The New York Times picked up details of a confidential briefing on Iraq from October 18 with a slide purporting to show in yellow, green and red the slide of Iraq towards chaos.
The slide includes a color-coded bar chart that is used to illustrate an “Index of Civil Conflict.” It shows a sharp escalation in sectarian violence since the bombing of a Shiite shrine in Samarra in February, and tracks a further worsening this month despite a concerted American push to tamp down the violence in Baghdad.
In fashioning the index, the military is weighing factors like the ineffectual Iraqi police and the dwindling influence of moderate religious and political figures, rather than more traditional military measures such as the enemy’s fighting strength and the control of territory.
The conclusions the Central Command has drawn from these trends are not encouraging, according to a copy of the slide that was obtained by The New York Times. The slide shows Iraq as moving sharply away from “peace,” an ideal on the far left side of the chart, to a point much closer to the right side of the spectrum, a red zone marked “chaos.” As depicted in the command’s chart, the needle has been moving steadily toward the far right of the chart.
An intelligence summary at the bottom of the slide reads “urban areas experiencing ‘ethnic cleansing’ campaigns to consolidate control” and “violence at all-time high, spreading geographically.” According to a Central Command official, the index on civil strife has been a staple of internal command briefings for most of this year. The analysis was prepared by the command’s intelligence directorate, which is overseen by Brig. Gen. John M. Custer.
It has been ridiculed here by 37signals, a Web 2.0 software company with a name for good communications.
It seems Edward Tufte has posted the slide on his website as (yet another) example of the evils of power point and the way it dissolves your brain. For those who don't know Edward Tufte, he promotes the clear explanation of statistical information with his books and mocks the kind of thinking that Power Point produces. There are some great diagrams on his website, and everyone should read his powerpoint essay.
The Iraq slide in question has been listed in a discussion of the US military's addiction to Power Point (even to the extent of giving presentations and not orders) which you can find here on Tufte's website.
A commenter on the site says:
The slide is largely (enitrely?) data-free: a series of qualitative assertions, that masquerades as quantitative analysis. What is the “Index of Civil Conflict (Assessed)? ” Are “ROUTINE,” “IRREGULAR,” “SIGNIFICANT,” “CRITICAL” parameters on a continuum, or unrelated descriptors? If so, why are they coded in colors that suggest a progression)? What does “I&W” mean? Why is the slide framed with color gradients? Why is everything bold (or all-caps)? Is an up arrow increased sectarian conflict, or less sectarian conflict which indicates an improved situation? What are the numbers behind “unorganized spontaneous mass civil conflict” etc.?
But it's clear that this type of slide has been common in Iraq. Here is a quotation (pp 114-6) from Rory Stewart's book "Occupational Hazards - my time governing in Iraq", which I am just reading:
The conference (of Coalition administrators in autumn 2003) was held at a giant hollow round table with microphones all round. All the governorate coordinators and two-and three-star generals in the country had been summoned. ... The ministers and senior advisers, many of whom rarely left the palace (where the administrators were based, in the Green Zone in Baghdad), had simply walked down one floor from their offices. There, in US Marine Corps desert camouflage, Polish grey, tailored women's suits or black and white keffiyehs, were gathered a hundred or so of the most senior people in the administration in Iraq.
Bremer sat at the end of the table, in his suit and combat boots, with a lined face and a full and carefully combed head of hair. he spoke softly and frowned a lot, and did not seem to enjoy giving his introduction. ....
A major from the 'strategic planning unit' showed us a slide of black dotted vertical lines, eight yellow horizontal arrows, punctured by red and white equilateral triangles and rimmed by aubergine, sky-blue and burgundy horizontal bands. This geometrical design was covered with text. He began to speak about some of the priorities for the three main cities.
After a minute, General Odierno, the six-foot-four, two-hundred-pound bald commander of the 4th Infantry Division , brought his two huge hands down on the table and said in a high-pitched, passable imitation of the speaker, 'Baghdad, Basra, Mosul. 'Baghdad, Basra, Mosul. Do you know what it is like there on the ground in Tikrit or Fallujah, for the guys, operating .... I gotta tell you, it's frustrating -- it's hard. It's frankly hard'. His voice cracked and he stopped abruptly.
The major, who was not used to talking to a two-star general, returned somewhat nervously to his slide. He pointed to a series of yellow arrows, which were labelled
- Essential services
- Ministry of Justice
- Security Affairs
- Ministry of Interior
- Strat Comms: Strategic Communications
- CJTF-: the Coalition military command.
Each arrow was cut by dotted lines representing various dates between then and December 2005, more than two years off.The sky-blue lines had labels like 'OIF 2 rotation' and 'accelerating army recruiting'. The aubergine lines, more purple at one end and more blue at the other, were labelled 'job creation' and 'transition to Iraqi control'. The triangles represented key indicators.
It appeared from all this we were being told that within the next seven months we should, among many other things, elect a transitional assembly, privatise state-owned enterprises, install electronic trading on the Baghdad Stock Exchange, reform the university curriculum, generate six thousand megawatts of electrical power, vet all the judges and thirty-two thousand Iraqi soldiers selected and trained in the new Civil Defence Corps and ensure that ninety percent of Iraqis received terrestrial television broadcasts. Each arrow had its own more detailed plan, we were told, as did each triangle. A full interactive 100-page document breaking this down was available and was being continually updated on the CPA Intranet. And it had been already briefed 'to the highest levels in Washington'. ...
There was a silence and then a general said, 'I'm sorry. Did I misunderstand you? Did you just say that you have briefed this plan to the highest levels in Washington without consulting any one of us round this table?
Bremer cut in. 'General, there has been an extensive consultation process - parts of the plan have been shown to people all over Iraq - all the relevant departments have been canvassed.'
'Well, I sure as hell know that I haven't seen it,' said the general. 'Has anyone else seen it in this room? Any of my military colleagues?' Heads shook. 'Any of the governors?' We civilians shook our heads. 'You don't think you should have shown it to some of us?'
'We are showing it to you now'.
A page later...
The American governor from Najaf cut in, 'I cannot travel and I have a staff of eight to cover a province of more than a million. We are lucky to even feed ourselves. There is no way we can achieve one-tenth of those things. And my office has no access to the CPA Intranet, so how are we supposed to see the plans?'
'Neither do we,' came a chorus from round the room.
Get the book, you won't know whether to laugh or cry at the stupidity, but you will understand why it's all gone wrong. Don't think the Iraqis will be too disappointed at not having electronic trading on their Stock Exchange yet.