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Thursday, August 30, 2007

GAO report and Democrat games

General Petreus is set to give the first progress report on the surge on or about 11 September. While many Democrats are recognizing that his military surge campaign is working, some seem to be a tad, shall we say, worried about what his report might include. According to Bill Kristol, the GAO report that was leaked was a dog-and-pony show:

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?

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.

When I first heard about the GAO report, I knew something smelled fishy. First, it comes out BEFORE Petreus has offered up any sort of report to the Congress, the president, or the people. He is the person on the ground ultimately responsible for the surge's success. But he has nothing to do with the political benchmarks made. He's a soldier. His job is to secure the hotspots, and give the politicians the time and room to maneuver. He isn't the one applying pressure to the politicians. That's Crocker's job.

Mr. Kristol is right. This report was intentionally cooked up to counter anything that Petreus offers. As Mr. Kristol points out above, the GAO doesn't address the grass-roots efforts in Iraq, the success in Anbar, the Sunnis working with al-Maliki, or whether or not al Qaeda is really as strong as it was prior to the surge's commencement. They focused completely on the political benchmarks which the Democrats knew nothing would occur this month for the sheer fact that the Parliament is in recess. Granted, Parliament members are talking to one another while in recess, but nothing can be acted on until they return.

As I have said repeatedly now for two weeks, General Petreus will return with a report that shows significant progress and success on the military side, and limited political progression, mostly on the local levels. That isn't what the Democrats want to hear. They're going to deny anything he says, and they'll give him as little credit as they can muster. Expect to hear this from any number of Democrats in Congress:

"Yes, the military operations have shown promise, and yes the Iraqis are working with us, but (fill in appropo talking point here)."

They will try to spin this, and the GAO report is evidence of them already trying to run damage control on a report that's yet to be given. This shows the desperation of the Democrats right now. They know if they don't do something to tarnish or spin his report, they're going to have egg all over their faces, and a nation that's none too happy with their political shenanigans.

HT: Bryan Preston

Publius II

ADDENDUM: Over at PowerLine, both Paul Mirengoff and John Hinderacker weigh in on the GAO report with pointed questions and interesting observations.

Publius II


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