Ah, excellent, just what I needed. Some fresh Michael O'Hanlon commentary on Iraq:
The most intriguing area of late is the sphere of politics. To track progress, we have established “Brookings benchmarks” — a set of goals on the political front similar to the broader benchmarks set for Baghdad by Congress last year. Our 11 benchmarks include establishing provincial election laws, reaching an oil-revenue sharing accord, enacting pension and amnesty laws, passing annual federal budgets, hiring Sunni volunteers into the security forces, holding a fair referendum on the disputed northern oil city of Kirkuk, and purging extremists from government ministries and security forces.
At the moment, we give the Iraqis a score of 5 out of 11 (our system allows a score of 0, 0.5, or 1 for each category, and is dynamic, meaning we can subtract points for backsliding). It is far too soon to predict that Iraq is headed for stability or sectarian reconciliation. But it is also clear that those who assert that its politics are totally broken have not kept up with the news.
I think Brookings Benchmarks are kind of like Disney Dollars, i.e. funny money. We get no sense of where this five out of eleven comes from or what it's really supposed to signify. The general thrust of the exercise seems to be to cast "failure" as such an extreme scenario that it can never actually happen. O'Hanlon will always be wisely positioned between the over-optimists and the over-pessimists, always urging us to hang on for a couple more Friedman Units, and so the war will continue, forever and ever just as John McCain wants.