Friday, July 20, 2007

Changing the rules, again

By Michael J.W. Stickings

November is the new September, or so we are now being told.

Where we were once told that an assessment of the Surge would come in September, we are now being told, by both civilian (Amb. Ryan Crocker) and military (Gens. David Patraeus and Raymond Odierno) officials, that:

a) 45 more days are necessary for "a good assessment" (Odierno's words) of the Surge; and that:

b) "benchmarks do not serve as reliable measures of everything that is important" (Crocker's words).

A Jon Stewart montage would be appropriate here. Once upon a time -- actually, not so long ago -- September was the deadline and benchmarks were important. Flacks like Tony Snow will deny, deny, deny, but the record is clear. And now, with little in the way of progress to report, with Republicans slowly bleeding away from Bush, and with daily reports on ongoing chaos and violence in Iraq, the war's wagers, both civilian and military, are doing once more what they have been doing all along as things have gone wrong (and they have been going wrong all along), which is changing the terms by which the war is being waged.

Over the years, most notably, both the justification for war and the definition of success have been changed over and over again. For example, in terms of justfication, the war was about WMDs. Then, when none were found, it was about grand political reform in the Middle East, the democratization of the Arab world. Then, when that looked increasingly hopeless (and grossly idealistic), it was (and this is what it is now) about fighting the terrorists over there so that they wouldn't have to be fought at home. And there have been others in between.

And this is more of the same.

-- We'll know by September. (No progress.) No, we'll know by November. Give us more time! Please!

-- Benchmarks, that's our check on the Iraqi government. (No progress.) Benchmarks are pointless. Forget about them! Please!

Andrew Sullivan has a great post up in response to this appalling, if predictable, development:

So once again, the rules are changed on us and the benchmarks are to be reinvented by Bush political appointees. It seems to me that the basis on which the surge was sold should remain the basis on which the surge is now judged. Anything else requires that we trust the Bush administration to be honest assessors of their own strategy. After the last four years, that is simply clinical. They will say anything to advance their narrow partisan purposes.

The surge can be definitively judged by September - eight long months and several thousand deaths after it began; it should be judged by exactly the same criteria the administration and Congress agreed upon in the first place; and the key criterion should be movement toward a political settlement, evidence that a national Iraqi government can begin to stand alone, as a unifying force in what was once Iraq. If there is evidence of a political breakthrough by then, if there are clear signs that the Shiites and Sunnis and Kurds are reconstituting a viable national government and want the US to stay to help them, then that is one thing. If we are supposed to judge the surge a success based on military progress against 5 percent of the insurgency, no deal. This al Qaeda stuff is so obvious and transparent a piece of distraction it should be treated as the tiniest factor that it is. It's not about Iraq or about America. It is about rescuing the Republican party and saving face for Bush and Cheney. It's about constructing a new narrative to rescue a failed policy. We are not that stupid. No young Americans should die for such partisan posturing, however coopted the military has become, however awful the immediate future is.

If we had a president we could trust, it would be one thing. We don't.

Strong and accurate words, particularly at the end. As long as this disastrous war continues, there will be death, massive death, American and Iraqi both, and all for the sake of Bush and Cheney and their "partisan posturing".

The war has been lost. The warmongers can change the rules as much as they want, but that basic fact won't change.

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