Just to add to Libby's earlier post - the Government Accountability Office's most up-to-date report on Iraqi progress towards key benchmarks is now available online (pdf). It's well worth a read as it explains that the Iraqi government:
met 3, partially met 4, and had not met 11 of 18 legislative, security, and economic benchmarks. The Iraqi government has not fulfilled commitments it first made in June 2006 to advance legislative, security, and economic measures that would promote national reconciliation among Iraq’s warring factions. Of particular concern is the lack of progress on de-Ba’athification legislation that could promote greater Sunni participation in the national government and comprehensive hydrocarbon legislation that would distribute Iraq’s vast oil wealth. In late August, Iraq’s senior Shi’a, Sunni Arab and Kurdish political leaders signed a Unity Accord signaling efforts to foster greater national reconciliation. The Accord covered draft legislation on de-Ba’thification reform and provincial powers laws, as well as setting up a mechanism to release some Sunni detainees being held without charges. However, the polarization of Iraq’s major sects and ethnic groups and fighting among Sh’ia factions further diminishes the stability of Iraq’s governing coalition and its potential to enact legislation needed for sectarian reconciliation.Of those three benchmarks met, only one was legislative - "the rights of minority political parties in Iraq’s legislature are protected. The government has not enacted legislation on de-Ba’athification, oil revenue sharing, provincial elections, amnesty, and militia disarmament." Indeed, they haven't made the first moves towards provincial elections, any amnesty program or a militia disarmament, with no laws even drafted. The push towards political reconcilliation that the Bush administration promised would be the result of the surge is nonexistant.
Reconciliation was also premised on a reduction in violence. While the Baghdad security plan was intended to reduce sectarian violence, it is unclear whether violence has been reduced. Measuring such violence may be difficult since the perpetrators’ intents are not clearly known. Other measures, such as the number of enemy-initiated attacks, show that violence has remained high through July 2007.
Spencer Ackerman points to the Bush administration's spin - trying to concentrate on "mini-benchmarks" which don't focus on the areas where the Surge plan has fallen short.
Highlighting the "mini-benchmarks" was the point of President Bush's visit yesterday to Anbar Province. It's necessary to draw attention away from the failures of Baghdad in order to convince a restive U.S. public that the sacrifice of U.S. troops is yielding tangible Iraqi political progress. "When you have bottom-up reconciliation like you're seeing here in Anbar, it'll begin to translate into central government action," Bush said. Only two problems: there aren't any Shiites in Anbar to "reconcile" with; and even if there were, the Iraqi political system -- designed by the U.S., of course -- doesn't send provincial representatives to parliament.Indeed. It's worth saying again - any "bottom-up" Anbar Opportunism doesn't have an "up" to go to. There isn't even a draft law for provincial elections and provincial representatives don't go to parliament. Suggesting that there's an "up" to go to is simply a lie.
Crocker laid the seeds of this "mini-benchmark" argument in July, when he emphasized "bottom-up" political progress and downplayed the Baghdad political contest. All indications over the past few days lead to the conclusion that Crocker and Petraeus will shift the justification for this latest phase of the war from the strategic aim of achieving sectarian reconciliation to the new goal of vanquishing al-Qaeda (and, in the mix, curbing Iranian hegemony).
...The lesson of this next week? Keep your eyes on the prize -- that is, the agreed-upon benchmarks for success or failure.
Update They surround their central thesis with CYA "maybes", but over at Foreign Policy, two VSP's - Colin Kahl and Shawn Brimley - are essentially pessimistic about the Anbar Awakening too.
U.S. cooperation with Sunni groups is already fueling Shiite fears in ways that may compromise the overall reconciliation effort. Thanks to a long history of repression under Saddam Hussein and an endless series of large-scale bombings by Sunni insurgents since 2003, Iraq’s Shiites are a majority with a minority complex. They blame the Sunnis for Iraq’s ongoing violence and fear a return to Sunni tyranny despite their demographic dominance. And a troubling number of them downplay sectarian murder by Shiite militias as “self-defense.”Their conclusion is that "reconciliation in Iraq will remain a distant star well into the foreseeable future."
When the United States courts Sunni militants, this fear and hyperbole only becomes magnified. Even if Shiite fears are misplaced, perception in Iraq is reality. By exacerbating Shiite anxieties, the U.S.-Sunni lovefest jeopardizes the United States’ ability to get Shiite politicians to take steps toward political reconciliation. It is also conceivable that Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki will judge U.S. aid to Sunni militias so intolerable that he demands a U.S. departure and turns to Iran or Syria for patronage. And this is to say nothing of another danger: Sunni blowback. The U.S. military’s desperate effort to destroy al Qaeda in Iraq also empowers Sunni groups that may one day further escalate the civil war, topple the current government, or turn their guns against the United States. Today’s saviors could very easily become tomorrow’s enemy.
Update Fred Kagan, surge architect and cheerleader extraordinaire, has a try at shifting the goalposts today in the Weakly Standard. Stranger at Blah3 provides all the commentary you need on this one. And the DNC website notes that the White House, clearly aware of what terrible news the GAO report is for their staid course, had already meddled to water down just how awful the news was.