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Monday, July 16, 2007

Benchmarking the Iraq war

Careful reading of report shows patience required

By Dennis Byrne
Chicago Tribune

The Bush administration's report to Congress on the status of the Iraq war on balance should give Americans encouragement -- if they'd bother to read the document themselves instead of just listening to the back-and-forth rhetoric.

Instead, before President Bush's critics even had time to skim it, they, like our Democratic Sens. Barack Obama and Dick Durbin, were taking potshots that were too simple-minded to deal with here. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, in truly ridiculous fashion, didn't wait until the end of Bush's news conference last week before concluding that the president's "policy has failed." No doubt, editorials and commentaries -- with only superficial examination of the report -- will repeat the same the policy-has-failed line.

But it hasn't -- at least not as badly as the harshest critics would have it -- as any fair, careful reading of the report would show. Don't bother e-mailing me that only Bush the Evil Idiot and Bush lickspittles would say such a thing; let's look at the 18 assessments of the war made by the report.

Many news accounts said that "only" eight benchmarks recorded satisfactory progress, implying that the other 10 were failures. I don't know how someone came up with the number, but the way I read it is: eight successes, four mixed, one "progress but not enough" and five unsatisfactory to varying degrees.

Satisfactory progress has been made on: forming a constitutional review committee and completing the review; moving ahead with legislation to form semiautonomous regions in Iraq; establishing political, media, economic and service groups to support increased Baghdad security; providing three trained-and-ready Iraqi brigades to support Baghdad operations; establishing all of the planned joint-security stations in Baghdad neighborhoods; protecting the rights of minority political parties in the Iraq legislature; and allocating and spending $10 billion in Iraqi revenues for reconstruction projects, including delivery of essential services, on an equitable basis.

Significantly, the report said Iraq has made satisfactory progress in ensuring that Baghdad doesn't become a safe haven for, in Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's words, "outlaws, regardless of [their] sectarian or political affiliation." As a result, the discovery of weapons caches there has tripled since last year because of "an erosion of insurgent safe havens."

The report gave a mixed review on establishing new election law procedure and reducing the level of sectarian violence. Benchmarks for granting a general amnesty and disarming sectarian militias could not be rated either way because the "right conditions are not currently present" for their accomplishment.

In what I would place in a separate "not-satisfactory-now, but-progress-is-being-made" category is making Iraq Security Forces evenhanded in its enforcement actions. The report noted "significant progress," but its "overall judgment" was unsatisfactory because "we are holding the ISF to a high standard." As they should.

That leaves five "unsatisfactory" ratings in areas of: de-Baathification (reconciliation) reform; equitable distribution of oil supplies; insulating military commanders from political influence; increasing the number of ISFs to operate independently; and ensuring that political authorities are not undermining or making false accusations against ISF members. It's not as if nothing was happening. While rating progress on these benchmarks as unsatisfactory, the report said that no revisions to current plans or strategies are required to achieve some of these benchmarks because progress is being made.

Obviously, this is the Bush administration's view of things, and while events change daily, the report is, in its own words, reflective of "trend data" and "trajectory." Many Americans see only U.S. casualty figures as a measure of the war's success or failure -- and that's certainly a legitimate measure -- but it's also important to have a longer view. That longer view says some things are working, and some things need to have time to work, raising the question: If a policy appears to be working, or soon will be, how rational is it to abandon that policy?

Clearly, the report ought to give pause for more thoughtful examination by knee-jerks like Obama and Durbin. Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.) had it right: "There is nothing in this report that should justify anyone who's not already made up their minds that they want to retreat from Iraq to vote to mandate a retreat from Iraq. The report is too mixed. There's too much on the line in Iraq."

Instead, we get the monumentally irresponsible Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) thoughtlessly intoning: "It would be immoral to wait until September to change a failed policy." To the contrary, abandoning that policy now in the face of progress would be immoral.


lake county democrat said...

I think there's a bigger question for liberals (like myself) here: how can we leave Iraq now if, as so many say, genocidal violence might result. Bush didn't invade Iraq, America invaded Iraq. Remember "you broke it, you own it"? To leave now is to say that we think American lives are infinitely more valuable than Iraqi lives.

