As I reported here earlier today, John Kerry chaired a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing this afternoon on the final GAO Iraq report on benchmarks.
The N.Y. Times reports today that the final GAO report on Iraq banchmarks finds progress is lacking in Iraq:
As Democrats in Congress opened a marathon series of hearings on the Iraq war today, members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee seized on a new report by the Government Accountability Office showing virtually no political progress by the Iraqi government as the latest evidence that President Bush’s military strategy is failing.
The hearings, in both the Senate and the House, will be held every day for the next week as Democrats seek to shape the debate over the war ahead of the much-awaited reports by General David H. Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker.
“No matter what spin we may hear in the coming days, this independent assessment is a failing grade for a policy that simply isn’t working,” Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts, the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, said in opening remarks that seemed to sum up his party’s message.
“We are here to measure whether that which the Iraqi government itself promised to achieve has been achieved, “ Mr. Kerry said, as his committee prepared to question David M. Walker, the comptroller general of the Government Accountability Office.
“We’re looking for the truth,” Mr. Kerry said. “We’re looking for the facts, and we’re looking for the best policy for the United States of America.”
The following is John Kerry’s complete opening statement at the hearing:
Mr. Walker, thank you for coming before the Committee today. We appreciate your willingness to adjust your schedule to testify, and look forward to hearing about this significant and timely report. The GAO has earned its reputation for objective, factual, analysis— something that has been in tragically short supply in the Washington debate over Iraq before the war, during the war, and still today as the occupation extends into its fourth year.
That is why Congress asked for this non-partisan assessment on whether the 18 key benchmarks for measuring political, security and economic progress – as originally agreed to by the Iraqi government in June of 2006 — have been met, so that we can get an accurate picture of where we are in Iraq, and we go from here.
No one should ignore the bottom-line conclusion of your report. It clearly states that: “The Iraqi government met 3, partially met 4, and did not meet 11 of its 18 benchmarks. Overall, key legislation has not been passed, violence remains high, and it remains unclear whether the Iraqi government will spend $10 billion in reconstruction funds.”
In other words, only three of these 18 benchmarks have actually been met. No matter what spin we may hear in the coming days, this independent assessment is a failing grade for a policy that simply isn’t working.
This conclusion appears to contrast with at least some aspects of the Administration’s interim assessment of the benchmarks, delivered to Congress in July, which found that “satisfactory progress” had been made in meeting 8 of the 18 benchmarks. In particular, there seems to be some disagreement over whether the security situation has actually improved, whether the Iraqis have provided the 3 brigades required for the Baghdad security plan, and whether the Iraqis are meeting their commitments with respect to spending reconstruction funds.
While we recognize the difference between making progress and actually meeting benchmarks, these discrepancies raise questions about the information that we are receiving from the Administration about the war in Iraq. We also need to be sure that the GAO received the full cooperation and support of the Department of Defense and White House in preparing this report.
One thing we all agree on is that the escalation had a single, simple goal: to create “breathing room” for Iraqis to make the political compromises that will hold their country together and end their civil war. Even the White House acknowledges that there is no American military solution to an Iraqi civil war. Yet still, despite the obvious lack of movement on political reconciliation, we keep hearing that we are making progress in Iraq.
The reality, as explained by your report, and supported by the consensus view of our sixteen intelligence agencies in the most recent National Intelligence Estimate, is that there has been no meaningful progress on meeting the key political benchmarks. In fact, your report concludes that the Iraqis met only one of the eight benchmarks for political progress – protecting the rights of minorities in Iraq’s legislature – and partially met one other. The Iraqis have not yet agreed on the key issue of amending the Constitution, and crucial legislation on de-Ba’athification, oil revenue sharing, provincial elections, amnesty and militia disarmament still has not been enacted.
The GAO isn’t alone. Your findings echo last month’s NIE, another independent assessment which concluded that the overall level of violence remains high, the level of political progress has been negligible, and “the Iraqi government will become more precarious over the next six to 12 months.” We can see the unsettling news in Iraqi politics with our own eyes. 15 of the 37 members of the Iraqi cabinet have now withdrawn their support, making it difficult to imagine how the national reconciliation efforts of the Shiite-dominated government will be improving anytime soon.
All summer, supporters of the escalation urged us to wait until September. Wait until September to give the escalation a chance. Wait until September to hear from General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker. Well, September is here, and the result is as regrettable as it was predictable three or even six months ago, before hundreds more Americans had died: at an immeasurable cost of American lives, there was an escalation to buy time for political progress in Iraq, and –without deadlines, without accountability—there has been no real political progress in Iraq.
This Administration hasn’t just failed to keep its promises—it has proven chronically unable to even hold itself to its own goals. Each time we hear, “this is what we were trying to do all along. This is what really mattered.” Mistake after mistake has been met not with a changed policy, but with changing rationales.
The White House badly wants Americans to forget that the purpose of the escalation was to force political compromise over federalism, oil sharing, and the sectarian balance of power—without which there will be no peace – and they instead want to point to a few villages in Al-Anbar as proof that the escalation is working, when by their own measurements it is not.
In fact, just yesterday the President reiterated the same old line that some U.S. forces may eventually be withdrawn if conditions improve, when it’s long since been clear that setting a redeployment deadline is key to improving conditions.
So as we reach another moment of reckoning this September—with the long-awaited Petraeus Report, it should surprise no one that the public report will be written not by the General, not by our Ambassador in Baghdad, but by the White House— the White House which has again and again avoided the kind of plain, unadorned facts discussed in the GAO report.
Instead of an honest appraisal of the escalation, this White House is again moving the goalposts and the shifting criteria. Their rationales may change, but one thing has been consistent: Their response to bad news has been and continues to be: simply change the story. What they can’t change is the fact that time is not on our side. It’s wrong to sacrifice so many American lives each month for a policy we know is not working.
We need reports like the GAO’s to lay out what’s really happening in Iraq — and to help force policymakers in Washington to take responsibility and, most importantly, to take action, to take action so that Americans aren’t asked to die for a policy that can’t work.
Thank you again for your testimony today.
Think Progress has video of David Walker’s testimony at the hearing and as expected, Fred Kagan of the Weekly Standard is looking for “What’s Wrong with the GAO Report.” The truth is there’s nothing wrong with the GAO report, it simply isn’t what the Bush apologists like Kagan want to hear. As the GAO reports notes, there has been “virtually no political progress by the Iraqi government” and “Bush’s military strategy is failing.”