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November 19, 2005

Iraq: instead of benchmarks to get out, benchmarks to stay in
Posted by Suzanne Nossel

Instead of benchmarks to get the US out of Iraq, how about benchmarks to determine whether we stay in? 

Here's the logic:  the Administration persistently maintains that we're making great progress in Iraq.  The American people have grave and growing doubts.  If, as the daily news would lead one to believe, Iraq is spiraling closer to civil war, then our presence is at best a finger in the dyke.  We hold on as long as we can to delay collapse, but meanwhile lose lives and deplete our military, when its just a matter of time before we pull away and the country disintegrates (with, if Bush is lucky, a decent interval in-between).

To decide whether we're better off leaving now, or waiting until some unknown future point when Iraq can stand on its two feet, we need to verify the credibility of the Administration's claim that it is making progress.   Condi Rice outlined the Administration's strategy for Iraq a few weeks ago as "clear, hold, build."   So how about the Congress giving the Administration 10 weeks, until the end of January, 2006 to demonstrate the following:

- Getting the number of Iraqi military battalions capable of fighting independently of the US up from 1 to 5;

- Per Rice's strategy, identify up front 5 secure areas formerly occupied by insurgents and ensure that, safeguarded by Iraqi rather than US forces (but with American advisers if needed) they stay secure (i.e. no IEDs, no suicide attacks) over the coming 10 weeks;

- Secure commitments of 5000 additional (truly new) foreign troops to be deployed to Iraq in support of the US-led operation (note that the Koreans, within a day of Bush's meeting with Roh, have just announced they're pulling out a third of their troops).

The Government Accountability Office can certify whether these benchmarks are met.

You could argue that these requirements aren't rigorous enough but I would frankly be impressed if the Administration could accomplish all 3 by late January.  Coupled with a successful election in December, it might help rebuild confidence in the mission. 

If these benchmarks are met, would that not mean that we could start withdrawing US troops, rather than deciding to leave them in?  Rest assured:  if we ever start seeing solid evidence that Iraq is capable of securing itself and holding its own politically, there won't be a politician or a wonk in America who doesn't favor starting to pull out. 

There's no disagreement between Republicans and Democrats when it comes to getting out if sufficient political and military progress can be made.   We disagree about whether to stay in given the manifest absence of progress.  So let's create some concrete benchmarks that allow us to evaluate whether "mission accomplished" is actually accomplishing anything at this point.


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Keeping in mind the larger question -- whether there is or ever was any realistic prospect of achieving the administration's current war aim of a stable and democratic Iraq -- and the fact that congressional Republicans control until at least 2007 any requirements placed on the administration, I would like to suggest a slightly different version of your approach.

Rice, presumably speaking for the administration, said in the Senate testimony you linked to:

"We know what we must do. With our Iraqi allies, we are working to:

* Clear the toughest places – no sanctuaries to the enemy – and to disrupt foreign support for the insurgents.
* We are working to hold and steadily enlarge the secure areas, integrating political and economic outreach with our military operations.
* We are working to build truly national institutions by working with more capable provincial and local authorities. We are challenging them to embody a national compact – not tools of a particular sect or ethnic group. These Iraqi institutions must sustain security forces, bring rule of law, visibly deliver essential services, and offer the Iraqi people hope for a better economic future."

Rather than asking congressional Democrats to propose the benchmarks as you suggest, they could ask that the administration propose and the Congress adopt specific "metrics" to demonstrate during 2006 that these three steps in the administration’s strategy are being accomplished. Faint-hearted congressional Democrats could even insist on leaving out any withdrawal requirement and that all they are interested in is determining whether the administration’s strategy is working.

It is certainly probable that the administration would choose metrics that they believe can be accomplished in 2006, but at the very least it would introduce into the public debate the requirement to actually demonstrate progress rather than simply assert it and the President could no longer simply rely on the vague formulation of standing down when the Iraqis stand up.

For myself, I think our national interest and our soldiers are best served by those citizens and leaders courageous enough to call for beginning now to bring the troops home.

Rest assured: if we ever start seeing solid evidence that Iraq is capable of securing itself and holding its own politically, there won't be a politician or a wonk in America who doesn't favor starting to pull out.

I'm sure the administration would like to "start to pull out" but they're rather adverse to completing the process:

In talks with Rumsfeld, [Adel Abdul Mahdi, Iraq's vice president] said he had made clear he is "not averse" to a permanent base for U.S. troops in Iraq.

Eyes on the prize.

BTW Suzanne, what would you say to allowing the Iraqis a vote in this process? Given the ethnic divide in the country, I can see why this would be problematic, but I'd be interested to hear your thoughts.

"Averse" not "adverse." Oh for a preview option...

Why the requirement of 5,000 additional troops? It just sounds like political cover. It won't make a demonstrable effect, will it?

If we're just looking to find more friends and get more support, we should just let them know that we are looking for more support and then ask for the kinds of non-military support we need -- aid, political support, military trainers, police trainers, etc. -- so we can get out of there.

Maybe the problem is you're beleiving the "daily news"- perhaps you'd be better off listening to the word coming back from the troops actually there who see that they are winning a clear victory.

Your benchmarks are all very well, but they ignore the result of US forces pulling out. What's the point of that if it destroys the freedoms that the Iraqis are working towards now and throws the region into instability?

Good stuff, Suzanne. Rumsfeld's penchant for 'metrics' should make this proposition irresistible. I, like most detractors whose positions have been misrepresented by the administration, am not inclined to support 'cutting and running'... but I am inclined to support leaving if we can not show measurable progress. Thanks for this.

As I have pointed out in another post, the metrics<\a> already have general acceptance, and they are in fact being collected and disseminated to Congress.

If Democratic congressmen are uninformed, it can only be through their own incompetence.

[Sorry for the mangled link]

As I have pointed out in another post, the metrics already have general acceptance, and they are in fact being collected and disseminated to Congress.

If Democratic congressmen are uninformed, it can only be through their own incompetence.

Jeff Younger, I have to note that the most important metrics mentioned in that report are not available because the security situation etc doesn't let them be collected. That isn't encouraging.

But I do think it's encouraging that suicide bombers don't regularly infiltrate the iraqi military and police. While the data of how often they irregularly do is classified, still it indicates there is some sort of group self-preservation going on among those units.

- i've done a 180 concerning benchmarks regarding the iraq fiasco. 2 months ago i posted on this site exactly that: set metrics and when accomplished, get out. however, i think our chance to enforce reasonable metrics is not only past (the WH will use its own inexorable timeframe: 2006 mid terms), but i now question the basic, ‘everyone-knows’ assumptions that led me to argue staying in iraq to clean up george the younger’s mess. the December issue of The Atlantic, in addition to publishing another fine Fallows piece, also ran an article by Nir Rosen., who basically puts paid to almost every reason to stay in iraq.

know what? i tend to agree with his assertions…

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