Thursday, July 12, 2007

The Iraq benchmarks report, satisfactory progress, and the winds of Chamberlain

Israeli Minister of Evil Strategic Affairs, Unholy Avigdor Lieberman, told Israeli Army Radio Tuesday that Israel has been given permission by the US, NATO and Europe (he didn’t name actual names) to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities. “If we start military operations against Iran alone, then Europe and the US will support us,” he said. In an example of how different news sources can cover the same thing entirely differently, an AFP report on the interview skips that part but stresses Lieberman’s attack on the EU as appeasers of Iran: “The wind of Chamberlain is blowing over Europe.” I just got an image of Neville Chamberlain unfurling that rolled-up umbrella and flying away, Mary Poppins style, on the wind of Chamberlain.

The White House report on how Iraq is meeting those benchmarks is out, and rather than saying that Iraq has failed to meet any of the 18, it says that it’s “satisfactory” in 8, although its standards suggest that the Bush administration is very easily satisfied indeed. Mostly it achieves this by saying that “satisfactory progress” is being made towards the benchmark, which is as close to a meaningless standard as they could get. To be fair, this was the standard Congress asked for in the legislation mandating this report, which is therefore able to say “This report provides, consistent with the Act, an assessment of how the Iraqi Government is performing on 18 specified benchmarks, rather than the effects being generated.” So the tiniest move is considered progress, which is considered satisfactory. Sometimes just talking about it. While the progress towards achieving even-handedness by the security forces is rated satisfactory (but only because our standards are so very high), the government is praised because “Iraqi officials continue to communicate the importance that all terrorist organizations be targeted, regardless of their affiliation or ethnic background.” I think communication is so important, don’t you? The report adds coyly, “there remains one individual that Prime Minister Maliki has made the decision to delay targeting.”

One measure of success: “The [Anbar] provincial government -- for the first time in a year -- is now able to meet in the province”.

In other cases, it decides that the benchmarks are unimportant or even bad ideas, like amnesty (“there is no group for which amnesty would be appropriate”) or disarming the militias (“the necessary preconditions... such as political reconciliation and security provided by the government, do not yet exist”).

Many of the failed benchmarks are ones involving reconciliation, or the government ceasing to act in a sectarian fashion. These are deemed “lagging indicators,” a term I assume they focus-grouped and will be using often. This means that we shouldn’t take them as signs of failure because they will progress only after every last terrorist is hunted down and killed.

Bush’s press conference on this subject in my next post in a little bit. First, I have to lie down until that Neville Chamberlain image goes away.

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