Friday, August 31, 2007

More Realism, Less Spin

NYT Editorial

A new report from Congress’s investigative arm provides a powerful fresh dose of nonpartisan realism about Iraq as President Bush tries to spin people into thinking that significant — or at least sufficient — progress is being made. With a crucial debate on Iraq set for next month, the report should be read by members of Congress who may be wavering in the fight with the White House over withdrawing American troops.

The Government Accountability Office, in a draft assessment reported yesterday, determined that Iraq has failed to meet 15 out of 18 benchmarks for political and military progress mandated by Congress. Laws on constitutional reform, oil and permitting former Baathists back into the government have not been enacted. Among other failings, there has been unsatisfactory progress toward deploying three Iraqi brigades in Baghdad and reducing the level of sectarian violence.

These conclusions are in line with a recent National Intelligence Estimate that found that violence in Iraq remained high, terrorists could still mount formidable attacks and the country’s leaders “remain unable to govern effectively.”

Mr. Bush earlier this year ordered a massive buildup of American troops in Iraq in a desperate attempt to salvage his failed strategy and stave off Congressional moves to bring the forces home. Despite the cost of more American lives, he argued that he was buying a period of relative calm for Iraqi politicians to achieve national reconciliation.

The top American officials in Iraq, Army Gen. David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker, are to present their assessments on how calm things are at eagerly awaited Congressional hearings in mid-September. Their findings, and a White House report due Sept. 15, are seen as a potential trigger for a change in Iraq strategy.

Two things, however, are already clear. Iraq’s leaders have neither the intention nor the ability to take advantage of calm, relative or otherwise. And a change in strategy seems the farthest thing from Mr. Bush’s mind.

He used the August vacation — when lawmakers were largely laying low at home — to reassert his determination to stay the course. The White House also let it be known that it plans to ask Congress for more money — perhaps another $50 billion — beyond $600 billion already requested to maintain the counteroffensive in Iraq into spring 2008. Some people think the administration will get it.

The White House tried to discredit the ominous G.A.O. assessment by saying the standards set by Congressional investigators were too high. It may be unrealistic to expect that Iraq’s weak and dysfunctional government could meet all the targets by September, but a serious, conscientious effort across the board was needed, and would be apparent to all.

Mr. Bush has invoked Vietnam to argue against leaving Iraq. That argument is specious, but there is a chilling similarity between the two American foreign policy disasters. In Vietnam, as in Iraq, American presidents and military leaders went to great lengths to pretend that victory was at hand when nothing could be farther from the truth.

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