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Wednesday, October 22, 2003

Rumsfeld's revenge?

A couple of weeks ago, I noted a brief CNN report, based on a NY Daily News story, about Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's apparently tenuous hold on his job. National Security Advisor Condi Rice had just been put in charge of coordinating Iraq policy and Rumsfeld was being blamed for much of what's going wrong on the ground.

The administration also started a PR campaign to sell the war on terror. Vice President Cheney, President Bush and Rice made some prominent speeches to various groups. The conservative media's echo chamber, and even some "mainstream media" have thus been reporting more good news: about opening schools in Iraq, small victories in the war on terror, etc.

Whether Rumsfeld is getting his revenge or not, two stories from today's news highlight the administration's difficulty in putting a positive spin on Iraq.

First, the Associated Press had a story today from the top US soldier in Iraq:
The commander of U.S. forces in Iraq said Wednesday the number of attacks against American troops in Iraq is increasing.

During a press conference, Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez said the average of 20 to 25 attacks daily had increased over the last three weeks "to a peak of 35 attacks a day."
This is the lead in a long story outlining the horrors of homemade bombs, ambushes and other guerilla-style attacks on US forces.

When I was in grad school, about a decade after Vietnam ended, some professors were still teaching that great power "wars" against guerillas were hopeless. Hmmm.

The second story (from USA Today) is about a fairly pessimistic memo on the overall "war on terror" written by Rumsfeld himself. Here's the lead paragraphs from that story:
The United States has no yardstick for measuring progress in the war on terrorism, has not "yet made truly bold moves" in fighting al-Qaeda and other terror groups, and is in for a "long, hard slog" in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to a memo that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld sent to top-ranking Defense officials last week.

Despite upbeat statements by the Bush administration, the memo to Rumsfeld's top staff reveals significant doubts about progress in the struggle against terrorists. Rumsfeld says that "it is not possible" to transform the Pentagon quickly enough to effectively fight the anti-terror war and that a "new institution" might be necessary to do that.
A new institution, other than the Department of Defense?

Wow, that's a big claim. The newspaper calls the memo "candid" and "sobering."

One oddity. The memo claims "The cost-benefit ratio is against us! Our cost is billions against the terrorists' cost of millions." However, this is an obvious error. This is a reference to the offense-defense costs, not the cost-benefit. Rumsfeld is doing the kind of math that has always precluded deployment of missile defenses. Offensive missiles are much cheaper and are more effective than the defensive ones.

In this case, defending against terror is more costly than terror.

But that doesn't mean the cost-benefit ratio is against the defense.

The cost-benefit, obviously, must calculate the expense of fighting terror and weigh that versus the gain from preventing terrorist acts. How much did the Trade Center attack cost? How many future Trade Centers have been prevented?

Rumsfeld argues, however, that it is quite difficult to measure success in the war on terror. I guess that means the Pentagon doesn't have an answer to the question. This is from Rumsfeld's memo, which is also available:
Today, we lack metrics to know if we are winning or losing the global war on terror. Are we capturing, killing or deterring and dissuading more terrorists every day than the madrassas and the radical clerics are recruiting, training and deploying against us?
I'm wondering if enough people in the administration asked that question before the US went into Iraq and created an occupying force that is now both a recruiting boon and giant bulls-eye for international terrorism.

Update: Is That Legal? discusses whether the Rumsfeld memo was leaked or openly distributed. The blogger points out that the Pentagon now has a copy on its website!

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