The White House:”Numbers don’t matter” [Archives:2005/808/Opinion]

January 17 2005

In what is called a background briefing “a senior Administration official” said, “I would really encourage people not to focus on numbers, which in themselves don't have any meaning, but to look on the outcome and to look at the government that will be the product of these elections”. What is clear from this is that the current Administration in the White House has no desire to be gauged by any parameters whatsoever and to simply be free from any accountability for any of its miscalculations, incorrect policies or the results of its “wrong way approach” in just about every action it has taken so far. Some may suggest that the White House may be beginning to feel the obvious that no one in his right mind can deny, which is that the adventure in Iraq is by all arithmetic turning out to be a flop. Yet, the Administration finds itself unable to consider the possibility that there are metrics that measure performance and these metrics cannot be ignored in assessing the soundness of decisions taken by leaders or actions they insisted were the only right and proper things to do, notwithstanding all the efforts of allies, prominent politicians at home and the international community to persuade Washington otherwise before the mess became a visible nightmare to all. In an election in a country that has not really seen one in a long time, where supposedly the White House insists that the Iraqi people are bound to show their fervent desire for democratic rule as spoon fed by right wing idealists, numbers are indeed very important. Any poor turnout in the forthcoming election in Iraq in two weeks is definitely a reflection of the obvious failure of the Administration in assessing the occupation forces' ability to provide the safe and assuring atmosphere that will encourage the Iraqis to come out and choose their future rulers. Having said that, a poor showing would not only be prompted by a fear of insurgency attacks, since it is not very likely that insurgents would venture and attack well protected polling stations. The Iraqis have come to recognize that insurgency attacks are so random and spontaneous that they can just about expect them anywhere whether during elections or at other times on their way to work, if they are lucky to have jobs, or just to visit friends. But what the Iraqis have found difficulty in recognizing is that the Americans have come to their country on a “do good mission” to relieve them of the agonies supposedly experienced under the rule of Saddam Hussein. The simple reason is because the Iraqis can see the numbers that tell a different story. How many Iraqis are under imprisonment for the least suspicion of being involved in the insurgency? How many Iraqis have been subjected to torture that even the Saddam regime would think twice about perpetrating, since they touch on important cultural mores and defile the honor and dignity of their victims? How many hours must Iraqis wait in gas lines to fill their car with fuel in a country that is considered as a leading petroleum producing country? How many innocent Iraqis because of combat errors and “collateral damage”, which the occupation forces do not even consider worth keeping track of adding insult to injury accordingly? How many dark filled nights must Iraqis spend because their electricity services is far beyond operating at pre invasion capacity and very little effort or resources are directed to reinstating service? How many children and other Iraqi civilians must be exposed to dangerous sanitary conditions as afflictions to cholera and other ailments increase due to the poor sanitation and municipal services? For the Iraqis these are measurement scales they will undoubtedly take into account in assessing the great achievements of the American invasion and occupation of Iraq and if the White House isn't ready to look at numbers like these, then what yardsticks does it use to measure the outcomes of its demise in Iraq?

These are questions that are raised by the statement of an important Administration official, who apparently is continuing to show the observer that the Administration simply has no desire to consider what the Iraqis have to gain or loose from an American adventure that will continue to baffle historians for decades, since its objectives have never clearly rested on specific targets and its outcomes have never fully scrutinized, not to mention the poor planning that is apparent in the management of the aftermath of this misadventure.

On the other hand, judging from a management perspective, what form of government is expected to materialize after the election. Surely one does not expect the Administration to entertain the possibility of a government that will be quick to call for an end of the American occupation, since a properly elected government is bound to be receptive to the wishes of the Iraqi people, who see the American occupation as the root of all their present misery. There is talk that the Americans might have not considered the likelihood of a “Shiite” takeover of government, which means the Iranians will have greater influence in Iraq than the White House could ever hope to enjoy. Well, let us assume that the Shiites do gain a majority position in the government, but that would happen no matter what the insurgents do and what feelings Washington might have about Shiite control. That is the natural outcome of democratic rule dictated by demographic realities and if the Americans try to change those realities than the insurgency will encompass all the Iraqis, Shiites and Sunnis and the poor showing in numbers that the Iraqi quagmire is producing will be multiplied by leaps and bounds.

An administration that believes that it should not be assessed by quantitative indicators of performance is simply saying, “No matter what the numbers tell, we are still right whether anybody likes or not.” That is the guiding philosophy that the regimes of Saddam Hussein and other autocratic rulers always followed.