Saturday, April 14, 2012

Measuring Progress in Afghanistan

The quarterly or so report by Michael O'Hanlon and co-author:
 Just some quick thoughts on this chart: one's attitude towards this is greatly shaped by (a) expectations; (b) one's priorities; and (c) how skeptical one is.

So, in terms of expectations, I was surprised to see 137 Afghan battalions to be partly or mostly self-sufficient.  On the other hand, of all of the things to be measured, this is perhaps the one in which I have the least confidence.  Partly self-sufficient?  What does that mean?  How low is that threshold? How sustainable is it?  

I am not surprised that we have more "success" in eduction than in electricity.  Easy to build schools, perhaps even staff some of them.  Electricity is far harder as the wires are easy to cut.  But it also speaks to priorities--the West has focused on the visible smiling children in schools as "Signature" projects and not power generation.  Too bad, because power generation would have a much bigger impact discernible to the populace.  

Speaking of discernible, there is a really important outcome here: life expectancy has increased by 25% over four years.  Given that NATO's primary job is to provide a safe and secure environment, it would seem to be the case that job #1 has actually been somewhat successful.  Not bad compared to trends in Russia:

In the middle of a civil war, in a country with tremendous health care challenges, significant progress on life expectancy has been made.  Of course, it is hard to feel this on a day to day basis, but if one is striving for any kind of metric of security, isn't how long one is likely to live a good metric?  So, we face a real challenge--a great success is actually pretty hard to feel on a day to day basis.  It does not mean that NATO has not been successful, but it does mean that its success does not necessarily produce positive political outcomes.

Things are better in Afghanistan, despite whatever doubts we may have about what counts as a partially capable Afghan battalion.  But given the politics there and in the capitals of NATO members and partners, sustainability is in grave doubt.

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