Thursday, September 06, 2007

How To Lie With Statistics

It would be a challenge even beyond the Stalinist-like deniers of reality in the administration to portray the political situation in Iraq as improving, given the public nature of the evidence.

So they are doing the next best thing, dicking with the (mostly classified) official measurements of violence to claim military progress.

The U.S. military's claim that violence has decreased sharply in Iraq in recent months has come under scrutiny from many experts within and outside the government, who contend that some of the underlying statistics are questionable and selectively ignore negative trends.

Reductions in violence form the centerpiece of the Bush administration's claim that its war strategy is working. In congressional testimony Monday, Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, is expected to cite a 75 percent decrease in sectarian attacks. According to senior U.S. military officials in Baghdad, overall attacks in Iraq were down to 960 a week in August, compared with 1,700 a week in June, and civilian casualties had fallen 17 percent between December 2006 and last month. Unofficial Iraqi figures show a similar decrease.

Others who have looked at the full range of U.S. government statistics on violence, however, accuse the military of cherry-picking positive indicators and caution that the numbers -- most of which are classified -- are often confusing and contradictory. "Let's just say that there are several different sources within the administration on violence, and those sources do not agree," Comptroller General David Walker told Congress on Tuesday in releasing a new Government Accountability Office report on Iraq.

Senior U.S. officers in Baghdad disputed the accuracy and conclusions of the largely negative GAO report, which they said had adopted a flawed counting methodology used by the CIA and the Defense Intelligence Agency. Many of those conclusions were also reflected in last month's pessimistic National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq.

The intelligence community has its own problems with military calculations. Intelligence analysts computing aggregate levels of violence against civilians for the NIE puzzled over how the military designated attacks as combat, sectarian or criminal, according to one senior intelligence official in Washington. "If a bullet went through the back of the head, it's sectarian," the official said. "If it went through the front, it's criminal." ...

Challenges to how military and intelligence statistics are tallied and used have been a staple of the Iraq war. In its December 2006 report, the bipartisan Iraq Study Group identified "significant underreporting of violence," noting that "a murder of an Iraqi is not necessarily counted as an attack. If we cannot determine the sources of a sectarian attack, that assault does not make it into the data base." The report concluded that "good policy is difficult to make when information is systematically collected in a way that minimizes its discrepancy with policy goals." ...

When a member of the National Intelligence Council visited Baghdad this summer to review a draft of the intelligence estimate on Iraq, Petraeus argued that its negative judgments did not reflect recent improvements. At least one new sentence was added to the final version, noting that "overall attack levels across Iraq have fallen during seven of the last nine weeks."

A senior military intelligence official in Baghdad deemed it "odd" that "marginal" security improvements were reflected in an estimate assessing the previous seven months and projecting the next six to 12 months. He attributed the change to a desire to provide Petraeus with ammunition for his congressional testimony.

The intelligence official in Washington, however, described the Baghdad consultation as standard in the NIE drafting process and said that the "new information" did not change the estimate's conclusions. The overall assessment was that the security situation in Iraq since January "was still getting worse," he said, "but not as fast."


Since a counterinsurgency must be ultimately won in the political arena of the host country, hanging your hat on claims of ephemeral military gains is a pretty disingenuous tactic intended for domestic U.S. consumption.

2 Comments:

Blogger Meatball One said...

Sweet post, Eff

9/06/2007 7:41 AM  
Blogger Effwit said...

M1:

Mange Takk.

9/06/2007 2:28 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home