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A Pathetic Preemptive Strike By: William Kristol
The Weekly Standard | Friday, August 31, 2007


The Washington Post, working hand-in-glove with Democrats in Congress, has gotten out front in preparing the domestic battlefield for September's fight over the war in Iraq. The Post led today's paper with an account of a leaked draft report from the Congressionally-controlled Government Accountability Office (the GAO's final report is due next Tuesday). The headline: "Report Finds Little Progress on Iraq Goals; GAO Draft at Odds with White House." 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.

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?

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 report.

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.

Judging by the Post's account, it sounds as if the GAO did a bad job in carrying out a pointless exercise.




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