2004/10/22

Is Bush competent to wage the War On Terror?

In the Washington Post's assessment of how well the War On Terror (WOT) is going, I found these passages:

Published and classified documents and interviews with officials at many levels portray a war plan that scored major victories in its first months. Notable among them were the destruction of al Qaeda's Afghan sanctuary, the death or capture of leading jihadists, and effective U.S. demands for action by reluctant foreign governments.

But at least a dozen current and former officials who have held key positions in conducting the war now say they see diminishing returns in Bush's decapitation strategy

(snip)

Classified tallies made available to The Washington Post have identified 28 of the approximately 30 names on the unpublished HVT [High Value Target] List. Half -- 14 -- are known to be dead or in custody. Those at large include three of the five men on the highest echelon: bin Laden, his deputy Ayman Zawahiri and operational planner Saif al-Adel.

More significant than the bottom line, government analysts said, is the trend. Of the al Qaeda leaders accounted for, eight were killed or captured by the end of 2002. Five followed in 2003 -- notably Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the principal planner of the Sept. 11 attack. This year only one more name -- Hassan Ghul, a senior courier captured infiltrating Iraq -- could be crossed off.

This phenomenon is unfortunately not difficult to account for. It's called Diminishing Marginal Utility. The Wikipedia defines that as:

In economics, marginal utility is the additional utility (satisfaction or benefit) that a consumer derives from an additional unit of a commodity or service. The concept grew out of attempts by 19th-century economists to explain the fundamental economic reality of price. It was a term coined by the Austrian economist Friedrich von Wieser.

Diminishing marginal utility implies that marginal utility from one additional unit is inversely related to the number of units already owned. For example, the marginal utility of one slice of bread offered to a family that has five slices will be great, since the family will be less hungry and the difference between five and six is proportionally significant. An extra slice offered to a family that has 30 slices will have less marginal utility to the family, since the difference between 30 and 31 is proportionally smaller and the family's appetite may be satisfied by what it already has. Note that this example assumes that nothing else has changed. If the family that starts with only five slices also has much more cake than the family with 30 slices, then diminishing marginal utility need not apply. Also, if tastes or preferences vary between families or over time, this kind of differences in marginal utility need not apply. (Note also that this example assumes that each family has a unified utility function, rather than being a collection of individuals each with his or her own preferences.)

As the US deploys more personnel, money, time and effort, the rate of return from each additional unit grows smaller and smaller. If it cost $10 million to nab the first HVT, it probably cost $70 or $80 million to nab the latest HVT. So how has our president responded? Has he changed and adapted? Has he altered the tactics to meet conditions?

Whatever its results, the manhunt remains at the center of Bush's war. He mentions little else, save the Taliban's expulsion from power, when describing progress against al Qaeda. According to people who have briefed him, Bush still marks changes by hand on a copy of the HVT list.

So what does it all mean? What are the ultimate results of America's WOT as it's currently being fought?

Bush's focus on the instruments of force, the officials said, has been slow to adapt to a swiftly changing enemy. Al Qaeda, they said, no longer exerts centralized control over a network of operational cells. It has rather become the inspirational hub of a global movement, fomenting terrorism that it neither funds nor directs. Internal government assessments describe this change with a disquieting metaphor: They say jihadist terrorism is "metastasizing."

Major General George McClellan served as the commander of the Army of the Potomac in 1861 & 1862. He was a fine-looking fellow and cut an impressive figure (To be fair, he was also an excellent organizer and trainer) and gave impressive speeches and was popular with the Union troops, but he couldn't fight effectively. He was incompetent to lead soldiers into battle. He bungled time after time. Finally, President Lincoln lost patience with him and replaced him. Lincoln had to replace a few more generals before he appointed General Grant (General Grant also needed to gain experience until he was ready to take over the Army of the Potomac.) who was up to the standards necessary to lead the Union Army to victory. Yes, the phrase 'Don't change horses in the middle of the stream" has some validity, but it's not an absolute rule.
Bush has proved that he's incompetent to conduct the WOT. We need to replace him with his challenger.

No comments: