Michael McBride
Posted: Sep 07, 2007 10:49 PM

Benchmarks, smenchmarks

Next week, before, during, and after General Petraeus’ testimony on the Surge I’ll be glued to the TV hanging on every word from every “military expert” that the MSM can bring to denounce the General and his assessment of the Surge. I’ll make popcorn and throw my foam brick at the TV over and over, until finally, mercifully, the drone of negativism will numb my mind, and I will change channels to something more enlightening, like re-runs of I Love Lucy, Rosie highlights from The View 2006-2007, or the best of Jerry Springer.

My ears will be pained every time I hear the word “benchmark.” “Benchmark” will likely become the most used, and over-used word of 2007 and of the 2008 campaign for President. It is being embraced by the left because they view it as a word that puts the right in a vise, and gives them a ticket to the White House in 2008.

They will spew “benchmarks” from their lips as often as possible in the hopes of painting our efforts in Iraq as futile and wasteful. You will hear it more often than you hear “You are NOT the father,” on the Maury show. It will become the mantra for the anti-war left and it will drive the Democratic Party to take an “out by Christmas” stance on Iraq. It will become the rallying word for quitters and defeatists.

As you can tell I am not high on benchmarks. And for lots of reasons.

Mostly the “benchmarks” we are talking about are artificial goals, laid out by a Congress half a world removed from the situation, that are being pressed against an unspoken timetable, and are expected to meet an overlay of either a constant or identity function graph, where x is time and y is either a constant linear presentation of successes evenly distributed over time, or where increases in all areas are to be achieved at a constant and equal rate over time. Either way, these benchmarks are abject failures in determining what our ultimate success in Iraq will be.

For nothing in nature; nothing with a high number of variables; nothing where more than one human is involved, moves in a straight line along some predictable timetable. Benchmarks are for micro-managers who understand little of the real world.

Benchmarks fail to take into account the vagaries of human activity against the inertia of time and history. They fail miserably to predict, account for, or prove to be the driving force behind the thousands of things that turn out successfully everyday.

By the standards of the left, we should abandon all hope for Albert Gore III and his fight against drug abuse, since he has failed to meet many of the “benchmarks” set for his recovery. Same for Lindsey Lohan, Brittany Spears, and hundreds of thousands of others who fail to meet the linear nature of pre-set benchmarks. By their plotting, we should abandon them to the fate of nature when they deviate from their programs.

Well, perhaps many of us already have, but the left is always carping for understanding and second chances, so why are they so anxious to deny the Iraqi people some additional chances for freedom and Democracy?

I don’t think benchmarks work well on twelve-step programs.

By the standards of the left, once a trend is established in a sporting event, the game should be called off. Perhaps a one goal lead for ten minutes would be enough of a benchmark and a graph point to determine who the eventual winner of a hockey game should be, even though the game may be only part way through the first period.

But it is the unpredictable human element that keeps us playing the game until the clock runs out. It is the potential for the team that is behind to make critical and timely adjustments, that keeps us in the stands. And it is the execution of those adjustments that gives us the great comebacks in sports.

I am not much for benchmarks in sports. I am for competing to a conclusion.

By the standards of the left, the concepts of alternative high schools, the “five-year plan” for college, the failure to be on some identity graph line of position/pay, would signal a failure in life and drive the need for the individual to withdraw from society to some hermit-like existence, in order to contemplate his failings.

Benchmarks do not take into consideration adaptability, learning-curves, recovery from failure, or myriad of human elements that explain why people achieve things in different ways or along different timelines.

I am not high on benchmarks in life.

I particularly dislike linear benchmarks for the execution of combat operations and war.

Wars often find themselves moving more along an exponential curve, where initial progress is slow as opponents assess and probe each others’ strengths and weaknesses. Tactics and strategies evolve, and eventually successes are attained and momentum created. And often, exploitation of success accelerates a push to ultimate victory that far outstrips the vision of even the most optimistic of planners.

To many, the progress following the D-Day landings was slow and laborious. And indeed it was, but in combination with the Army’s success in getting out of the hedgerows, and overcoming the setbacks surrounding Bastogne, the Army began to rapidly move along the steeper rise of an exponential curve, and along a faster timetable than ever envisioned on any linear benchmark postulated during planning, finishing up in Europe far sooner than expected.

It is often that way with human endeavors - overcoming inertia requires a tremendous expenditure of energy, but once the object is moving, sustaining or accelerating movement requires less and less force.

Marines landing on Guadalcanal in August of 1942 would have far exceeded the benchmarks for the first two days following the landing, but would’ve slipped well off the line shortly thereafter. Only a commitment to, and a belief in ultimate success held off failure through some very grim times.

Oh, and by the way, the landing on Guadalcanal, the first land counter-offensive in the Pacific theater, came a full nine months after Pearl Harbor, and took six months to complete. Our ultimate success in the Pacific was achieved a mere thirty months later. Thirty months that included landings in Tarawa, Makin, New Guinea, Bougainville, Solomon Islands, Marshal Islands, Saipan, Guam, Tinian, Leyte, Philippines Iwo Jima, Corregidor, and Okinawa. Hardly a straight line plot of success across time.

The benchmark-challenged Guadalcanal campaign set the stage, and started the momentum in the Pacific in a positive direction.

Just as the Surge is doing in Iraq.

The results of the Surge to date are no guarantee for ultimate success, but they are not the harbinger of defeat either, far from it. The results next week will show that an adaptation to the situation by our commanders in the field is yielding success and that this is not time to abandon the Iraqi people and leave them to a fate at least comparable to the Cambodians post-Vietnam.

It is time to recognize that the most innovative and adaptable forces in the world have finally overcome the inertia in Iraq and that no kind of McNamara-esque, politically established set of measureables or timetables will help us “calculate” where it is we “should” be to date in Iraq. If we commit to victory we will have it, as it has been throughout our history.

General Petreaus, and his successes to date, have earned him the chance to play his plan through…a plan agreed upon by Congress when they sent him and extra troops to Iraq.

If Congress is all that hot for benchmarks, let them set some benchmarks for completing Social Security reform, and we’ll see how well they do in comparison.

That is a benchmark I could support.