- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 3, 2009

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton wants to keep things secret that Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton found it expedient to politicize.

The Obama administration wants to keep its metrics of progress for the war in Afghanistan under wraps. Secretary Clinton and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates told the Senate Appropriations Committee last week that the executive branch, not Congress, should craft the Afghan benchmarks, many of which will be classified. Times certainly have changed - two years ago, then-Sen. Clinton demanded benchmarks be included in the May 2007 Iraq war supplemental appropriation.

Mr. Obama promised a benchmarked war effort in March when he announced his Afghanistan strategy. He rejected “blindly staying the course,” a tart reference to one of Mr. Bush’s pet phrases, and promised instead that there would be “clear metrics to measure progress and hold ourselves accountable.” Perhaps the president could explain how accountability can function if Congress and the public do not know what the clear metrics are.

Mrs. Clinton stated that the government is “going to be measuring from every perspective,” but more metrics are not necessarily better. Once this multitude of measures is set in place, they can calcify thinking and destroy the spirit of innovation that is critical in waging unconventional war. Benchmarks are not a substitute for strategy, but pursuit of them can wind up driving the war effort when they should be a trailing indicator. We saw that in Defense Secretary Robert S. McNamara’s metric-mad approach to fighting the war in Vietnam. A clever enemy will use publicly published metrics to focus its efforts on the things the U.S. government deems to be important, seeking to shape perceptions of failure and defeat by the bureaucracy’s own definition. It is unwise to hand the enemy the ability to create meaningful strategic effects by our own criteria.

Public metrics also can create political problems, as Mrs. Clinton well knows. In September 2007, the Government Accountability Office reported that Baghdad had “met 3, partially met 4, and did not meet 11” of the 18 benchmarks Congress had established the previous May. Opponents of the surge strategy, such as Mrs. Clinton and then-Sen. Obama, seized on the report to declare the surge a failure. But the war was, in fact, being won. Had the United States been guided by congressional politics rather than sound military thinking, we would have withdrawn from Iraq last year and marked it as a defeat.

Some learning has occurred over the past two years. The Obama administration does not want to face the kinds of political problems that some of its leading members created for their predecessors. We applaud the administration’s newfound respect for secrecy in warfare and only wish it had dawned on these officials sooner.

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