For the war in Afghanistan, President Obama has laid out a clear mantra. “Investments will be based on performance. The era of the blank check is over,” he said late last year, upon announcing the latest Afghan strategy. He was speaking specifically about funding that went to the Afghan government. Without results, he said, no check. (Since then, the results have been, at least initially, disappointing, and the checks keep getting signed.)
The Mexican war against narcotraffickers is another matter, altogether. Through a program called the Merida Initiative, U.S. taxpayers will spend $1.3 billion between 2008 and 2010 on equipment–helicopters, dogs, biometric scanners, etc.–and training for Mexican forces. But there are, according to a new report from the Government Accountability Office, no clear metrics for performance in the program. “In general, [The State Department's] performance measures do not align with existing strategic goals, do not provide measurable targets, and do not measure outcomes,” the report found.
Clearly Mexico’s war on its own drug mafias, which is at best a mixed success, is not as high a priority for the White House as the war in Afghanistan. But there is otherwise no clear reason why one effort to fund a foreign government in a wartime should demand high standards of accountability, while another does not require any clear standards.
Back in May, after a visit to the White House by Mexican President Felipe Calderone, I asked Press Secretary Robert Gibbs if there was any evaluation going on about the metrics of progress in the Mexican drug war. Gibbs said that he did not believe there was any discussion of pressuring the Mexican government to change strategy. “I do not believe — and I will again, I’ll check with our Mexico guys — whether or not a discussion of changing that strategy was part of these discussions,” Gibbs answered. Two months later, thanks to the GAO, we now know that the Obama Administration is not even collecting data that would allow for an evaluation of the effectiveness of U.S. funding to fight the Mexican drug war.