John’s points about the GAO’s report on Iraq are well-taken. It’s also important to remember that (1) the GAO analysis is tied to benchmarks set by a Democratic Congress and (2) these benchmarks are not terribly germane to judging our progress in this war.
Consider what Congress did not include. There’s no benchmark relating to driving al Qaeda out of Anbar province or for enlisting Sunni tribesmen in the fight against al Qaeda. There’s no benchmark relating to killing foreign terrorists or stopping them from entering Iraq. There’s no benchmark for curbing Moqtada al-Sadr’s militia or limiting his influence. Yet al Qaeda, foreign terrorists generally, and Sadr represent (along with Iran) our main enemies in Iraq. Only the Democrats could “benchmark” a war effort without reference to how we’re doing against our enemies.
It may also be worth noting that the gap between the GAO’s assessment and that of the White House is not that great, despite claims by the Washington Post (for example) to the contrary. There are 18 benchmarks. There are only three which the White House found have been met (“satisfactory”) and the GAO found are “unmet.” They are: “reviewing changes to the Iraqi constitution,” “providing three trained and ready Iraqi brigades to support Baghdad operations,” and “ensuring the Baghdad security plan will not provide a haven for any outlaws, regardless of sectarian or political affiliation.” As to the second benchmark — the provision of Iraqi brigades for Baghdad security operations — the GAO agrees the forces have been provided, but disagrees with the White House about their quality.
The real question, though, is whether the failure to meet these various benchmarks means that the U.S. should accept defeat in a war it is not losing, discontinue operations that have turned the tide against al Qaeda, and allow the slaughter of Iraqis in heightened sectarian violence. It’s difficult to see how the fact that Iraq hasn’t passed a new hydrocarbons law, for example, or hasn’t provided three brigades in Baghdad that satisfy the GAO, or hasn’t fully spent $10 billion in revenue for reconstruction, could justify such an irresponsible course. Indeed, it strikes me as scandalous that the Democrats would try to inflict a defeat on the U.S. and a bloodbath on Iraq through the use of benchmarks that are largely beside the primary point in the context of a war.
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