We don't need more money to defeat ISIS. We need more stats.
© Getty Images


With an increased defense budget on the horizon, it is important to keep in mind that we cannot spend our way to victory against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in Iraq or Syria. This was the logic behind owner George Steinbrenner's New York Yankees outspending their opponents, yet still losing to Billy Beane's upstart Oakland A's in 2002.

Similarly, when it comes to defeating violent groups such as ISIS, the military needs more "Moneyball" — that is, better data and metrics to assess what it means to achieve "victory."

Like Michael Lewis's bestseller, the book "Moneyball for Government" — edited by former Office of Management and Budget (OMB) directors Jim Nussle and Peter Orszag — made the case for using evidence to improve the outcomes of government programs in order to maximize the effectiveness of limited taxpayer dollars.

The same methodology can apply to the military and its war against ISIS to help avoid the massive waste of resources documented by U.S. auditors during past U.S.-led operations in Iraq. This requires a mix of both data-driven and intuitive (non-quantitative) assessments.

Too often, the military focuses on the latter approach, as shown by an emphasis on heroic go-with-their-gut figures such as Gen. George Patton. But to win in this new type of warfare, we need impact evaluations that tell us what is working and what isn't.

Vastly different approaches will work in different contexts. What we perceive as a beneficial approach may have in fact have opposite, unintended, and costly effects.

This approach requires specialized expertise. The military will require help outside the rank and file, such as the empirical social sciences, to help flesh out our understanding of the outcomes of operations.

The failure of past programs such as the Human Terrain System, which paired anthropologists versed in the local culture with soldiers on the front lines, should not deter the U.S. military from embracing outside experts — just as statisticians were not welcome at first in the bullpen.

Ultimately, field commanders need the analytical tools that allow them to pursue the highest payoff activities in terms of the ultimate objective: improving our security at home by achieving greater stability in trouble spots overseas.

Take the current fight for Mosul, Iraq, and the upcoming war for Raqqa, ISIS's capital in Syria. These are messy and complex military operations in unfamiliar terrain against an enemy willing to use human shields, suicide bombs and chemical weapons.

To avoid the violent aftermath that previously came in the wake of major combat operations in both Iraq and Afghanistan — and made victory both murky and elusive — simply defeating ISIS militarily is not the ultimate endstate.

We need to create conditions that produce a functioning local government and prevent ISIS 2.0. To do this, the military needs to establish the right metrics to define victory.

First, the metrics are different for each phase of the war. A key lesson from the "Global War on Terrorism" is that we can win every battle in a war, but if we fail to consolidate hard-fought gains, we will lose the peace.

Second, killing ISIS fighters is a necessary part of the war, particularly in the early stages, but will not achieve the ultimate desired outcome of sustainable stability in Mosul.

Indeed, enemy-focused metrics become less important over time. As joint military doctrine highlights, there will be a shift in phases, from "dominate" to "stabilize" and ultimately to the "enable civil authority" phase, but transitions can be tough to identify.

Traditional measures of battlefield success quickly become insufficient and often counterproductive, as noted in the 2006 Army/Marines manual on counterinsurgency operations.

Finally, winning the "war" and winning the "peace" require two vastly different approaches; the right metrics can guide the optimal approach. The battlefield can transform overnight.

In the past, we saw the enemy change from an organized military force to something more amorphous: civil instability or lawlessness or a humanitarian crisis. As we learned from past U.S.-led operations in Iraq, this can be the most difficult phase as it requires a rapid shift in tactics. Failure to make this shift in 2003 contributed to the rise of a pernicious insurgency.

After recognizing the post-invasion insurgency that developed in Iraq, then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld shifted course in 2005, issuing a directive that placed stability operations on par with combat operations.

Despite this emphasis, stability operations remained extremely difficult, particularly in urban areas and when units lacked sufficient training. Military units can find it difficult to "flip the switch" between traditional combat and stability operations.

A moneyball approach will also help the military find the optimal mix of tactics, which involves some mix of kinetic and non-kinetic operations. Non-kinetic operations do not consist of throwing massive amounts of money at reconstruction. Research suggests that a more evidence-based approach can be less expensive and more effective.

The U.S. military faces numerous national security challenges ahead. More money will not defeat ISIS. But more reliable metrics and a data-driven measurement of victory will.

Maj. Jonathan Bate is an economics instructor in the Department of Social Sciences at West Point and a scholar with the Modern War Institute. Maj. John Spencer is an instructor in the Department of Military Instruction and scholar with the Modern War Institute. The views expressed herein are those of the authors and do not reflect the position of the United States Military Academy, the Department of the Army or the Department of Defense.

The views of contributors are their own and not the views of The Hill.