John McCain's "realistic" benchmarks

The GOP presidential candidate says the GAO's benchmarks aren't realistic. But Iraqis have failed to meet his, too.

By Tim Grieve
Published September 6, 2007 6:26PM (UTC)
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During last night's GOP presidential debate, John McCain corrected Mitt Romney when Romney said that the "surge" was "apparently working." "Not apparently," McCain snipped. "It's working."

What about the Government Accountability Office report that shows that Iraqis have met only three of 18 benchmarks they agreed to meet? "Actually," McCain told Fox's Sean Hannity right after the debate, "a number of those benchmarks I thought were unrealistic from the beginning."

Let's disregard, for the moment, that those benchmarks were set by the Iraqis themselves. Instead, let's look at the benchmarks that McCain, in his judgment, once thought were realistic -- so much so that McCain included them in legislation he himself drafted when the "surge" began back in January. McCain's bill would have required the Iraqis to show "visible progress" in meeting "specific benchmarks, including the following":

1) Deploying a significant number of new Iraqi security forces to partner with U.S. units in securing Baghdad. The GAO says the Iraqis have "partially met" the benchmark of providing three "trained and ready brigades to support Baghdad operations" but cautions that the "effectiveness" of some of those brigades is "limited."

2) Assuming responsibility for security in all provinces in a timely manner. The report out today from retired Gen. James Jones says that Iraqi security forces won't be able to take over internal security in the next 12 to 18 months.

3) Disarming individual militias and ensuring security forces are accountable to the central government and loyal to the constitution of Iraq. The GAO says the Iraqi government has made no progress in drafting legislation that would disarm militias. The Jones report, meanwhile, says Iraq's national police force is so dysfunctional and corrupt that it should be disbanded.

4) Ensuring equitable distribution of government resources regardless of sect or ethnicity. Although some laws have been drafted, they have not been enacted or implemented.

5) Passing legislation to ensure that Iraq's oil resources benefit Sunni Arabs, Shia Arabs, Kurds, and other Iraqi citizens in an equitable manner, and implementing such legislation. The Iraqi parliament has not passed this legislation.

6) Building an effective, independent judiciary that will uphold the rule of law and ensure equal protection under the law for all citizens of Iraq. Neither the GAO nor the Jones report addresses the subject of Iraq's judiciary.

7) Pursuing all those who engage in violence or threaten the security of the Iraqi population, regardless of sect or political affiliation. The GAO says that Iraqi security forces themselves are engaged in sectarian abuses, and that militia infiltration of some of the forces has created safe havens for outlaws in Baghdad.

8) Passing and implementing new legislation that will reform the de-Ba'athification process. No such legislation has been passed.

9) Conducting provincial elections. The elections haven't happened.

10) Ensuring a fair process for amending the constitution of Iraq. The GAO notes that the Iraqis have formed a Constitutional Review Committee, but that the Iraqi parliament hasn't passed any amendments and no referendum has been scheduled.

11) Expending promised funds to provide basic services and employment opportunities for all Iraqis, including a $10 billion fund for reconstruction, and ensuring that these funds reach Sunni areas, including Sunni neighborhoods in Baghdad and largely Sunni Anbar Province. The GAO says Iraqis have "partially met" a benchmark calling on them to allocate and spend $10 billion in reconstruction funds.

By our math, the Iraqis have failed to meet at least eight of the 11 benchmarks on which McCain once expected them to make "visible progress" -- a record that's just as sorry as the one the GAO found when it measured the Iraqis against those "unrealistic" benchmarks the Iraqis set for themselves.

Tim Grieve

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

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