"There is no report because I haven't written it"

Meet the U.S. ambassador to Iraq.

Published August 23, 2007 6:23PM (EDT)

The beginning of an actual State Department transcript from a media availability this week in which Ryan Crocker, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, discussed the report he'll be giving the president sometime before Sept. 15:

Phil Reeker, Moderator: Everybody have a cup of something and a cookie or whatever. Great. Well then, we'll just turn it over to Amb. Crocker.

Ambassador Ryan Crocker: Thanks, but I don't have any remarks. I didn't write anything.

Reeker: Then we can go straight to questions if you prefer. Mr. Hurst of the Associated Press, you have the seat of honor.b

AP Baghdad Bureau Chief Steven Hurst: Yeah. What kind of, I know you don't want to talk specifically about your report because it's not your report yet. But what kind of thoughts do you have in mind for those who will query you about the lack of progress on political benchmarks?b

Crocker: Well you're right not to query me because there is no report because I haven't written it, because this is Iraq and uh, you know, Lord knows what [the] landscape will look like by then including on the benchmark question. Because as you know, the political leadership of the country has been meeting on a daily basis over the last three or four days or carrying on with that. So even that is an evolving situation. I think there are a number of things to look at.

First and most obviously, the progress on national level issues has been extremely disappointing and frustrating to all concerned. To us, to Iraqis, to the Iraqi leadership itself. So that's, you know, that's one.

A second point that I've said on a number of occasions, with respect to the legislative benchmarks these are complicated issues, complicated legislatively, complicated politically, and some of them get at existential issues, de-Baathification reform, on the relationship between the Center and the provinces, states rights if you will. These are not issues easily resolved in any society. They were not in our own, and here where they are dealt with in the shadow of a huge national trauma that to some degree is ongoing, it helps give this some perspective, why this is hard to do.

I guess a third point I'd make, having been here five months now, the sense I've got is that these benchmarks are important. There's no question. Important as a measure for us, important in their own terms, but they don't tell the whole story about Iraq. And I am of the view, to some extent, that failure to meet any of them does not mean the definitive failure of the state or the society. Conversely, to make them all would not, by any means, that they've turned the corner and it's a sun-dappled upland from here on in with peace and harmony and background music. It's just a lot more complex than that.

Another point I'd make is that there are kind of, if you will, mini-benchmarks where things are happening. We all know about Anbar. We've seen that phenomenon in different forms move through different parts of the country. It's not just a security issue, obviously. I mean it's the steps these tribes, communities, individuals are taking are rooted in a political context and you gotta keep an eye on that, too. So that's kind of where I am on benchmarks.

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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