Thinking in terms of Effectiveness
By Tawfik Hamid
It is very common to hear the word 'funds' bandied about by both US governmental and non-governmental organizations. This is fully understandable since dollars are vital for making things happen. What is really not understandable is the lack of use of the word 'effectiveness' in relation to the use of these funds, as the effective use of funds is at least as important as the funds themselves.
Consider the chess player who thinks only of the number of pieces he has at his disposal, without paying attention to the value of each piece, and how he will employ them to win the game. He utterly misses the strategic beauty of chess. It is common knowledge that excellent chess players can win games with far fewer pieces than their opponents because they know how to use each piece effectively.
Our approach to budgets in the US today is not unlike the approach of the unskilled chess player; we seem to care far more for large numbers than effective use of funds. We throw tremendous resources at problems, but apparently with little regard for the effective use of the dollars.
Let's look at a few examples from our dealings with Radical Islam to illustrate this strange disregard for effectiveness in the use of money.
Despite having spent many billions of dollars in hopes of improving the image of the United States in the Muslim world-under the banner of winning hearts and minds-results have been far less than spectacular. It would have been much more effective to simply link US aid to the governments of Muslim countries (such as Egypt and Pakistan, for example) to measurable improvement of our image in these countries. Had we insisted on such quid pro quo, these governments would have taken extreme measures to improve the US image in their nations-without our spending a dime more than we had already earmarked. Money talks. As governments in these countries control education and major media outlets, and as they naturally understand their own culture far better than we ever could, their sincere efforts to improve our image would have been substantially more effective than anything we could possibly contrive.
In the same vein, had we spent money translating constructive US movies (such as the recently released "Lincoln"), or positive ceremonies (such as the "the Horatio Alger Award") into Arabic, and distributing them throughout the Arab media, we would very likely have achieved far more impressive results in terms of improving our image in this part of the world than having spent millions of dollars to create such propaganda failures as "Hi Magazine."
The war in Afghanistan is another example of the blatantly ineffective use of our dollars. For more than 10 years the US has spent many billions of dollars to defeat the Taliban and Al-Qaeda. Very few people would describe America as triumphant in this rather expensive little adventure. By 2014, US troops are likely to be back at home and the Taliban is likely to be back in control of Afghanistan. In other words, while the US will have spent more than a trillion dollars, and sacrificed thousands of American lives in its military operations, the Taliban-with minimal resources-is likely to emerge victorious.
It is hard to believe that the United States, with its absolute military superiority over the Taliban, has failed after 10 years of continuous fighting to achieve crystal clear victory over the Islamic Radicals. This failure was not because we failed to spend enough money on the war, but rather because we failed to use effective ideological, educational, and psychological operations to defeat the ideology that creates new Jihadists, and to break them psychologically. Had we used effective tactics, we could have achieved clear victory in this war quicker and with much less loss. Ironically, the Taliban seem to have used their very limited and primitive resources much more effectively than we did with our vast, almost unlimited resources.
Another example of our ineffective use of resources is our failed attempts to promote democracy in the Muslim world. Hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent to support several NGOs in this endeavor. The unfortunate outcome of their efforts to promote ballot democracy in these societies-without first changing the population's way of thinking-has allowed the rise of Islamo-fascism, which is less democratic and more difficult to remove than military dictatorships.
Many of the pro-democracy groups, for example, who were supported by the US government, set the removal of our military allies as their first priority while turning a blind eye to the Islamo-fascism that was likely to occur afterwards. Adopting wiser methods with the Middle East and the Arab world-such as a multi-stage democracy (which was suggested years before the "Arab Spring"), which starts with fighting Radical Islam, then implementing education that promotes peaceful coexistence, and ultimately the use of the ballot-might have resulted in more successful democratic reforms in the Middle East than the Sudden Democracy Syndrome (SDS) that was adopted willy-nilly by these organizations.
In this context, it is important to evaluate whether it is wise to use US taxpayer dollars to support the Muslim Brotherhood-led government in Egypt while it shamelessly-as uttered by Mohamed Morsi, its new Islamist president-expresses pathological levels of anti-Semitic views and promotes a boycott of US products, ultimately weakening our influence in the region. It is also important to examine whether it is a wise use of our money for the US administration to continue to pay the same advisors who told us that the Muslim Brotherhood is a 'moderate' group.
Another example of the ineffective use of money in the war on Radical Islam is the way in which human rights groups report corporal punishment in Sharia-controlled societies. Theirs is a great and important effort, but their tactics are not very effective in ending the problem in the Muslim world. Using aversion psychological tactics would be far more effective. Translating and widely distributing the stoning scene from the movie The Stoning of Suria M across the Muslim world would have far more psychological impact in exposing the barbarism of Sharia corporal punishment than generically reporting Women Rights abuses.
Another example of the poor use of public money is our support for incorrect interpretations of the data in research into Radical Islam. Last year the Center for Strategic Communication at Arizona State University published a paper entitled, "How Islamist Extremists Quote the Qur'an" which was based on analysis of the most frequently cited (or quoted) verses in the Center's database of over 2,000 Islamic extremist texts. The research[i] was funded by a grant from the Office of Naval Research, and was intended to provide a qualitative analysis of the historical contexts and core narrative components of the cited passages. While the authors mentioned the Chapters (Suras) and verse numbers of the Qur'anic verses that were used to conduct their research, they avoided mentioning in the report the context of most of these verses.
The researchers concluded that verses the extremists cite from the Qur'an do not suggest an "aggressive offensive foe seeking domination and conquest of unbelievers, as is commonly assumed. Instead they deal with themes of victimization, dishonor, and retribution." This conclusion could have huge implications for the US government's War on Terror. And it is wrong. The authors' conclusion was based on a few select verses; they just simply ignored the many other verses in the Qur'an which do not support their views.
Mentioning the exact phrases and the full text of the verses would have resulted in a completely different conclusion. Most of the verses that were actually used by the radicals in this research (but their text was not mentioned in the paper) do not actually talk about grievances. In fact, the verses that could be interpreted as expressing grievances by the authors represent only about 14% of the total verses when their original Arabic text is used. Most of the rest-or more than 75% of the verses-encourage hatred, supremacy, violence, and martyrdom. This illustrates how the wrong interpretation of data used in government-supported researches results in really bad use of our taxes. Indeed, it may be counterproductive as it is likely to result in totally inappropriate policies for addressing a problem.
Several reasons may be behind the ineffective use of our public funds in the War on Terror. On one hand, it may simply represent ignorance. On the other hand, it may actually be intentional by some groups, as solving the problems would bring an end to their funding. It's a frightening and cynical possibility, but it needs to be seriously investigated because if the ineffective use of our money is tolerated in the vital national security arena of fighting Islamist terrorism, then all hope of containing endemic wastefulness in our government must surely be lost.
Increasing our debt limits without improving our effectiveness in using our money can ONLY have limited and transient effect. Thinking in terms of effectiveness rather than just numbers when dealing with public funds, could not only help solve many of the problems that we face today, but could also perhaps free up funds to support other useful and productive projects. We need to start thinking like the chess masters.