May 3, 2007

Counterinsurgency Funding: the Good, the Bad, and the Weird

Hatched by Dafydd

The Washington Post has a window into the negotiations ongoing between the Bush administration and the Congress anent funding our troops in the field (hat tip to Patterico, of all people).

Good news...

According to the Post, the Democrats have already caved on the surrender timetables. No, really:

President Bush and congressional leaders began negotiating a second war funding bill yesterday, with Democrats offering the first major concession: an agreement to drop their demand for a timeline to bring troops home from Iraq.

Democrats backed off after the House failed, on a vote of 222 to 203, to override the president's veto of a $124 billion measure that would have required U.S. forces to begin withdrawing as early as July.

Yes, we're all blinking in shock. We knew they would eventually have to either drop the poison-pill... or else go whole hog and brazenly declare that the Democratic Congress intends to abandon our troops in the middle of a war.

But I don't think anyone expected such a quick exit (stage right) for the shibboleth that separates what Paul Wellstone used to call "the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party" -- now exemplified by Sen. Russell Feingold (D-WI, 100%) -- from the corrupt and unprincipled party machine: Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Caesar's Palace, 95%), Squeaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Haight-Ashbury, 95%), and especially House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee Chairman "Mad Jack" Murtha (D-PA, 65%). Evidently, nearly all the Democrats fall into the latter category... quelle surprise!

Bad news...

Alas it's time, as Larry Elderberry so often says, for the big butt: Congressional Democrats have not given up their insistance that they have some sort of operational control over military strategy and the president's foreign policy:

But party leaders made it clear that the next bill will have to include language that influences war policy. Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (Nev.) outlined a second measure that would step up Iraqi accountability, "transition" the U.S. military role and show "a reasonable way to end this war."

Even more unfortunate, a handful of Republicans have been seduced by the siren song of "congressional power," and they're siding with the Democrats... not to the extent of demanding troop withdrawals, but on the touchy subject of how to "enforce" all the myriad "benchmarks" for the fledgling Iraqi government to achieve:

But a new dynamic also is at work, with some Republicans now saying that funding further military operations in Iraq with no strings attached does not make practical or political sense. Rep. Bob Inglis (S.C.), a conservative who opposed the first funding bill, said, "The hallway talk is very different from the podium talk...."

Just four Republicans supported the first version of the spending bill: Sen. Gordon Smith (Ore.), Sen. Chuck Hagel (Neb.), Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest (Md.) and Rep. Walter B. Jones (N.C.). But a growing number of GOP lawmakers want language that would hold the administration and the Iraqi government more accountable.

"The general sense is that the benchmarks are critical," said Sen. Olympia J. Snowe (Maine), a moderate who opposed the original bill but supports some constraints.

White House officials are also looking to benchmarks as an area of compromise, but they want them to be tied to rewards for achievement, not penalties for failure.

This actually is a pretty good idea: If you want to incentivize the Iraqi government, carrots make much more sense than sticks. Did I actually just use the Dick Gephardt word "incentivize?" I don't think I did; if you thought you heard it, your audio track needs maintenance.

Well, all I can say is that it's a good thing for our congressmen such benchmarks are not applied to the American Congress... else there might be some severe punishment for, e.g., the complete failure of the last Republican Congress to enact critical bills such as immigration reform, Social Security reform, making the Bush tax cuts permanent -- oh, and the 2007 budget; and even more severe punishment for the complete failure of the new Democratic Congress to enact... well, anything.

The idea of "rewards for achievement" of various benchmarks, instead of "penalties for failure," is a pretty good idea: If you want to provide an incentive for the Iraqi government, carrots make much more sense than sticks. The best carrot is handing over more Iraqi territory to the Iraqi government; but other incentives for achievement would include:

  • More money for infrastructure -- hospitals, schools, dams, pipelines, power generating plants, libraries, and especially communications and internet connectivity programs.
  • Pressing for Iraqi membership in international trade organizations.
  • Allowing Iraq to buy near top of the line military helicopters, fighters, anti-IED MRAP armored vehicles, and Predator drone aircraft -- which are useful not only for fighting terrorists and insurgents but also to defend Iraq against its next-door enemies, Iran and Syria.
  • Pushing Arab neighbors and our allies around the world to recognize Iraq and negotiate treaties, accords, and oil and other trade agreements with them.

