The Politics of September Posted by: McQ
on Tuesday, September 04, 2007
As I've mentioned a couple of times, September appears to be set for a political battle royal about Iraq as Congress returns and various reports are issued and testimony given.
As Mr. Reid reopened the Senate for business, he vowed to change the course of the Iraq war. “September is the month for policy change in Iraq,” Mr. Reid declared in his opening speech from the floor, noting that many Republican lawmakers had urged patience until the Petraeus and Crocker reports were received this month.
“The calendar has not changed,” Mr. Reid said. “It’s September. We have reached this goal. It’s time to make a decision. We can’t continue the way we are. We can’t afford it, militarily and financially.”
Interestingly the sequence of these reports may help determine the final outcome of Congressional action on the war.
As Politicopoints out, the initial advantage goes to the anti-war side of the Congress:
Democrats hoping to impose a change of course on the administration will have an early public relations advantage this week.
Hearings Tuesday and Wednesday will highlight a General Accounting Office report saying that the Iraqi gov-ernment has failed to meet most of the 18 benchmarks set by Congress to measure progress toward security and stability.
And retired Marine Gen. James L. Jones will testify on Thursday. He chaired a congressionally man-dated commission that officials say has made a skeptical appraisal of the extent of progress in Iraq.
The GAO report, as we've all come to understand (and which Keith best described as far as I'm concerned) had a particular mandated standard for reporting on the 18 benchmarks. It is a "go-no go" standard which, as Keith pointed out means they're limited to assessing whether the benchmark has been completed, not whether there has been progress made toward its completion. Consequently, such an assessement may be more "bleak" than conditions actually warrant. Look for Democrats to avoid talking about progress and stick with the up or down assessments as proof it's time to pull the plug. Republicans will try to highlight any "progress" toward the benchmarks as indicators supporting staying longer.
General Jones report, otoh, is one I'm interested in reading completely when it comes out. First I'm interested in what he was chartered to assess. What and how he was asked to make an assessment will be as important as the assessement itself.
Apparently I was mistaken when I said, per law, he wasn't to have his assessment ready until the end of the month (per the law, signed on May 25, his assessment was due 120 days later, which would be the latter part of September). I have to wonder if Congressional Democrats haven't pushed to have that assessment delivered early in an attempt to water down and discredit the testimony by Petraeus and Crocker that will follow.
Democrats are hoping this flood of new appraisals will be so bleak that congressional Republicans will be forced to change course.
I also wonder if all of this might not be a tactical mistake on the part of the Dems. Putting all of the reports anticipated to show the administration in a negative light before the administration offers its assessment and prior to the testimony of Petraeus and Crocker, leaves the field wide-open for them to have the last word.
And I'm also of the opinion that the Petraeus testimony will be what has the lasting effect on public opinion regardless of what the other reports say. That's because it has been so hyped and because it will most likely be televised. Look for "Petraeus testimony" vids to go viral on the 'net.
Regardless of what comes out of these reports and testimony, you can certainly count on this:
Politically, the two sides are engaged in what one senior administration official called a “war of cherry-picking” as Republicans try to highlight signs of progress, however isolated or sluggish, and Democrats try to draw attention to the bleak overall outlook without looking grudging or defeatist.
I know I keep beating this drum but for political junkies, even those with a vested position on the war, this is going to be a fascinating month.
I don’t know, I think they are simply positioning themselves for ’08. The "surge" will continue through the spring, and then have to be racheted down a bit, and conditions on the ground will determine the manner this is done. Long term decisions on the future of the US intervention in Iraq are probably not going to be seriously considered until 2008. I doubt anything in the reports will be surprising, and everyone will spin it the way they want to support themselves politically. I’m still convinced that the future of Iraq is primarily determined by structural aspects of Iraqi society and Iraqi politics upon which US military policy or political action has little control.
That 3rd category is outside the mandate of the legislative requirements.
So what does the GOA recommend with this report, better measures for reporting:
In future reports to Congress on the benchmarks, we recommend that the Secretaries of State and Defense: (1) specify clearly what step in the Iraqi legislative process each draft law has reached; (2) identify trends in sectarian violence together with broader measures of population security; and (3) better identify the operational readiness of Iraqi security forces. State and DOD concurred with our recommendations but disagreed with our assessment of certain benchmarks.
As regards the time frame:
1) The Iraqi government is only a little over a year old, so we should expect political progress to be slow and shaky. 2) Some of these benchmarks are from commitments made in the current year. 3) The plan for meeting the security commitments was implemented this year, with forces being moved in from Feb-June, and operations starting in June- now.
But, let’s look at our own history as a measure:
1) We fought the British from 1775 and 1783 2) We declared Independence in 1776 3) We adopted the Articles of Confederation in 1777 4) We adopted the Constitution in 1787 5) The last state ratified the Constitution in 1790 6) The original Bill of Rights was added to the Constitution in 1791, a full 4 years after we adopted the Constitution.
Keith, trying to compare Iraq to the US back over two centuries ago is simply absurd. You can defend the progress made and claim that the issues can be worked out in time, but there is so much wrong — from both historigraphical and social science perspectives — of trying to make such comparisons that it really makes your position actually look weaker than it is: it looks like you’re grasping at straws.
I mean, the sectarian violence, levels of corruption, religious dimension, outside influence from other countries, etc. There is nothing useful in that kind of comparison.