Tuesday, September 4, 2007

The Iraqi government doesn't pass the GAO's test, even when it awards partial credit

The non-partisan Government Accountability Office (GAO) has just released its assessment of the Iraqi government's progress toward meeting 18 mandated benchmarks. The GAO reports that the Iraqis only met three of the benchmarks, partially met another four, and failed to meet the remaining 11. In fact, in some areas, such as the number of Iraqi security forces that are able to operate independently, the government has moved backwards. In my classes, missing 15 out of 18 would get a failing grade--even with partial credit for some of the outcomes AND a generous curve.

The report is consistent with last month's National Intelligence Estimate, which cited some progress in Iraq's security situation as a result of the military surge but little progress (and scant hope for progress) in the country's political situation. It is also not all that different from the administration's own interim assessment, which looked at progress toward meeting benchmarks rather than actual success and STILL found the Iraqis to be lacking in about half of the areas.

As Congress now begins to consider whether to fund a continuation of the surge, we can expect the Bush administration to resume doing what it has done all along during this conflict, which is to move the goalposts and to throw its previous statements down the memory hole.

For instance, it is doubtful that the administration will point out that all of these benchmarks originally came from the Iraqi government itself.

Nor should we expect the administration to remind us that in announcing the surge policy on January 10, President Bush said

A successful strategy for Iraq goes beyond military operations. Ordinary Iraqi citizens must see that military operations are accompanied by visible improvements in their neighborhoods and communities. So America will hold the Iraqi government to the benchmarks it has announced.

To establish its authority, the Iraqi government plans to take responsibility for security in all of Iraq's provinces by November. To give every Iraqi citizen a stake in the country's economy, Iraq will pass legislation to share oil revenues among all Iraqis. To show that it is committed to delivering a better life, the Iraqi government will spend $10 billion of its own money on reconstruction and infrastructure projects that will create new jobs. To empower local leaders, Iraqis plan to hold provincial elections later this year. And to allow more Iraqis to re-enter their nation's political life, the government will reform de-Baathification laws, and establish a fair process for considering amendments to Iraq's constitution.

Over and over, the administration has justified the surge in terms of giving the Iraqis "breathing space" to achieve political reconciliation. For instance, in an April meeting with Gen. Petraeus, the President said "These troops are all aimed (my emphasis) at helping the Iraqi government find the breathing space necessary to do what the people want them to do, and that is to reconcile and move forward with a government of and by and for the Iraqi people."

The surge puts U.S. troops at risk and its continuation can only be justified if it leads to long-term, lasting gains. Those political gains, which the Iraqi and U.S. government set out as benchmarks, are as distant as ever. With no reconciliation on the horizon and the exhaustion of our troops only a few months away, it is time to call an end to this painful experiment by first ending the surge and then by further reducing troop levels and redeploying our forces within Iraq. As brave and courageous as they are, the troops cannot do the political work of the Iraqi government. The Iraqis must begin the terrible work of sorting out their differences without our troops as a prop or buffer.