Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Measuring Success in Iraq

Frederick Kagan, in the Weekly Standard, provides a nice analysis of the Government Accounting Office's recent pessimistic report on progress in Iraq.

Kagan argues that the report is badly flawed in its focus on benchmarks that are unrepresentative of the changing security situation on the ground:

The GAO report reflects everything that has been wrong with the discussion about Iraq since the end of 2006. Through no fault of the GAO's, the organization was sent on a fool's errand by Congress. Its mandate was not to evaluate progress in Iraq, but to determine whether or not the Iraqi government had met the 18 benchmarks. As a result, as the report repeatedly notes, the GAO was forced to fit an extraordinarily complicated reality into a black-and-white, yes-or-no simplicity. In addition, the GAO's remit extended only to evaluating progress on the Congressionally-sanctioned 18 benchmarks, 14 of which were established between eight and 11 months ago in a very different context. As a result, the report ignores completely a number of crucial positive developments that were not foreseen when the benchmarks were established and that, in fact, offer the prospect of a way forward that is much more likely to succeed than the year-old, top-down concept the GAO was told to measure. As the situation in Iraq has been changing dynamically over the past eight months, as American strategy and operations, both military and political, have been adjusting on the ground to new realities, the debate in Washington has remained mired in the preconceptions and approaches of 2006. The GAO report epitomizes this fact.

A number of commentators have already pointed out the absurdity of measuring whether or not the Iraqis had accomplished benchmarks rather than considering their progress toward doing so. Even the GAO found that task ridiculous, which is why, after criticism from the Departments of State and Defense, it invented the category of "partially met" as a third option, a category not foreseen in the legislation mandating the report.

One of the most striking things about the GAO Report is its failure to take adequate notice of the Anbar Awakening and the general movement within the Sunni Arab community against Al Qaeda In Iraq and toward the Coalition. "Anbar" appears twice in the document, both times in a comment noting that violence has fallen in that province, but without reference to the turn of the Sunni population against the terrorists. That omission is unfathomable considering the significance of the movement among Sunnis over precisely the time in which the GAO was researching and producing this report. During the same period in which the report's authors note that they were in Iraq, I was also in Iraq, and received detailed briefings on the Sunni movement not only in Anbar, but also in Diyala, Baghdad, and Babil provinces. It is difficult to imagine that the GAO authors did not receive similar briefings, but even harder to understand why, if they did, they made no mention of the phenomenon. Of course, the Congressionally-mandated benchmarks take no account of the grassroots Sunni movement, and so made it difficult for the GAO to bring them into the picture.

Read the whole thing. Kagan provide a compelling case against the report, focusing not only on the GAO, but on the Congress itself, which is just jonesing for some negative studies on which to mount a smear campaign against the Petraeus Report out this month.

War opponents just lap up any negative news coming out of Iraq, and they're resistant to any indicators that confirm military assessments of improving conditions in defeating al Qaeda and sectarian insurgents.

Here's an example: Representative Barbara Lee, a San Franciso Democrat, and the only Member of Congress from either chamber to vote against the authorization of force after 9/11, has an attack on the administration's Iraq policy in today's San Francisco Chronicle:

What the debate about military progress really does is serve as a distraction - a smokescreen - put forth by an administration that finds it rhetorically convenient to speak in terms of "victory" and "defeat."

It serves to obscure the basic, fundamental fact that there is no military solution to the situation in Iraq. Our troops are trapped in a civil war and occupation, a situation where there can be no "victory." Our continued presence there is not only breaking our military, it is undermining our national security and our efforts to fight international terrorism.

Members of the Bush administration understand this, just as they understand that there are no pretty or clean options for bringing a responsible end to our policy there. They are content to mouth the words of victory while they try to run out the clock, playing a cynical game of political "chicken," where whoever acts to bring a responsible end to their failed policy will be accused of having lost Iraq.

Lee's sentiment represents much of the hard-line radical opinion of U.S. prospects in the war.

The U.S. and Iraqi forces have reached a critical stage in beating back al Qaeda, crushing sectarian barbarianism, and building indigenous tribal support for the mission. The Democrats and their hard-line antiwar allies will continue to ignore the new realities on the ground.

A victory over the nihilist forces intent to destroy Iraq's infant democracy is entirely reachable at this point. One would think that the Democrats would be cheering the hard work of all the security personnel fighting for a better Iraq future. Instead, we see more and more inventive ways to smear the adminstration and poison public opinion, just as we are closing in on our goals.

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