Two Legislatures went on vacation last week. The Iraqi Parliament recessed with nothing accomplished toward meeting their political benchmarks and will reconvene September 6th. The U.S. Congress recessed with nothing accomplished on setting Iraq redeployment benchmarks and will reconvene after Labor Day. In both cases the obstacle was lack of national consensus on what to do and lack of executive flexibility and leadership. In both cases the executive has been too weak or too stubborn to lead their nations to compromise based on their national interest and facts on the ground. So we await September and the reports of Ambassador Ryan Crocker and General David Petraeus.
Those who have worked in the government or in any large organization will not be surprised to learn that both reports are already largely written,
The Crocker report is an easier task and the more important one. After all, he has merely to assess the progress of the Iraqi governments toward some 18 benchmarks. Remember, these benchmarks were not imposed by the U.S.; they were promulgated in June 2006 by the Al Malaki government. Had the Iraqi timetable been met, 16 of the 18 would have been achieved by now. But not even the most important ones -- an oil law, constitutional amendments, provincial elections -- have seen any progress. So the Crocker report will simply mirror the interim 15 July report: unsatisfactory in all areas. Even this may be overly optimistic. "Hopeless" should be the rating for most benchmarks. Nonetheless, Al Malaki will protest that he needs more time and that U.S. troops must continue to die to support his corrupt and ineffective government and the President and Ambassador Crocker will downplay the significance of the benchmarks.
Given the political lack of progress, what can Gen. Petraeus report since the military mission was designed to create space for such progress and that mission has failed? This is where the creative writing class at West Point will come to the fore. The current draft cherry picks signs of progress (the sharp drop in U.S. deaths in July) and ignore other facts (July is historically a low fatality month but even so fatalities are over 60% higher this year than in 2006). It will tout the cooperation of the tribal chiefs (aka Sunni insurgents) in al Anbar Province but fail to mention that they are being paid off by the Saudis and are building up U.S. arms caches for future battles not only with al-Qaida but also the Shia government that has been cut out of the dealings. And the report will ignore inconvenient truths such as the increase in civilian casualties. In short, it will put the best face on a very bad situation and ignore the fact that the primary mission of the surge -- providing an environment for political progress -- has failed. The President will do his best to hide behind General Petraeus -- setting him up as the future fall guy --while invoking the threats of al Qaeda at least in every other sentence.
Congress must ask, especially in light of the delicate editing now being done on the Petraeus report, is who is doing the editing. Who wrote the original draft? Who in Baghdad edited it? When was the draft first sent to the Pentagon? To the Vice President? To the National Security Council? What changes were made during this vetting? Can General Petraeus assert that he is in full agreement with all of the final report? Can Congress look at previous drafts? And, when both reports ask for more time, Congress should demand not only an estimate of the time required, but also a "drop dead" date for redeployment should progress not be made on the political front.
The Petraeus report must therefore be read carefully for consistency of tone, style and content. Does the report read like a military dispatch or a carefully crafted political document?
Like many administration statements, neither report is likely to contain outright falsehoods but both are likely to be crafted to give the desired impression. And like most administration statements lately, they are likely be used to divert attention from the chaos that the invasion and occupation of Iraq has created by focusing on the threat of al Qaeda and the alleged dangers of any change of course.