You Call That Progress?
The outrageous White House report on Iraq.
The White House report released today, on how far Iraq has progressed toward 18 political and military benchmarks, is a sham.
According to the report, which was required by Congress, progress has been "satisfactory" on eight of the benchmarks, "unsatisfactory" on another eight, and mixed on two. At his press conference this morning, President Bush, seeing the glass half full, pronounced the report "a cause for optimism"—and for staying on course.
Yet a close look at the 25-page report reveals a far more dismal picture and a deliberately distorted assessment. The eight instances of "satisfactory" progress are not at all satisfactory by any reasonable measure—or, in some cases, they indicate a purely procedural advance. The eight "unsatisfactory" categories concern the central issues of Iraqi politics—the disputes that must be resolved if Iraq is to be a viable state and if the U.S. mission is to have the slightest chance of success.
Here are the benchmarks at which, even the White House acknowledges, the Iraqi government has not made satisfactory progress:
- Legislation on de-Baathification reform
- Legislation to ensure equitable distribution of oil revenue without regard to sect or ethnicity
- Setting up provincial elections
- Establishing a strong militia-disarmament program
- Allowing Iraqi commanders to pursue militias without political interference
- Ensuring that the Iraqi army and police enforce the law evenhandedly
- Increasing the number of Iraqi security forces capable of operating independently (here, the number has actually gone down)
- Ensuring that Iraq's political authorities are not undermining or making false accusations against members of Iraqi security forces
The status of former Baathists, distribution of oil revenue, local elections, disarming militias, sectarianism within the police, the legitimacy of the national army—these are the main issues grinding the parliament to a standstill, aggravating ethnic conflict, and forcing millions of Iraqis to flee the country. These are the issues that the Iraqi political leaders are supposed to be resolving while American troops fight and die to make Baghdad secure.
Yet the White House is admitting that the Iraqis have made no real progress on any of these fronts.
In its legislation requiring this report, Congress stated, "The United States strategy in Iraq, hereafter, shall be conditioned on the Iraqi government meeting [these 18] benchmarks." Yet even on the eight benchmarks that it admits are not met, the White House report explicitly denies the need to change strategy.
The report's account of the eight supposedly successful benchmarks is, on inspection, no less dismaying.
Take Benchmark No. 1: "Forming a Constitutional Review Committee and then completing the constitutional review." The report admits that Iraq's "political blocs still need to reach an accommodation on these difficult political issues." (The report neglects to point out that many of the Sunni blocs are boycotting the parliament.) And yet it declares that the Iraqi government has made "satisfactory progress" because the constitutional review is "now underway."
Fred Kaplan is Slate's "War Stories" columnist and author of the book, The Insurgents: David Petraeus and the Plot to Change the American Way of War. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter.
Photograph of George Bush by Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP Photo.