The Blog

Dept. of Measures

The Pentagon tries to come up with a metric for success in the war on terror.

12:00 AM, Aug 24, 2005 • By CHRISTIAN LOWE
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CRITICS BEGAN USING the "Q" word to describe the war in Iraq two years ago, well before the Sunni insurgency and al Qaeda franchise-leader Abu Mussab al Zarqawi began inflicting serious casualties on U.S. and coalition forces.

Today President George W. Bush's approval ratings are in the tank and calls for an unequivocal pull-out from the Iraqi "quagmire" are starting to be heard on Capitol Hill. But does this mean that the coalition is actually failing?

The question is not a new one. More than a year ago, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld revealed that he did not know whether the billions of dollars and hundreds of U.S. lives were being spent well in Afghanistan and Iraq. "Today, we lack metrics to know if we are winning or losing the global war on terror," Rumsfeld wrote to top DoD officials in October 2003. "Is our current situation such that the harder we work, the behinder we get?" Nearly two years later, Pentagon officials are still largely in the dark.

Nevertheless, the search is on for a barometer that can determine the day-to-day success or failure in combating extremist movements and eroding the influence of terror.

SPEARHEADED BY THE PENTAGON'S office of Advanced Systems and Concepts, a group of DoD and civilian officials has been struggling to forge a consensus on so-called "measures of effectiveness" in the global war on terrorism. Their work on developing these benchmarks is an offshoot of a larger project sponsored by the Pentagon to explore new tactics for fighting the global war on terrorism.

The "measures of effectiveness" have helped form a framework for evaluating how well alternative tactics to the war on terrorism would work.

"Our tasking was to come up with some good alternative ideas, and the fact that the ability to measure how you were doing was a good idea was one of the initial things that came out of the game," said Gary Anderson, a former Marine colonel and frequent DoD consultant who ran a series of Pentagon-sponsored war games which examined alternative strategies to waging America's war on terrorism. "We decided to see what would be the long-term indications that you were succeeding," he said.

Starting in September 2004, his group, dubbed the Defense Adaptive Red Team, developed a series of alternative strategies for fighting terrorism. The Pentagon-sponsored team concluded that the war on terrorism is essentially a global insurgency, where discontiguous groups that share a radical Islamic ideology are waging a campaign against the ideologies of the United States and its allies. Therefore, Anderson's team argued, U.S. strategy should incorporate many of the same methods used to counter classic insurgencies, including covert military and police actions; political and economic reform; and the winning hearts and minds.

"Kinetic measures of casualties and body counts never has worked and probably never will work because if you don't know how big the terrorist organization was to begin with, you really don't know how much progress you've made," Anderson says.

Anderson's team came up with a series of broader trends that would allow U.S. policy-makers to see how well their strategies are working to defeat terrorism:

* Terrorist attacks that take place on U.S. territory show a continuous decline.

* The number of states in the Arab and Islamic worlds with representative or inclusive governments that oppose terrorism is increasing.

* Roughly 90 percent of Islamic clergy are preaching against terrorism.

* The majority of Arab language media are editorializing against the use of terrorism and giving negative reportage to acts of terrorism.

* Polling index of Arab/Muslim opinion polls are increasingly favorable.

* Groups previously identified as terrorists but have chosen to adopt non-violent means are increasing.

"We wanted something that if the president got up in front of the American people and said . . . here's what we're shooting for--if we can do these things in the next, 5 or 10 years, we think we're doing pretty good," Anderson said.

With the elections in Afghanistan, the Palestinian territories, Iraq; municipal elections in Saudi Arabia, parliamentary elections in Lebanon, and upcoming presidential elections in Egypt a trend toward "representative" governments in a region associated with terrorist movements--a key measurement of success--could be taking hold.