Lag the dog

The White House has released its Initial Benchmark Assessment Report to Congress. The report assesses whether satisfactory progress has been made with respect to a series of benchmarks established by Congress.
As one would expect of an honest assessment in this context, the report finds that progress is satisfactory in some areas and unsatisfactory in others. In essence, the administration reports that progress on the security front exceeds progress on the political front.
This was to be expected. The theory behind the “surge” is that substantial improvement in the security situation constitutes a prerequisite for political progress. That’s because Sunni and Shia politicians won’t reconcile when sectarian violence is rife. Under this theory, political improvement, especially at the national level, will lag behind improvements in security.
There is no guarantee, of course, that the Iraqis will make significant political progress even if security improves. However, it’s plausible to think that they will. Therefore, it would make little sense to abandon the present course merely because congressional benchmarks for measuring political progress in Iraq have not yet been met. If the surge is producing progress on the security front, which appears to be the case, then the most sensible course is to continue to accrue these gains. If political progress fails to follow, we can consider our options at that time.
The report concludes with a list of “core objectives” for 2007 and 2008. The are:

Defeat al-Qaida and its supporters and ensure that no terrorist safe haven exists in Iraq.
Support Iraqi efforts to quell sectarian violence in Baghdad and regain control over the capital.
Ensure the territorial integrity of Iraq and counter/limit destructive Iranian and Syrian activity in Iraq.
Help safeguard democracy in Iraq by encouraging strong democratic institutions impartially serving all Iraqis and preventing the return of the forces of tyranny.
Foster the conditions for Iraqi national reconciliation but with the Iraqi Government clearly in the lead.
Continue to strengthen Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) and accelerate the transition of security responsibility to the Iraqi Government.
Encourage an expanding Iraqi economy, including by helping Iraq maintain and expand its export of oil to support Iraqi development.
Promote support for Iraq from its neighbors, the region, and the international community.

These objectives, not Congress’s rather arbitrary benchmarks, represent the proper yardstick for measuring progress in Iraq going forward.
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