What's maddening is that, other than Joe Biden and David Brooks, nobody talks about the "Plan B" that might have a chance of working: soft partition. Use those billions of dollars to speed partition of Iraq and force the Iraqi government by any means necessary to fairly divide the oil revenues so the Sunni areas don't turn into an Iraq Gaza Strip (Dennis, you should look at the scheme the Bush administration is pushing the Iraqi government to accept and ask if you think it's in the interests of peace in Iraq).

Would this work? Possibly (probably) not, but it at least has some historic precedence and a logic to it, both missing in our current policy.

Robert Mark said...

Actually, I agree that calling you a "Bush lickspittle," is overkill.

But you sure must feel good about being able to spread your White House support drivel to the world through the Chicago Tribune.

I actually wouldn't care if it were a Republican or a Democrat that was critical of the "How goes it report," the White House released. It's all smoke and mirrors anyway.

Have you forgotten that the reason they got us into this war was because King George managed to convince most members of Congress from both parties that there were big scary bombs in Iraq?

Then, after that intelligence proved wrong, the White House slight of hand convinced people that "Heck, while we're there anyway, we can help the Iraqi's get their government up and running while we do double duty and squash the terorists.

So four and a half years later the Iraqi's can barely claim a half dozen decent brigades although a few hundred thousand men are in uniform.

Sure, let's give them just a few more months.

And you're answer in September will be what, that the surge failed because the Iraq's were rushed by a bunch of Democrats trying to micromanage the war?

Maybe if we just give them another year or so, like until King George leaves the White House, it will probably all realy, really be cleaned up by then, right?

And here's one you can try answering in an upcoming piece.

While it sounds patriotic to tell Americans that we must continue to fight the terorists in Iraq to prevent them from coming here, we are about out of resources between the two Middle East countries we're already occupying.

What happens if more terrorist cells appear in Africa, or Indonesia or India. Are we going to invade them too?

And countries who have seen considerable terror activities, like Britain, ar epulling out of the Middle East.

If the terror case is so strong, why do we have no allies in the war? Why are we expected to do all the heavy lifting alone?

Readers want to know.

I'm not sure which part of his legacy will embarass King George more until he dies ... the war in the Middle East that he started to finsih his da's work, or the fact that he left tens of thousand of American on the Gulf Coast to fend for themselves after Katrina.

But keep up the good work. At least you're willing to pen your opinion even if I don't agre with it.

Robert Mark

Keith Mulkey said...

As with many things republican/neo con, there is one very simple point that gets ignored. You cannot bestow freedom on a people. If they don't want it, no amount of American bloodshed and bluster will give it to them. These very simple principles are completely lost on the Bush sycophants, such as yourself.
Try paying attention to the facts before you vote in 2008, Dennis.

Ryan said...

Lieberman is technically identified as (ID-Conn) not (D-Conn). A minor correction, but nevertheless needed.

Jay Rehak said...

Your article, "Benchmarking the Iraq War" in the Tribune this morning is one of the sadder pieces of journalism you have offered over the years.

At some point, I hope you find the courage to accept the fact that your pro-Iraq war stance has needlessly encouraged the death and maiming of thousands of human beings, both our American soldiers and Iraqi men, women and children.

At some point, I hope you will realize what many thousands of Americans said from the beginning: this war was not justified and should never have happened.

To any war apologist like yourself who might suggest that the war was approved by Deomocrats as well as Republicans, and was thus approved by the citizenry, my response is there were many others who were ignored. Specifically, I do not consider Hillary Clinton or other Democrats who voted for the war to be representative of the thousands of average, every day Americans who took to the streets from the beginning and said this war was wrong. And there were thousands of us, many of whom marched right past the Tribune Tower.

We didn't all want this war then; far fewer of us want it now. Fortunately, many of those who supported this misguided war in the begining have come to realize the disasterous consequences it has had on humanity. Some, like yourself, continue to suggest this war has "value" or can be somehow "justified" or perhaps even "won." Such thinking, in the end, demonstrates an intransigence that is simply sad and dunderheaded.

