War Stories

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Matthew Yglesias watches the moving goalposts.

The Boston Globe describes Fallujah's future as a regimented "model city."

And Salon is alleging a torture coverup.

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  1. How is this a case of moving goalposts? Unless I missed something in the post, Yglesias only mentions one target and doesn’t give an example of it changing — just examples of us not reaching it.

  2. To quote Matthew Yglesias in full:

    A correspondent wrote in regarding the goalpost-moving issue to ask if anyone is even keeping track of infrastructure issues anymore. It reminded me of a younger, more innocent time when we measured progress by megawatts delivered rather than body bags filled. So at any rate, I cruised on over to the latest edition of the Iraq Weekly Status Report (PDF), the best-kept non-secret in Iraq commentary, and flipped over to page 16 where electricity issues are discussed. Some time in June, we finally got electricity product back up to pre-war levels (note — prewar levels, Saddam’s bad deeds were not responsible for the shortfall) and maintained good moment progressing toward the target (which, IIRC, was originally a June 2004 target, but the WSR no longer notes that information) of 120,000 Megawatt-hours per day until mid-August when we hit a plateau. A September 15 pipeline attack caused a short, huge downward spike after which we recovered to a level just below the previous plateau and then started sinking slowly at the end of September.

    In mid-October, the downward trend accelerated a bit due to planned maintenance of the generator equipment during the low-demand season. Then, at the beginning of November things went sharply down — to back below pre-war levels — thanks to “unplanned maintenance” a state of affairs that has continued until the release of the latest WSR. Why the unplanned maintenance? Attacks? Insecurity? I have no idea. But for goalposts purposes, let’s note that we are not now at the goal, have never been at the goal, and are not even moving in the direction of the goal. Instead, Iraqis have less electricity (but way more phone lines, interestingly enough) than they had before the war.

    Matthew Yglesias clearly implies that ‘lectricity production is no longer a “goal post”; that we have moved on from that measure of progress; and he seeks to explain why that might be the case.

  3. I’m aware that he implies it, but he doesn’t offer any evidence for it. The only data he cites is that power production is declining. The rational interpretation of that fact is that we’re failing to produce the desired amount of power — not that producing power is no longer a goal.

    And what’s the point of quoting the whole post when the link’s at the top of the page?

  4. Dan, have you heard anyone discussing the amount of power being produced as a measure of our success in Iraq in the past six months? I sure haven’t, and I used to hear about it all the time.

    So, is the level of electicity production a legitimate measure the success of our mission, or were the people who kept pointing to it as such last year bullshitters?

  5. Seems like it would have been a dam site easier to just evac the city and nuke it.

  6. TWC,

    “dam site”? 🙂

  7. As far as Saddam’s bad deeds not being responsible for the electricity shortfall: Wrong. If you remember correctly, power in Baghdad went off long before the Americans arrived, and in fact the US was confused by this, as we had not targeted their electrical infrastructure. Turns out they had intentionally removed very specific components for the purpose of shutting down power and making it difficult for the Americans to get it up and running again. The Baathists/insurgents/whatever you call them had sabotaged the system. Why is it that the insurgents can inentionally destroy infrastructure, behead the people trying to build clean water systems (or power, or schools, or medical centers), and then the blame gets put on the US? Direct your anger at the people who are doing this, not the ones who are trying to stop it.

  8. Dave, none of that was happening until we invaded.

    If you kick in my front door and leave it dangling on one hinge, and a buch of dudes take all my stuff, I’m going to blame them AND you.

  9. Dave,

    Are you suggesting that no blame should be placed on the U.S. military brass and their civilian controllers for poor management of the situation in Iraq?

  10. Dan, have you heard anyone discussing the amount of power being produced as a measure of our success in Iraq in the past six months?

    The only people I ever heard citing Iraqi power production as a measure of our mission’s success were war opponents who cited Iraq’s low post-war power production as evidence that the entire invasion was a failure. They’ve been doing that for over a year and a half and, no, to the best of my knowledge they didn’t stop six months ago.

    Now certainly there were people (including myself) who cited early progress in power production as an example of a mission goal that was being met. But obviously we didn’t cite that as proof that our mission had succeeded, because our mission isn’t “make sure there’s lots of electricity in Iraq”, it is “make sure there’s a stable democracy in Iraq”.

    The correct metaphor here is that of a business making revenue projections for the coming year. Each division typically has a revenue target. If that division fails to meet that target, that division has failed. But the buisness plan as a whole is only a failure if company, taken as a whole, fails to meet its revenue target. Failing to product sufficient electrical power in Iraq makes our ultimate goal — stable democracy — harder to achieve, just as cheap and abundant electricity would have made it easier to achieve. But it would be foolish to declare victory or failure for the entire enterprise based solely on one part of the process (which is why, for example, I haven’t declared that our mission in Iraq is a success just because we’ve repeatedly kicked the snot out of the insurgents).

