we should throw in all the state of the union initiatives also. I suspect the accomplishment rate would go way down. But if that is a better apple to apple comparison for you, go for it.

    The point I am trying to make, and people like cernig can’t seem to get, is that politics is not a straight A to B proposition. If you look at the improvement in security (note improvement not nirvana) since the surge has started to take effect and the improvement (same caveat) in political progress, then a reasonable person can conclude there is hope (not a certainty) for Iraq to be come a peaceful, vibrant and stable model for the mid-east. The upside for the Iraq, the US, the region and the rest of the world if this can be achieved is enormous. Likewise, the downside of AQ claiming a victory based on a US retreat is also enormous. Pulling out of Iraq now will remove the underpinnings of the security that has enabled the political process and almost ensure the downside scenario.

    Come November the US election is going to be a choice for giving the hoped for upside a chance or ignoring the progress being made and voting for the downside.

  16. Wayne says:

    YAJ
    Good post. Talking about goals can get murky. There are common goals such as energy independence that both parties agree with. There are intermediate goals on how to achieve them in which the parties disagree. There are party specific goals such as giving powers back to the state vs. giving the Federal government more power. The Iraqis Parliament seems to be doing a good job compare to U.S. regardless of which set or type of goals one want to look at. I believe Michael was trying to parse the argument. I was just pointing out that whatever way he wanted to parse it, the end results are the same.

  17. Michael says:

    yetanotherjohn, the “goals” of Iraq weren’t determined by Iraq, they were determined by outside actors who want to use them as a means of measuring the value and future prospects of their investment in Iraq. I’m not sure if any similar situation exists in terms of the US government.

    The upside for the Iraq, the US, the region and the rest of the world if this can be achieved is enormous. Likewise, the downside of AQ claiming a victory based on a US retreat is also enormous. Pulling out of Iraq now will remove the underpinnings of the security that has enabled the political process and almost ensure the downside scenario.

    I’m not sure what can be achieved at this point that would be considered a positive ending. Iraq isn’t going to be a US-styled free democracy any time soon, and almost certainly not while we’re in there “protecting” them from themselves.

    Likewise, I don’t see how AQ can be victorious in Iraq because they don’t have the forces necessary to impose their will over such a large, hostile population. Despite the fear-mongering, there will be no Caliph if we pull out. They may have a small moral victory before the vast majority of Sunni Arabs, AQ included, are driven out of Iraq or submit to Shia rule. Not exactly in line with Bin Laden’s stated goals.

  18. Triumph says:

    I attended a luncheon hosted by Steve Coll and Steve Clemons of the New American Foundation bringing together some representatives of the “Wonkosphere.”

    Please, JJ, when you report on think-tank related luncheons, include a brief description of the menu and if any booze was served.

    I am trying to build a database on luncheon quality and political discourse.

  19. yetanotherjohn says:

    So lets construct a quick scorecard for the 110th congress.

    Immigration/illegal aliens = 0
    Budget = 0 (still haven’t passed the budget due October 2007)
    Social security = 0
    Medicare/Medicaid = 0
    FISA = 0 (passed senate and stuck in the house)
    Confirmations = 0 (Most vacancies/lowest rate of confirmation votes in years)
    Iraq funding/withdrawal = 0.5 (funding in steps, but wasting a lot of time on withdrawal bills that go no where)

    Feel free to add your own, but it seems pretty churlish for democrats to complain that the Iraqi political process isn’t moving fast enough for them when the US congress that they have a majority in isn’t doing much.

  20. Wayne says:

    YAJ
    Don’t you know it is all the Republicans fault? The Democrats are responsible for nothing. The Iraqis speak with one voice and don’t have different political parties. I’m being sarcastic of course but that is the argument many liberals seem to put up.