Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Brookings Has Us Covered Re: Iraq Progress

Last time I believe I was saying something about using quantitative data to track progress in Iraq . . . turns out the Brookings Institution's been doing that for years now. What I can't figure out is why people don't cite their reports more often; they encapsulate the state of Operation Iraqi Freedom better than anything else I've yet seen. I've reproduced four informative graphs from their semi-weekly updated Iraq Index that exemplify what I was talking about in my last post, but you really should check out the whole thing.

First up, troop deaths since March '03:

As you can see, not very encouraging. Mountainous terrain on a graph never looks good when we're talking about people's lives. Better than a steady slope upward, obviously, but certainly nothing that indicates that our job is anywhere close to complete. On to car bombs:

Ooh, that's not good. I guess you could extrapolate from May forward that we're on the verge of an extended downward slide, which would be great, but as it is we're nowhere near the lows of last summer. Next we have electricity output:

Now this one's a bit tougher to interpret at first glance, but compare the estimated prewar megawattage to the August 2005 output level and you'll see that we're just about breaking even after well over two years. Add that to the fact that "inadequate electricity" was by far the most-cited problem in a survey (included in the Index) asking Iraqis about the issues that affect them most, and it's clear that we're nowhere near where we need to be in this area.

Finally, oil export revenue:

I'm no shill, so I'll give credit where credit is due: revenues have been climbing steadily since the war began. But the real questions here concern where that money is going: infrastructure? Native Iraqi business investment? Or into the pockets of tribal and other partisan interests? Will the Iraqis ever be able to agree on how to share the money fairly given that "many [oil-dependent states] stagnate economically and deteriorate politically, or even worse, become engulfed in vicious armed conflicts?" What we see in the above graph is a good start, but it's worthless unless accompanied by strong investments in oil production facilities and real policy work on fabricating a revenue distribution system that all three ethnic groups can reliably support.

And there you have it: the next time you hear someone complaining that the left-wing American MSM isn't reporting all the great stuff going on in Iraq, point 'em to the Iraq Index. Brookings is one of the nation's oldest and most respected think tanks, with a tradition of first-rate scholarship untrammeled by partisan concerns. Scattered wire reports and noisy talking heads can't give us a clear picture of where Iraq is headed; nothing less than Brookings-esque empirical research can.