Thursday, August 30, 2007

Countering the Petraeus Offensive that is coming to Congress in two short weeks

More details from the forthcoming GAO report on the status of Iraq emerged Wednesday. (I first posted about the pending GAO report on Tuesday.) The realistic and sobering GAO assessment will run head-on into the Petraeus - Crocker Happy-talk Express™ that is scheduled to pull into the station the following week.

The release of the report should put the Petraeus testimony the following week under a harsh light, and he should expect his positions to be challenged, especially when he makes the inevitable claims of "progress."

"Overall," the report concludes, "key legislation has not been passed, violence remains high, and it is unclear whether the Iraqi government will spend $10 billion in reconstruction funds," as promised. While it makes no policy recommendations, the draft suggests that future administration assessments "would be more useful" if they backed up their judgments with more details and "provided data on broader measures of violence from all relevant U.S. agencies."

A draft of the report was provided to the Washington Post by a government official who is concerned that the pessimistic conclusions that the report draws would be diluted and spun in the final version. A valid concern, given the "softening" that last weeks NIE was subjected to before it was released.

The GAO report was mandated in the Iraq Supplemental legislation that was passed in May. The May Supplemental set a high bar, requiring an up-or-down determination on whether each benchmark has been met. Applying that standard, the GAO determined that only three of eighteen benchmarks have been met - two security and one political. On the political front, the report finds that steps have been taken to safeguard the rights of minority political parties, but it also emphasizes that further political progress (overturning de-baatification, constitutional reform, an oil sharing law) is stalled by the boycott of the Cabinet. Without a quorum, legislation can not be sent to parliament for consideration by the full body; and without the seventeen Cabinet members that are boycotting the government, a quorum is not possible. In fact, in an internal GAO assessment this month, the GAO found that "this boycott ends any claim by the Shi'ite-dominated coalition to be a government of national unity."

(Here I feel I must take the opportunity to remind you that the White House insisted in July that there was significant progress on eight of the benchmarks in question.)

The report actually contradicts the Bush Administration's happy talk about violence being down as a result of the Surge™. The report emphasizes that "The average number of daily attacks against civilians remained about the same over the last six months; 25 in February versus 26 in July."

The GAO holds the Iraqi Security Forces up to a more realistic measuring stick than the administrations July assessment, and the Iraqi forces come up short. The number of Iraqi units able to operate independently has declined from ten in March to just six last month. Additionally, the GAO found that the Iraqi army is plagued by "performance problems" and "[S]ome army units sent to Baghdad have mixed loyalties, and some have had ties to Shiia militias making it difficult to target Shiia extremist networks." It also found that the Iraqi government interfers with military operations for political purposes, and that this results "in some operations being based on sectarian interests."

The findings of the GAO run counter to the trope peddled by Lt. Gen. Ray "any day now we'll turn a corner" Odierno who earlier in the month said "[A]lthough we still have a ways to go, Iraqi security forces are making significant, tangible improvements."

Odierno's sunny assessments are offset by the sober assessment of Lt. Gen. James Dubik, commander of the U.S. troops training and advising Iraqi army and police units, who, in a news conference with reporters in Baghdad yesterday stated flatly that "[the] problems that the military commanders and the minister of defense have here in generating the Iraqi army are very significant, and they shouldn't be taken lightly." (Nor should they be, one presumes, played down for political reasons.)

Still, Odierno's seeming cluelessness is actually somewhat understandable. (Honest!) In closing, I will let Alex, from Army of Dude explain the cognitive dissonance:

In the last month of the deployment, on one of our few days off, we risked our lives so the Army, at some level, could throw a rose colored lens onto a news camera for the benefit of...I don’t know who.
Later on that day, a two star general got on our truck to be escorted back to the base. The captains and colonels around him talked about how Diyala was really shaping up and that Baqubah would be a shining example of the surge in no time, thanks in part by the 1920s! This was great for me to see and hear, because I finally got it. It took me fifteen months, but my epiphany was complete. Generals see Iraq in a unique way for two reasons. One, they take the word of anyone under them, which will almost always be positive no matter what. I doubt many have the guts to tell a general that things aren’t going exactly as planned. And two, they view Iraq in quick spurts with over-the-top security measures. I took a picture of the mob next to the deputy prime minister’s SUV, and there was an entourage of no less than fifteen American and Iraqi soldiers in a span of ten feet. Needless to say, the two star was well protected. We’ve walked the most dangerous streets on planet earth with less people. Surprise, some of us have a different perspective on the way this country is going.