Like many thousands of Americans, I continue to pray that we exit Iraq as soon as possible. I look forward to the day when even the war apologists join their voices to the cause of peace.

harry said...


Anonymous said...

Mr. Byrne,

Don't you ever get tired of being a Bush apologist? The report shows encouragement only if you believe the Bush report. Besides, forget benchmarks. There are a few of us out here that have been against the monstrosity from the start. It has nothing to do with being anti-Bush. A few of us are aware of the history of the region. This entire war has been a waste of time at best. For those that have lost their lives, it is worse. Before you describe anyone as irresponsible, go take a look in the mirror. Or pick up a weapon and hear for Iraq.

Anonymous said...

Regarding your July 17 article in the Chicago Tribune, I think it was "monumentally irresponsible" of you not to also mention the Republican senators who do not wish to wait until September to change a failed policy! Immoral in the face of progress?...It was immoral for the President to spin-doctor the country into believing that Iraq had WMD's.
You do a rather poor job of knocking Obama and Durbin, but you are most dismal in bringing John Kerry's name to the fore...I guess beating a dead horse is still good copy. I won't even mention your friend, Joe Lieberman...oops...I guess I did.

Don Blakey

Anonymous said...

C'mon! The report itself is rhetoric, and manipulated.

Bush always says he listens to the generals on the field, not the politicians.

Well, whenever somebody with high ranking in the military doesn't agree with "staying the course" , "troop surge", ow whatever fresh rhetoric the Administration serves up to the public to keep the troops in Iraq, then that military offical suddenly retires. Interesting.

It seems what Bush does, like everything else, is he hand picks people who agree with him, gets rid of the others, and when the time comes he says, "I listen to my generals in the field." Funny, since you would never, ever, act on opinion that didn't jive with his own.

He is soooo full of sh*t, nobody believes anything that comes out of his mouth. Too bad people didn't realize this earlier.

Stephen Schade said...

Mr. Byrne:

Yes, there has been some progress in Iraq over the past four and a half years. By your reckoning, we are at least halfway home. However, given that no occupying power has ever won a guerrilla war, it seems unlikely that we will make similar progress over the next four and a half years, even if the American people are willing to sacrifice money and lives for that long.

Giving Bush a pass on some benchmarks because conditions are not present for their accomplishment seems an act of desperation. If the time has not been right during the war so far, what makes you think it will ever be right?

Robert Mark said...

Isn't it interesting that we're the only ones who enter the discussion on the war.

Dennis Byrne seems to be almost ackwardly quiet here.

I thought a blog was designed to encourage discussion. This looks more like a newspaper.

He - Byrne - writes to stir the pot and we respond.

Imagine if he actually engaged his audience - us - here on WHY he thinks George Bush is on the right track rather.

Now that would be a story.

Doug Gries said...

Dennis, did you actually create a new category for the report so you could move an unsatisfactory outcome to a separate "not-satisfactory-now, but-progress-is-being-made" category. Apparently, the US government needs your expert opinion and re-classification skills more desperately than anyone realized. It never ceases to amaze me how you distort actual fact to fit your preconceived notions about how a particular controversial subject should be treated. You really took a credibility hit on this one. As you continue to support the Iraq war, simply ask yourself one question: Do you really think that the Shiites and Sunnis will be able to peacefully run a Democratic government together? If you believe so, then you need to brush up on your history. It doesn't matter when we leave Dennis, the outcome will be the same. The other option is to stay there, basically, forever because we also have the threat from Iran (Shiite nation), who would like nothing more than to see Iraq become a Shiite nation as well. So, now what? We either stay forever to protect that from happening (not an option - we'll go bankrupt), invade Iran (not an option - can't imagine the world backlash), or get out and spend our money on alternative forms of energy.

Don Blakey said...

Dennis: Your column on Emperor Blagojevich hit the mark!!! I have chastised you in the past for things you have written but now I must congratulate you! The Gov is turning Illinois into the laughing stock of the nation, with a large assist from his long-time flunkey, Senator Emil Jones. Whoo-Ha!!!
Don Blakey