Friday, July 13, 2007

success! it smells like desperation

we all know that no matter what would happen in iraq, the bush administration was gonna produce a report that tried to spin whatever it was into good news. so why would anyone pay any attention to the report?

it turns out, the report (pdf) is actually rather funny. at least it is in a morbid black-humor sort of way. the places where it tries to put a positive spin reads like its damning the entire operation with faint praise.

robert kaplin takes apart the eight so-called successes pretty well. but he doesn't seem to notice the humor in it. so he's my counter-spin on the eight areas of "success":

success number one: "Forming a Constitutional Review Committee and then completing the constitutional review."

see, by "completing", we don't mean actually finishing the review. nor does it mean that the review is close to completion, or even has any reasonable hope of being completed anytime soon. while the members of the committee have been named, the sunni factions are boycotting the meetings, which means there is no quorum and the committee can't actually meet.

but because the members of constitutional review committee have been named that's enough to say the review is "now underway." and we can call it a success even though no one is meeting anymore and there hasn't been any progress in months. to the bush administration this is what counts as "satisfactory."

success number two: "Enacting and implementing legislation on procedures to form semi-autonomous regions."

as the report explains, this is a success because "The COR enacted a law in October 2006 that establishes procedures to form regions." that's right, they've come up with procedures for meeting this benchmark, so we can all pretend that they've actually met the benchmark.

similarly, i've come up with a plan for becoming world dictator (step one: get famous so people will listen to me. step two: tell everyone i want to be world dictator. step three: get everyone to agree), so let's just say i'm world dictator.

success number three: "Establishing supporting political, media, economic, and services committees in support of the Baghdad Security Plan."

so with a wave of their pen, the iraqi government formed a committee, which in turn, formed a bunch of sub-committees that claims to have jurisdiction over politics, the media and the economy. of course, the sub-committees are actually powerless to do much that might actually provide any concrete aid to the baghdad security plan. but hey, the benchmark just says "establishing"--just because the committees can't actually do the supporting (something the report admits when it notes "as [the subcommittees'] contribution to date has not been adequate." see pdf p. 15), let's just put a check down next to this one and try not to think about it too hard.

success number four: "Providing three trained and ready Iraqi brigades to support Baghdad operations"

so the brigades weren't ready by the original deadline last spring. when the press got wind of that, suddenly commanders claimed that they were ready after all. they did that by re-defining the term "ready." while in english the term "ready" means "completely prepared or in fit condition for immediate action or use", they don't speak english in iraq. so we don't have to worry about those pesky definitions. in fact, the administration has come up with a new "ready", a "ready" for the 21st century. let's call it "ready 2.0." with ready 2.0, we don't actually mean that the three brigades are actually fully-staffed. no, instead they only have 50% to 75% of their soldiers. even though the brigade doesn't completely exist yet, we can still call it "ready" just as bush was "ready" to be president back in 2001.

success number five: "Ensuring that … the Baghdad security plan will not provide a safe haven for any outlaws, regardless of sectarian or political affiliation."

the key word in this one is "ensuring". once again, we can all breathe a sigh of relief that iraq is not an english-speaking country. so while ensuring might mean "guaranteeing" or "to make sure or certain" to us americans. in iraq, we can call this a success even though outlaws do currently have safe havens in baghdad. indeed, currently less than half of the iraqi capital is under control.

success number six: "Establishing all of the planned joint security stations in neighborhoods across Baghdad."

the first two lines explaining this success pretty much say it all:
Many of the planned JSS, U.S. Combat Outposts, and other patrol bases have been established across Baghdad and the surrounding area. Over 60 of these stations are located within Baghdad, and 30 more are planned.
get it? 90 total stations have been planned, 60 have been established. therefore "all" of the planned stations have been established. mission accomplished. next!

success number seven: "Ensuring that the rights of minority political parties in the Iraqi legislature are protected."

ya gotta give them credit for setting a remarkably low bar for success on this one. after all, the benchmark isn't about protecting the rights of minorities in iraq society, it's about protecting the rights of minority political parties that are in the iraqi legislature (if there were no such protections for minority parties in provincial legislatures, or the local town council, we still get to call this a success).

after setting such a low bar, the bush administration crows about how it met the challenge. except that sunni parties claim that their rights are not protected, that's why they're currently boycotting. members of the iraqi parliament are currently being investigated for aiding the insurgency, and all of them happen to be minorities. sunni MPs and their families have been threatened and killed for their political activities. for this to be called a "success" you'd have to ignore the protests of a lot of the minority members of parliament.

luckily, they're just minorities, so who cares what they think? by ignoring minority complains we can all rest assured that minority politicians are protected and happy, just like the benchmark requires. woo-hoo!

success number eight: "Allocating and spending $10 billion in Iraqi revenues for reconstruction projects, including delivery of essential services, on an equitable basis"

this one is tricky, because the very first line of the report's discussion of this "success" admits that only $1.35 billion has actually been spent. that's 22% of the $6.2 billion budgeted, which is, in turn still $3.8 billion short of the amount set forth in the benchmark that the iraqis have "succeeded" in accomplishing. (pdf p. 23). the report also sheepishly notes that its hard to account for where that money was spent, which is another way of not saying that there is no way to tell whether it was spent on any "equitable basis." so to the untrained eye, it looks like this benchmark is unmet several times over.

luckily, the administration does not have such an untrained eye. indeed, it has been rigorously training its eye to spot diamonds in any pile of iraqi shit ever since 2003. while the facts seem to indicate that the benchmark is not even close to being met, success can still be found simply by ignoring what the benchmark actually says and by making up a new measure for success. quoteth the report: "True success lies not only in the percentage of the capital budget actually spent in 2007, but in the effects of spending, as the Iraqi Government seeks to establish its credibility with citizens though improved delivery of public services and tangible economic development."

okay, that's fine, even though that's not really what the benchmark seems to focus on, let's look at the effects of spending... except the report really doesn't tell us what those effects are. it continues on with all kinds of hopeful rhetoric about "methods of allocation" and how that, whatever that could be when the "allocation" only covers less than a quarter of the money coming in, is really really awesome! and this awesomeness is deemed to "improve delivery of public services" even though the report doesn't mention what those services might be. it certainly doesn't seem to be things like water, electricity, police protection, or anything like that. i suspect instead it's referring to "public services" like cutting the paychecks of public officials in the oil ministries. that definitely has a "tangible economic development" for those officials!

the coolest part is that these eight are the successes. i'm not even gonna get into the other ten that the administration admits are failures. maybe someone else can do that. i don't want to hit the two hour mark with this post.