The Center for American Progress has released a new review of the Bush administration’s “Surge”–the escalation of the US war in Iraq–and has found that the progress President Bush promised has not been made. A key component of the Bush administration’s rationale for “the Surge” was to give the Iraqis the so-called “breathing space” to make progress on a series of “benchmarks” supported by the United States. While legitimate questions can–and should be–raised about the United States’ role in determining what Iraqis must do, it is worth noting that the Bush administration’s efforts have failed to achieve its goals.
The following are the benchmarks and their status, grouped by category:
“Government Benchmarks: 2 of 8 Accomplished
1. Perform constitutional review. Unmet
2. Enact de-Ba’athification reform. Partial
4. Form semi-autonomous regions. Unmet
5. Hold provincial elections. Unmet
6. Address amnesty. Unmet
8. Establish support for Baghdad Security Plan. Met
16. Ensure minority rights in Iraqi legislature. Met
18. Keep Iraqi Security Forces free from partisan interference. Unmet
Security Benchmarks: 1 of 8 Accomplished
7. Disarm militias. Unmet
9. Provide military support in Baghdad. Partial
10. Empower Iraqi Security Forces. Partial
11. Ensure impartial law enforcement. Unmet
12. Establish support for Baghdad Security Plan by Maliki government. Unmet
13. Reduce sectarian violence. Partial
14. Establish neighborhood security in Baghdad. Met
15. Increase independent Iraqi Security Forces. Unmet
Economic Benchmarks: 0 of 2 Accomplished
3. Implement oil legislation. Unmet
17. Distribute Iraqi resources equitably. Partial”
While the lack of progress on these benchmarks can be one way of arguing that “the Surge” failed to achieve the goals laid out by the Bush administration, the antiwar movement must be careful before embracing that as a primary argument. Many of the benchmarks do not have the best interests of the Iraqi people in mind. For example, the oil law that was originally proposed would have given primary control of Iraq’s oil fields to non-Iraqi corporations.
Similarly using Iraq’s “failure” to meet the benchmarks runs the risk of endorsing US imperialism and adopting a paternalistic position in which we see the Iraqis as “undeserving” of the US’ assistance. This is a common position, with politicians regularly arguing that the Iraqis have been ungrateful or unwilling to make progress. A prime example of this position is Michigan Senator Carl Levin, who has repeatedly sought to blame Iraqis and has even accused them of “dawdling.”
Unfortunately, this is common in the debate over Iraq. The Iraq Study Group report–praised by many liberal “critics” of the war–essentially outlines a strategy for the United States to maintain the occupation of Iraq. Well-funded antiwar groups, such as MoveOn.org or the Iraq Summer campaign, have failed to adopt a position critical of US power as a whole, instead throwing their support behind various measures that would maintain a US presence in Iraq or the Middle East. The Center for American Progress, who issued the report on the benchmarks, has supported the idea that the United States must maintain a presence in the Middle East to maintain its so-called interests in the region.
Beyond this, the discussion of “benchmarks” passes responsibility for the current situation in Iraq from the US and the countries that destroyed it, onto the Iraqi people who have been the victim of almost two decades of war by overt conflict, sanctions, and almost daily bombings. Lost amid the talk of “benchmarks” is the reality that more than a million Iraqis were killed due to the 2003 invasion. That number–shocking as it is in its own right–comes on top of the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis who were killed via economic sanctions and the first Gulf War. Moreover, there are numerous critics who have argued that “the Surge” has done nothing to improve the situation in Iraq.