"No Benchmarks", "Wait Till November"


That's the message from the Bush team in Iraq. The new ambassador, Ryan Crocker, scoffed at the benchmarks once cited as the criteria by which the "surge" should be judged:

"The longer I am here, the more I am persuaded that progress in Iraq cannot be analyzed solely in terms of these discrete, precisely defined benchmarks," Crocker told the committee. He said this was because "in many cases, these benchmarks do not serve as reliable measures of everything that is important -- Iraqi attitudes toward each other and their willingness to work toward political reconciliation."

So once again, the rules are changed on us and the benchmarks are to be reinvented by Bush political appointees. It seems to me that the basis on which the surge was sold should remain the basis on which the surge is now judged. Anything else requires that we trust the Bush administration to be honest assessors of their own strategy. After the last four years, that is simply clinical. They will say anything to advance their narrow partisan purposes. Odierno is also pushing the deadline for judgment back to November:

Odierno added, "I expect them [al-Qaeda] to try to surge their own operations here between now and September and maybe even later, depending on what happens, because they will want to try to influence decisions."

He said he needs more time -- "at least till November" -- to do a "good assessment" of the current security efforts in Iraq. But he stressed that he was not seeking to extend the deadline for reporting back to Washington in September.

With an additional 45 days to examine trends, "I'll be able to make a bit more accurate assessment," Odierno said. "What I imagine we'll have to do is do assessments that follow that initial assessment in September..."

The argument is that if violence decreases, the surge is working; but if violence increases, the surge is also working. Get it? But notice how this argument doesn't seem to work in reverse. If the tiny sliver of the insurgency that is AQI is now viewed by Petraeus as in retreat, shouldn't that mean that we can leave? Isn't the fact of Sunni resistance to al Qaeda a reason to believe we can leave them to it? The answer will be no. In fact, there is no hint from the White House that it intends to do anything but grind the US military into the dust for the indefinite future.

It seems to me that we should stick to what we were told in the first place.

The surge can be definitively judged by September - eight long months and several thousand deaths after it began; it should be judged by exactly the same criteria the administration and Congress agreed upon in the first place; and the key criterion should be movement toward a political settlement, evidence that a national Iraqi government can begin to stand alone, as a unifying force in what was once Iraq. If there is evidence of a political breakthrough by then, if there are clear signs that the Shiites and Sunnis and Kurds are reconstituting a viable national government and want the US to stay to help them, then that is one thing. If we are supposed to judge the surge a success based on military progress against 5 percent of the insurgency, no deal. This al Qaeda stuff is so obvious and transparent a piece of distraction it should be treated as the tiniest factor that it is. It's not about Iraq or about America. It is about rescuing the Republican party and saving face for Bush and Cheney. It's about constructing a new narrative to rescue a failed policy. We are not that stupid. No young Americans should die for such partisan posturing, however coopted the military has become, however awful the immediate future is.

If we had a president we could trust, it would be one thing. We don't.

(Photo: Iraqi army recruits are taken to a medic after collapsing because of the heat during an intensive combat training course July 18, 2007 in Baqouba, Iraq. Some 60 young recruits are going through a 3-week program supervised by American Special Forces, enduring physical endurance tests and learning advanced urban combat techniques. By John Moore/Getty Images.)