“Administration Shaving Yardstick for Iraq Gains.” That’s the headline of today’s print edition of the Washington Post. “Yarkstick-shaving” sounds like cheating, and I assume that’s the Post’s intent. What’s actually going on?
According to Karen DeYoung and Thomas Ricks, the Iraqi government has not yet met the political security goals and timelines President Bush set forth in January when he announced the “surge.” Nor have the additional benchmarks adopted by Congress been fulfilled. But the adminsitration’s report to Congress nonetheless will note the things that have been accomplished since the surge began. They include the turning of tribal leaders in Anbar province against al-Qaeda, a reduction in sectarian killings, and the Iraqi government’s agreement to a unified response to the bombing of a major religious shrine.
This is exactly what the administration should be doing in its report to Congress. So far as appears from the Post’s story, the administration will honestly lay out for Congress what has and has not been accomplished since the surge began. It will then be up to Congress to decide whether to continue funding the war.
Those who will vote for the U.S. to take a defeat in Iraq and for Iraq to pay the consequences of that defeat will use the failure to meet benchmarks as their pretext. The strange forumulation of Post’s story is best understood as as effort by DeYoung and Ricks to enable this argument.
But rational decision-making proceeds differently. The proper issue in deciding whether to pursue a policy is not just whether the policy is meeting a particular list of objectives. The proper issue is what the costs and benefits of the policy are, and how they compare to the costs and benefits of alternative policies. This requires one to consider, for example, whether the gains against al-Qaeda in Anbar province will be reversed if the U.S. disengages and, if so, what the cost of a resurgent al-Qaeda there will be.
This is the kind of inquiry that a growing number of legislators hope, with cover from the MSM, to short-circuit.
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