The 'Surge One Year Later
In an address to the nation one year ago today, President Bush outlined a "new strategy" for Iraq that would entail an increase in U.S. security operations with the goal of giving the Iraqi government "the breathing space it needs" to "make reconciliation possible." Though violence in Iraq diminished in the tail end of 2007, the year since Bush's announcement of his escalation strategy has been the deadliest of the war for the U.S. military. Unfortunately, the hard fought gains of American troops have not been sufficiently accompanied by "progress on any of the key political benchmarks so critical to bringing Iraq together and producing lasting stability." In October, the Government Accountability Office assessed that of the eight political benchmarks set forth by Bush and Congress, the Iraqi government had only "met one legislative benchmark and partially met another." In his speech, Bush warned that "America will hold the Iraqi government to the benchmarks." But now that the goals have been largely unmet, the administration is downplaying their importance. In December, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said, "I no longer think of them so much as benchmarks as the pieces that they are now presenting as what they need to do over the next year." Earlier this week, however, Bush claimed that "the Iraqis are beginning to see political progress that is matching the dramatic security gains for the past year." But if anything, "the political situation has gotten worse."
KEY MEASURES NOT MET: Last year, Bush promised that "Iraq will pass legislation to share oil revenues among all Iraqis." This has not happened. Instead, "the oil bill has not even had a first reading in parliament, a year after it was drafted." Bush also declared that "the government will reform de-Baathification laws, and establish a fair process for considering amendments to Iraq's constitution." Neither of these goals have been met either. Though the de-Baathification law "came up for discussion," it "was met with angry protests from Shiite lawmakers." Last month, the head of the parliament's constitutional review committee requested a three-month delay for revising the document -- "the fourth time the target date for revision of the document, approved in a referendum in 2005, has been deferred." The delay of the constitutional revision has hindered progress on other issues. Bush also said that Iraqis would "hold provincial elections" last year, but they have not come to pass. "New provincial elections have been postponed pending agreement on a law setting out the relationship between national and regional governments." Currently, there are "no provincial elections in sight."
'BITTERLY DIVIDED' SECTARIAN LINES: In the effort to decrease violence in Iraq, a key U.S. tactic has been to "to empower and arm Sunni Arab tribes and factions, provided they pledge to resist outside militants like al-Qaeda." Though this strategy -- which was precipitated by the decision of Sunni tribes to turn against al Qaeda -- has been effective in the short-term, "this approach threatens to further split Iraq and exacerbate sectarian tensions" in the long run. The new Sunni leaders whom the United States is empowering "are decidedly against Iraq's U.S.-backed, Shiite-led government, which is wary of the Awakening movement's growing influence, viewing it as a potential threat when U.S. troops withdraw." "When the U.S. military suggested that the Shiite-led Iraqi government incorporate the Sunni fighters -- many of them veterans of anti-U.S. combat -- into their own security forces, the Iraqis balked." Even U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker admits that tensions between Sunnis and Shiites have hardened on the national level, saying recently that "nothing good is coming down the line." The Center for American Progress's Brian Katulis and Peter Juul write today that "Iraq at the start of 2008 is even more bitterly divided along ethnic and sectarian lines than it was at the start of 2007, increasing the possibility that the recent declines in violence may be a temporary lull."
HAWKS DECLARES 'VICTORY': Despite the fact that political reconciliation has not occurred and even Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, cautions that "security gains are fragile and still reversible," the right wing is already beginning to declare victory. In November, after a trip to Iraq, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) began declaring that "we've succeeded militarily." His traveling companion, Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) agreed, bellowing that "we are winning" because "we have made progress" in "one of the most remarkable turnarounds in modern military history." In a Wall Street Journal op-ed this morning, the two senators continue their pronouncements of success, declaring that "the surge worked" and "we have at last begun to see the contours" of "victory." Conservative pundits have been even more explicit in their declarations of victory. In December, right-wing radio host Hugh Hewitt wrote that "victory is a wonderful thing, and [U.S. soldiers] have brought Iraq and its allies victory." Heritage Foundation fellow Tony Blankley wrote in November that we are on the doorstep of "a genuine, old-fashioned victory in the Iraq War."