THE BLOG
11/25/2007 11:01 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

What's That Sound? Why It's the Further Lowering of the Bar on Iraq

In Sunday's New York Times U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker was quoted as saying Iraq is "going to be a long, hard slog."

Sound familiar?

It should, because here was then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld -- four years and one month ago:

"It will be a long, hard slog."

This thing has been going on for so long, the administration is reusing excuses. But hey, at least the administration can now claim it's no longer hostile to recycling, right?

Even more staggering was the rest of the Times piece, which was part of the administration's quarterly Lowering Of Expectations. It's like clockwork: if there's a piece in the Times quoting unnamed "leaders" in "both capitals" who "continue to hold out hope", an "elated" White House, and mention of "positive signs" all around, you know the seasons have just changed. It's sort of like the solstice, only profoundly depressing.

What else did we learn this time out? That "with American military successes outpacing political gains in Iraq, the Bush administration has lowered its expectation of quickly achieving major steps toward unifying the country..."

Really? So we can all stop holding our breath about "quickly" unifying the country? I'd say the "quickly" ship sailed four years ago. Now it's no longer about quick or not-so-quick, it's about ever or never, as in: will we ever leave Iraq?

But the purpose of the surge was not more "military success" but political stability. As Matt Yglesias notes:

"...its goal was to create an improvement in the security situation in Baghdad which (it was hypothesized) was the necessary precondition for a political resolution to Iraq's fundamental conflicts. The surge was tried, and American casualties went up and violence stayed at the same level and then violence declined and then US casualties decline and then it turned out that the surge had failed and the political situation was the same as it had been at the beginning."

So what's the goal now? Instead of actual political progress the new goal is... convincing everyone political progress is being made.

I am not making this up.

Here's how the Times describes it:

"Instead, administration officials say they are focusing their immediate efforts on several more limited but achievable goals in the hope of convincing Iraqis, foreign governments and Americans that progress is being made toward the political breakthroughs that the military campaign of the past 10 months was supposed to promote."

How much lower can the bar get? Though, on the upside, maybe the Bush administration will strike oil as it digs lower and lower to move the bar.

Now the surge was apparently implemented so "American officials" could focus on "pragmatic goals like helping the Iraqi government spend the money in its budget."

That's right: our new definition of success in Iraq is helping the Iraqi government spend money.

So as you see the administration and the GOP presidential candidates give high fives to each other and declare "mission accomplished" this week because only 30-50 American soldiers are being killed every month, it's worth remembering (because the media have apparently already forgotten) that the purpose of the surge was never military. Opponents of the surge were not skeptical that it would pay military dividends. They were skeptical that the surge would magically translate into political success.

But, of course, war supporters are off the hook, because every four years one of them comes out to tell the American people that Iraq is going to be "a long, hard slog."

So who is it going to be in November of 2011?

Guesses anybody?