July 10, 2007

If it hurts after you hit yourself on the head with a hammer, you'd better not stop

I've said this a hundred times before, but since the New York Times doesn't seem to be listening (it's like they don't even have the Internets), here we go again.

As the Senate prepares to begin a new debate this week on proposals for a withdrawal from Iraq, the United States ambassador and the Iraqi foreign minister are warning that the departure of American troops could lead to sharply increased violence, the deaths of thousands and a regional conflict that could draw in Iraq’s neighbors.

Let's be clear: to the extent that this is true, and I think it's quite likely, it's the invasion and occupation that will have caused it, not the withdrawal. The war has made these disastrous results virtually inevitable. We tried to warn you four and a half years ago. Yes, the continued presence of the U.S. military has forestalled the worst of it, but if bad shit is going to happen, it's going to happen regardless of whether America withdraws now or in five years or 10 or 25 — or simply stays until its resources are so degraded that it is no longer an effective deterent. Nothing this or any convceivable U.S. administration has done or could possibly do in the future is likely to bring about a different outcome.

Ever the optimist — this is me being optimistic — I'm still open to hearing a policy proposal that will change that. But there is none forthcoming. Instead we get the Iraqi foreign minister saying that the U.S. must stay "until the Iraqi forces and institutions complete their readiness" — as if the U.S. presence was in any way helping to accomplish that — and U.S. ambassador Ryan Crocker moving the goalposts.

The ambassador also suggested what is likely to be another core element of the approach that he and General Petraeus will take to the September report: that the so-called benchmarks for Iraqi government performance set by Congress in a defense authorization bill this spring may not be the best way of assessing whether the United States has a partner in the Baghdad government that warrants continued American military backing. “The longer I’m here, the more I’m persuaded that Iraq cannot be analyzed by these kind of discrete benchmarks,” he said.

After the Iraqi government drew up the first list of benchmarks last year, American officials used them as their yardstick, frequently faulting the Iraqis for failure to act on them, especially on three items the Americans identified as priorities: a new oil law sharing revenue between Iraq’s main population groups; a new “de-Baathification” law widening access to government jobs to members of Saddam Hussein’s former ruling party; and a law scheduling provincial elections to choose representative governments in areas where Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds are competing for power.

But Mr. Crocker said there were better ways to measure progress, including the levels of security across Iraq, progress in delivering basic services like electricity to the population, and steps by Iraqi leaders from rival groups to work more collaboratively.

"Better ways to measure progress" sounds appealing — even if a skeptic might ask why these ways weren't mentioned until the first ways turned out to be unacheivable — but that's not really what Crocker offers. He says we should look at "progress" in various areas, but suggests no way in which that progress can be measured. If he were serious he'd say exactly how "levels of security" can be measured, how much "basic services" need to be restored and exactly which "steps" Iraqi factions need to take before the U.S. can withdraw. Without those specifics, what he proposes is a recipe for permanent occupation: either progress is being made, so we have to stay in order to help it continue, or progress is not being made, so we have to stay until it is.

Besides, he says nothing at all about how the U.S. presence is helping or can help this progress take place. Because it's not, any more than it helped Iraq meet its initial set of benchmarks.

Will a U.S. withdrawal be followed by a "grim" military and humanitarian disaster. Very probably. Will the withdrawal cause that disaster? No.

Posted by Daniel Radosh


The trouble with the old, "discrete" benchmarks is they required actual shit getting done. With the new benchmarks, success is defined almost entirely by the Iraqi government itself. By that standard, I bet we'll turn out to be, like, totally successful.

For instance, I think Crocker has a very specific sense of how we'd measure levels of security: We just look at the number of civilian deaths. Where do we get that number? From "government figures," which claim civilian deaths were down in June. Only the BBC seems to have noticed that the numbers may or may not have been pulled out of thin air, but shhh.

As far as the Bush administration's concerned — and it's unlikely Crocker developed this argument on his own — perception's the only reality worth considering. So the new plan is to make sure our guys are the only ones keeping score.

How is testing going in Iraqi schools? Are their students being tested thoroughly? Thoroughly enough? Are children being left behind?

Post a comment

Powered by
Movable Type 3.2