  11. Dan is your last name Senor? Just wondering.

  12. “make sure there’s a stable democracy in Iraq”

    and how, mr dan, would you evaluate mission success at this point? “n/a”?

  13. Dan,

    The only people I ever heard citing Iraqi power production as a measure of our mission’s success were war opponents who cited Iraq’s low post-war power production as evidence that the entire invasion was a failure.

    Don’t visit Winds of Change or the Wall Street Journal’s editorial page much, eh?

    Electricity production was clearly used on numerous occassions as a proxy for general progress in Iraq. Quit denying this fact.

  14. gauis marcus,

    I think we see a perfect example of shifting goalposts.

  15. Aside from how well we are doing with regard to electricity production, I do think it is a useful criteria. Where I diverge from Yglesias is here:

    “It reminded me of a younger, more innocent time when we measured progress by megawatts delivered rather than body bags filled.”

    Both of these matter.

  16. Don’t visit Winds of Change or the Wall Street Journal’s editorial page much, eh?

    I don’t believe I’ve ever read Winds of Change, but I read the WSJ occasionally.

    Electricity production was clearly used on numerous occassions as a proxy for general progress in Iraq. Quit denying this fact

    It may be the case that some hawks used to use power production as a proxy for mission success; you doves don’t have a total monopoly on morons, after all. But since it remains true that I didn’t encounter this phenomenon, and since you can’t be bothered to cite actual examples of the “numerous occasions” on which this was done, I see no reason to alter my original statement.

    My personal measure of success with regard to Iraq has always been whether or not, a few years from now, there is a stable democracy there. If there is, I will consider our mission a success. If there is not, I won’t.

  17. Have any of you read the story about the totalitarian hellscape Fallujah will be if all goes according to plan?

    I can’t even make an ironic joke about how freedom is on the march.

  18. and how, mr dan, would you evaluate mission success at this point? “n/a”?

    I would say that we’re at around 25% completion but running behind schedule and suffering from cost overruns.

  19. Dan,

    …and since you can’t be bothered to cite actual examples of the “numerous occasions” on which this was done, I see no reason to alter my original statement.

    Well, given that your sole resource is your own personal experience, I don’t see why I should be expected to go out and do anything more than you have done.

    I’m not a dove.

  20. Dan-

    Not fair asking Gary to search for cited articles in the WSJ – online access is subscription only (and it is expensive) 🙂

  21. I’d love to hear some opinions regarding the torture cover-up. I suspect some won’t be as bothered about it as they would if the U.N. were involved.

  22. “and how, mr dan, would you evaluate mission success at this point? “n/a”?”

    While I’m not Mr. Dan, I would recommend the same report cited above to evaluate the progress on the coming elections. It shows things well into Phase III, with 228 registered and approved parties/individuals for the upcoming National Assembly elections. Additionally, voter registration and education is continuing in 542 voter registration offices throughout the country. Canada will be heading up the election monitoring.

    As for other matters in the report, oil exports took a sharp drop in Nov and are below goal. The economy appears to be doing well with increased currency value, and job growth in both govt and private sectors. While landline phones are slightly above their prewar numbers, overall phone lines have increased dramatically (I take this to mean cell phone ownership has risen sharply, not entirely sure though). Private internet usage has also increased sharply over prewar levels.

    Iraqi delegations have recently met with both the Jordanian govt in a three day economic/rebuilding symposium, and also met with the International Commision on Missing Person to better learn how resolve the issue of the 300,000-1,000,000 missing persons in Iraq. In particular the latest in DNA technology for identifying missing persons.

  23. Remember Americans, these are your duties:
    To impose the laws of peace,
    To rule the nations with authority,
    To spare the vanquished, and grind down the arrogant.

  24. If the goal posts look like they’re shifting, maybe it’s because our Team Captain never told anybody what the *real* goal posts were to begin with.

    First it was WMD’s. But that proved a mirage.

    Now it’s altruism. We’re gonna make those Iraqi people over there a whole bunch better now.

    Except, even if the WMD’s *had* been real, I’ve never agreed with the conclusion that Iraq was at the top of US security threats. So what *were* the goal posts for Iraq?

    I’m no dove. I think Afghanistan was justified (and also surprised it didn’t prove more problematic to subdue). But I think the real “goal posts” for Iraq was more along the lines of draining the swamp.

    That, of course, was a foolish thing for America to even attempt, for anyone who knows any Mid East history at all — and for anyone who knows the dispositional difference between an American and a Roman.

    I think the Romans would have fared much better in this little venture then we’re likely going to. But hey, events may come to prove me wrong.

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