Wednesday, July 12, 2006

GAO: Iraq strategy muddled

The General Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress, released a report yesterday assessing the U.S. strategy in Iraq. You can read the abstract online, and download the full report in pdf format.

Their conclusion: it's a mess, and we're still following a plan based on assumptions that haven't been true for awhile: that security would be established, for instance, and that the international community and Iraq itself would pick up a bigger share of the costs.

They give the administration credit for clearly laying out the national interest and the goals. Where the administration falls short -- as it has in so many other things -- is execution.

I'm still reading through the main report. Some key findings, as far as I'm concerned:

1. Prior to fall 2005, our effort in Iraq lacked a clear, integrated strategy. Specifically:

(1) no unified strategic plan existed that effectively integrated U.S. government political, military, and economic efforts; (2) multiple plans in Iraq and Washington have resulted in competing priorities and funding levels not proportional to the needs of overall mission objectives; (3) focused leadership and clear roles are lacking among State, DOD, and other agencies in the field and in Washington, D.C.; and (4) a more realistic assessment of the capacity limitations of Iraqi central and local government is needed.

Those findings led to the creation of the current plan, which is the subject of the new report. The GAO calls the new plan, known loosely as the NSVI, an improvement but still flawed.

In all, the administration gets terrible marks on identifying costs (and how those costs will be met), risks (and how those risks will be addressed) and integration, as well as the data-gathering needed to determine if the plan is working.

The report also illustrates how unrealistic the administration's early assessments were. The number of troops deemed necessary to achieve security has grown from 162,000 in 2003 to 326,000 in 2005 -- and still the insurgency remains, in the GAO's words, "strong and resilient."

Me, I'm stunned that we had not yet developed a coherent plan more than two years after invading Iraq. It seems like part and parcel of the whole Iraq adventure -- a carefully planned invasion, followed by "and then we fix things." From Jay Garner to the CPA to the continued security problems, we appear to be trying to emulate the British and simply "muddle through."

Three years in, that's simply not good enough.

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