Each of these motivators would be dual-use, to expropriate a term that used to have a much more sinister meaning in that country: It would certainly give Iraq a strong incentive to step up movement towards full responsibility; and it would simultaneously ensconce Iraq deeper into the Functional Core, as Thomas P.M. Barnett calls the group of highly connected (economically, politically, and via communications), civilized nations of the world in his book the Pentagon's New Map.

The more thoroughly connected Iraq or any other country is to the community of civilized nations, Barnett convincingy argues, the less likely it will behave aggressively towards its neighbors, harbor terrorists, or finance jihadist groups around the world. Contrariwise, the deeper a country is in the Non-Integrating Gap -- isolated, hermetically sealed, radicalized -- the more likely it is to serve as a base of operations for strikes against the Great Satan and our allies. (Think of Afghanistan under the Taliban, Sudan, the Palestinian Authority, North Korea, and Venezuela.)

News of the weird...

So the Democrats' idea of benchmarks isn't too ghastly; benchmarks (or milestones) are useful to see how you're progressing, and you can use positive incentives to encourage the country to pick up the pace.

But what is truly bizarre is the the Democrats don't want to use positive reinforcement: they're absolutely dying to enact a bill where failure to achieve these benchmarks would be "punished" by cutting off civilian funding:

House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (Md.) indicated that the next bill will include benchmarks for Iraq -- such as passing a law to share oil revenue, quelling religious violence and disarming sectarian militias -- to keep its government on course. Failure to meet benchmarks could cost Baghdad billions of dollars in nonmilitary aid.

The absurdity is that every benchmark requires a huge outlay of money: Building up the Iraqi army and national police takes gold; quelling violence and disarming militias require a strong army and police; passing the oil-revenue-sharing bill demands a strong government, which can only be achieved by quelling violence and disarming militias.

Thus, punishing failure by cutting off civilian funding simply ensures that all of the achievement gaps will simply get worse and worse. Here is a good analogy:

A huge corporation buys a small company in Kalamazoo; they want to turn it into a subsidiary (the company, not Kalamazoo itself). They hire a new CEO and order him to retain the product designers and hire a lot more staff; for this purpose, they allocate a significant budget for the new subsidiary.

But after a while, the Board of the big corporation decides that the CEO isn't moving fast enough: Too many of the senior designers are talking about leaving, and it's hard to get more low-level employees for the money the subsidiary is offering.

The corporation decides to "send a message" to the CEO... so they slice the subsidiary's budget by one third. They threaten that if the CEO is still unable to retain top people and hire new personnel, they'll slash the budget even further!

Yeah. That'll work out. With even less money available, surely employee retention and recruiting will skyrocket...

Bottoms up!

All in all, considering that the ink of Bush's veto has barely dried, I think we've come a long way back towards wartime sanity. But it's an equally long road ahead; and like a skittish donkey, it doesn't take much -- a funny colored rock, a squirrel darting across the path -- to cause the Democrats to freak out entirely, dig in their hooves, and refuse to budge another inch.

Keep your garters crossed.

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, May 3, 2007, at the time of 5:32 PM

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The following hissed in response by: Bill Faith

I just linked from my 2007.05.03 Dem Perfidy // Islamism Delenda Est Roundup.

I see at Hot Air that now Clinton and Byrd have decided they want to "de-authorize" the war effective 11 October. Good news, in a way. By panicking and moving farther to the left to defend against Obama Hillary's painting herself as weaker and weaker on national security and hurting her chances of moving back into the White House that much worse.

The above hissed in response by: Bill Faith [TypeKey Profile Page] at May 3, 2007 8:17 PM

The following hissed in response by: RRRoark

Thus, punishing failure by cutting off civilian funding simply ensures that all of the achievement gaps will simply get worse and worse.

They understand that perfectly. They are just looking for another way to lose in order to feed their BDS frenzy while screaming "Pay no attention to the Dhimmicretins behind the curtain."

The above hissed in response by: RRRoark [TypeKey Profile Page] at May 4, 2007 11:24 AM

The following hissed in response by: Trickish knave

Jon Stewart suggested that the Democrats need to use different terminology to swing GOP votes.

Timetables = Patriot Dates, Freedom Deadlines, Glory Goals

Watching the signing ceremony was like watching Titanic or The Alamo- you knew how it was going to end.

The above hissed in response by: Trickish knave [TypeKey Profile Page] at May 4, 2007 12:03 PM

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