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Iraq's Benchmarks

Who's Moving the goalposts now?

12:00 AM, Apr 3, 2008 • By FREDERICK W. KAGAN
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AS THE REDUCTION IN violence in Iraq has become incontestable (the insistence of early critics that no such reduction was possible notwithstanding), war opponents have fallen back on their next line of defense--that the military progress has not been matched by the political progress it was supposed to enable. This talking point, however, is also outdated and invalid. The Bush administration, commanders and ambassadors in the field, and supporters of the effort to win in Iraq have long pointed to evidence of grassroots reconciliation and political progress. This evidence is growing and the importance of these developments is becoming increasingly apparent. But critics have long dismissed these developments on the grounds that they meant nothing if the central government did not meet the key benchmarks established in 2007 as the basis for continued American support. For most of 2007, such critics at least had some facts on their side--the Iraqi Government quickly moved to achieve most of the security-related benchmarks, but key legislative benchmarks remained stalled. The facts no longer support this argument, however. As a recent study by the U.S. Institute of Peace noted, "It may be that February 13, 2008 will be remembered as the day when Iraq's political climate began to catch up with its improved security situation--or, more to the point, when Iraqi leaders discovered the key to political compromise and reconciliation."

As the tally below shows, the Government of Iraq has now met 12 out of the original 18 benchmarks set for it, including four out of the six key legislative benchmarks. It has made substantial progress on five more, and only one remains truly stalled. One can argue about the scoring of this or that benchmark, but the overall picture is very clear: before the surge began, the Iraqi Government had accomplished none of the benchmarks and was on the way to accomplishing very few. As the surge winds down, it has accomplished around two-thirds of them and is moving ahead on almost all of the remainder. To say in the face of these facts that Iraq has made "little" or "no" political progress is simply false-to-fact.

Some critics more willing to wrestle with unpleasant (to them) realities have argued that the laws that have been passed and the steps taken to meet the non-legislative benchmarks are flawed (and, therefore, don't count). This argument is highly disingenuous. Opponents of benchmarks (including the author) always argued against them on the grounds that simply getting Iraqis to "check the box" was not an appropriate way to measure progress. Defenders of the benchmarks insisted that we needed clear metrics. Well, the metrics they demanded and wrote into law are pretty clear, and the Iraqis have met most of them. Last year, critics accused the Bush administration of "moving the goalposts" by pointing to local reconciliation rather than national benchmark legislation. Now the shoe is on the other foot--those who most shrilly demanded a set of arbitrary benchmarks are now insist that the Iraqi Government's achievements in meeting them aren't enough. Who's moving the goalposts now?

Legislative Benchmarks (4 accomplished; 2 underway; 1 stalled)

January 2007
March 2008

Enacting and implementing legislation on de-Baathification.
Not done
Passed by CoR on January 12, 2008; approved by Presidency Council in February 2008.

Enacting and implementing legislation to ensure the equitable distribution of hydrocarbon resources of the people of Iraq without regard to the sect or ethnicity of recipients, and enacting and implementing legislation to ensure that the energy resources of Iraq benefit Sunni Arabs, Shia Arabs, Kurds, and other Iraqi citizens equitably.
Not done
Not done. Draft law of July 2007 still under consideration in a CoR committee. The Kurds are the major holdup here. But the provincial powers act and the 2008 budget do this de facto. The 17 percent share of Iraq's oil revenue given to the Kurds in the 2008 budget represented the short-term compromise on this issue, with negotiations on the longer-term legislation continuing.