As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

OK, Let's Talk Benchmarks

Michael O'Hanlon, who apparently is contractually obligated to appear on major op-ed pages once every two weeks, has had a couple more this week, both intoning about a new set of benchmarks that prove Iraq is progressing in progress-y progress and that Democrats have only one role to play, that of the "loyal opposition." As Ezra Klein notes, telling Democrats they shouldn't call for an immediate withdrawal has been very good for his TV and op-ed page appearances, as opposed to when he was writing about setting a date for withdrawal back in 2004. Clearly, taking up for the media elites who were crucially wrong on the war is a good career move.

But I want to go back to this idea of benchmarks. O'Hanlon writes:

....Iraqi leaders need to feel pressure to deliver. That is where a more conditional Democratic approach comes in. The United States stays only if Iraqis accelerate their own political efforts at reconciliation. This is admittedly a complex matter to evaluate accurately, but that is OK — Iraqis will get the message even if it is somewhat inexact and imprecise.

Democrats in Congress — including the two seeking the presidency and the leadership on Capitol Hill — should work for success in Iraq while reminding Iraqis that absent continued progress, the U.S. commitment could end, and soon. It is a message consistent with Democrats' past views on the conflict, yet cognizant of the considerable gains there in the past year.

All right, let's take a look at those "benchmarks," which O'Hanlon says unquestionably show progress. Violence is back up since January. We're pretty much at mid-2005 levels of violence, which were unacceptable then. We're keeping a lid on those levels of violence because of massive payouts to Shiite and Sunni militias so they don't kill us. Ethnic cleansing is not a magnificent myth, as O'Hanlon's buddy Fred Kagan has said, but an uncomfortable reality. The Defense Department's quarterly report counts budget and deBaathification and provincial elections laws as "progress" even though they were all vetoed by the Presidency council. And even that DoD report lists corruption as a serious problem. And billions in oil revenues are missing.

The Democratic chairman and Republican former chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee have asked government auditors to determine what Iraq is doing with the billions of dollars in oil revenue it generates.

"We believe that it has been overwhelmingly U.S. taxpayer money that has funded Iraq reconstruction over the last five years, despite Iraq earning billions of dollars in oil revenue over that time period that have ended up in non-Iraqi banks," Sens. Carl Levin, D-Mich., and John Warner, R-Va., said Friday in a letter to the head of the Government Accountability Office.

"At the same time, our conversations with both Iraqis and Americans during our frequent visits to Iraq, as well as official government and unofficial media reports, have convinced us that the Iraqi government is not doing nearly enough to provide essential services and improve the quality of life of its citizens," they said.

The senators estimated that Iraq will realize "at least $100 billion in oil revenues in 2007 and 2008."

Needlenose rightly suggests that the former exiles running Iraq are probably dropping a healthy portion of these billions into offshore banks to prepare for when things go to hell in Iraq again.

So, given these benchmarks, what say you, O'Hanlon?

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