The hottest term in post-veto Washington is suddenly "benchmarks." If you had a dollar for every time it's been bandied about his week, you could outbid Rupert Murdoch for the Journal -- or, at least, pay for all the Valium being downed by Deborah Jean Palfrey's clients.
But amidst all the benchmark babble, there has been precious little clarity on whether they represent an acceptable compromise position -- or are just another Bush mirage shimmering in the Iraqi desert.
Thank goodness for Michael Ware, CNN's Baghdad-based war correspondent. Amid the hot air, his reporting is like a bracing splash of ice cold water to the face. A jolt of from-the-belly-of-the-beast reality. A wake-up call delivered via jackhammer. With an Australian accent.
I caught him the other night on Anderson Cooper 360°, discussing the latest from Iraq with Cooper and David Gergen. Now I love David Gergen as a person, but the contrast between his safely-ensconced-in-the-Beltway take on benchmarks and Ware's boots-on-the-ground no-bullshit approach couldn't have been starker.
Here was Ware:
COOPER: Well, Michael Ware, let's talk about those benchmarks... The benchmarks, I guess, are to pressure Maliki. Has pressure worked on him in the past?
WARE: No, never. This is such an old scenario, Anderson. I mean, this word benchmark has been used over and over and over. And no matter what conditions have been set for Maliki to meet, he's never once lived up to them. So, now Washington is trying to up the ante, increase the pressure upon him in what most likely will be the vain hope that he will deliver.
Woosh, sting (that's the sound of ice-water truth hitting face).
He later added this, the verbal equivalent of taking a pair of White House-designed rose-colored glasses and grinding them into the sidewalk with your heel:
COOPER: Is this notion of a unified democracy of Sunni and Shia, is there any real support for it within the Iraqi government?
WARE: No, no, none that I have seen, Anderson. And I have dealt a lot with all of the important factions within the Iraqi government. It's simply in no one's interest whatsoever to pursue a true reconciliation.
Then there was Gergen, and this gem of mealy-mouthed waffling:
GERGEN: While the benchmarks may seem like sort of a Washington game, in some ways, they're a very important prelude to the United States beginning to look for a way to disengage.
A prelude to beginning to look for a way to disengage?
In other words, let's wait until September to see how things are going, then, if this latest in a long line of unmet benchmarks also goes unmet, we can begin to commence to initiate the starting of thinking about the mulling over of the consideration of a possible path that could, in time, lead us to begin to commence to start looking for a means that could, with any luck, result in America beginning to commence to start withdrawing from Iraq. Eventually.
The truth is, we keep putting forth key benchmarks for the Iraqis -- on Iraqi troops, on oil revenue sharing, on reversing De-Baathification, on amending Iraq's new constitution -- and they keep failing to meet them. Time after time after time.
Democrats mustn't fall prey to the benchmark mirage. They need to stay strong and keep the heat on Bush. Perhaps they can put Michael Ware's reports on tape and have them piped into their Congressional offices.
Here's the video of the full exchange, courtesy of C&L: