Here we go again. Despite what you may think about our mission in Iraq, it’s hard to imagine anyone looking at the state of affairs in Iraq and concluding that things are going well. Yet our President today declared that “we’re kicking ass”. Really? In what alternate reality must one live to conclude that we’re kicking ass?
My cousin arrived in Fallujah this week for his first tour of duty with the Marines. I’m extraordinarily proud of him for his service, but I can’t help but wonder that if our Commander in Chief looks at the current state of affairs in Iraq and concludes that we’re kicking ass, whether my cousin is in the best hands when it comes to making decisions about what his mission should be and how it will be executed.
Here’s the thing: the President gambled with the lives of our servicemen earlier this year by stunningly doubling down: in the face of growing evidence of a failing (failed?) strategy in Iraq, after having lost control of Congress in an election many saw as a referendum on the direction we were heading in in Iraq, the President did the unthinkable: he sent more troops into harm’s way. Dubbed “the surge”, the point of the surge was to apply overwhelming force to accelerate political progress in the Iraqi government, ease sectarian violence, and reduce the prevalence of terrorist attacks in Iraq.
We set 18 benchmarks for judging whether or not the surge had worked, and asked General Petraeus to come to Washington DC the week of September 10th to report on those benchmarks. Ahead of his appearance next week, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) has found that a full 13 of 18 of those benchmarks are unmet. If that’s “kicking ass”, I guess it’s now easy to understand how President Bush was able to declare “Mission Accomplished” over four years ago.
Yet the White House persists in claiming that the surge is working. (Gen. Petraeus, in an interview with the Boston Globe today, declares that we’ve made real progress with the surge.) However, civilian deaths are going up (though there is considerable debate about who’s right in reporting those deaths). The Iraqi government is an abject failure (citing the heat, they took the entire month of Iraq off!). Sectarian violence is up. Our troops are still dying, at a rate of more than 2 soldiers per day. The last remaining argument for us staying in Iraq – the determination of Al Qaeda to wage war in Iraq – may be entirely off the mark. And the government seems committed to collecting information to support its conclusions, rather than evaluating the information on its merits. Which, given how we got into this mess, I suppose shouldn’t really surprise any of us. Is there any more depressing quote than this (from the Bush Administration’s own Iraq Study Group, lest you think I’m citing some partisan shrill?):
“Good policy is difficult to make when information is systematically collected in a way that minimizes its discrepancy with policy goals.”
That about sums up this administration, come to think of it.