Thursday, August 30, 2007

The GAO, The Washington Post, and Iraqi Progress

Today, The Washington Post leaked a report by the Congressionally mandated GAO about progress in Iraq...

The headline is "Report Finds Little Progress On Iraq Goals". The report of this leak has become the story of the day in the media.

"has failed to meet all but three of 18 congressionally mandated benchmarks for
political and military progress, according to a draft of a Government Accountability Office report. The document questions whether some aspects of a more positive assessment by the White House last month adequately reflected the range of views the GAO found within the administration.

The strikingly negative GAO draft, which will be delivered to Congress in final form on Tuesday, comes as the White House prepares to deliver its own new benchmark
report in the second week of September, along with congressional testimony from
Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, and Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker. They are expected to describe significant security improvements and offer at least some promise for political reconciliation in Iraq"

The usual suspects of the left wing have also run with this report...

"Yet another report documenting benchmark failures. From the WaPo: This joins
the NIE (Report Offers Grim View of Iraqi Leaders) as official analysis of progress in Iraq, before the WH-written "Petraeus Report" is issued (and kudos for the WaPo for calling it what it)"

To say that the GAO report was a stacked deck would frankly be stating the obvious. The key word is Congressionally mandated. In other words, Congress, currently controlled by anti war Democrats, created this commission to measure progress in Iraq. They certainly did stack the deck. First, the benchmarks used by the GAO were set up over a year ago. The situation on the ground has changed. The surge is producing bottom up security and political progress. This means that most of the progress is being met on the grassroots level. The GAO report is measuring progress on the national level. Well, you know the old say, there is more than one way to get to California. Second, in order for a benchmark to be met, it must be completed. The surge is in full swing for two months, is this really fair or realistic? Is it any wonder that this commission has found a remarkable lack of progress?
Bill Kristol, at the Weekly Standard, picks it up...

"The Post reporters--both strongly anti-Iraq war--characterize the GAO judgments
as "strikingly negative." But there's nothing striking about them. The Democratic Congress ensured that the report would deliver negative "grades" for the Iraqi government by asking the GAO to evaluate whether or not the benchmarks have been met now--just two months after the major combat operations of the surge began.

For the report from the White House, Congress asked the administration to detail if the Iraqis are making "sufficient progress." But Congress asked the GAO, by contrast, to report if the Iraqis had "completed" the benchmarks. This ridiculous standard was a Congressional trap that forced the GAO to waste time and taxpayer money to come out with a pre-ordained and meaningless judgment, since no one ever promised or expected that the Iraqis would have met the benchmarks by now. And the GAO report doesn't really shed light on the key question: Are the Iraqis making progress?"

So, in other words, Congress created 18 benchmarks and in order to meet the benchmarks, the benchmarks had to be completed two months after all of the forces are in place. Now, is anyone surprised only a handful have been completed? Talk about stacking the deck. The anti-war Democrats want everything to go from chaos to completion in six months, and if not, they would consider that failure.

Kristol continues,

"And what are the benchmarks that Congress set up? Do they include criteria
that matter? No. Grassroots political progress? Not in the GAO report. The turn
of the Sunnis against the insurgency? Not in the GAO report. The stabilization
of Anbar province? Not in the GAO report. And progress against al Qaeda--the
single most vital and direct American national interest in Iraq? Not in the GAO

The benchmarks they do use are often absurd. To take one example: "Increasing the number of Iraqi security forces units capable of operating independently." This is particularly silly. No one expected that Iraqi military units would surpass the capabilities of our NATO allies, most of which are also unable to operate fully" independently" of the American military. The question, again, is whether the Iraqi Security Forces are improving. Here the GAO's portrayal of Iraqi forces as having made no progress, at least as reported in the Post, is contradicted by mounds of evidence from knowledgeable observers."

Only time will tell if this will in any way shape the debate. That said, Kristol is confident...

"Here's the good news: If this is the best war opponents have to offer, the administration is in amazingly good shape going into September."

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