Thursday, June 28, 2007

Can Iraq meet its benchmarks?


The AP's Robert Reid has an interesting take on the push for benchmarks for the Iraqi government.

Iraqis are making some progress toward enacting legislative "benchmarks" the United States demands — but probably not fast enough to satisfy critics of Iraq's political impasse. The bigger question: Would any laws passed by a parliament at each others' throats really lead to true unity?

He notes that previous American-urged measures did little to stem violence, for one main reason: "Laws enacted by Iraqi officials holed up in the Green Zone have limited impact in a country whose institutions have all but collapsed."

He also notes that many of the current measures are American-supplied efforts to fix previous American-supplied laws.

The encouraging thing is that the Iraqi Parliament is working through the issues. The discouraging thing is that even if they meet the benchmarks it may not matter.

Reid's takeaway point is that we should recognize that Iraq is already a failed state, and fixing it will take years.

I find myself sympathetic to the analysis while disputing the conclusion, particularly as it bears on American policy.

The purpose of the benchmarks, for instance, isn't to pass some sort of "magic bullet" legislation that will fix the myriad problems facing the country. It's simply a demand that the Iraqi government stop stalling and show some seriousness about actually governing, demonstrating the will to address some of the biggest problems. I'm not expecting miracles; I just want them to start getting off their duffs.

Second, if Iraq has already failed in three short years under our watch -- under conditions far more favorable than what prevails today -- what makes him think that three or six or ten more years will help?

Third, if the Iraqi government cannot exercise meaningful control over its own institutions, then our entire strategy -- which is premised on the Iraqis holding (and effectively governing) the territory we clear of insurgents -- is meaningless. Which makes our presence aimless, rudderless and pointless.

Give me solid evidence that the surge is working and even minimal evidence that the Iraqi government is changing its ways, and I'll support us staying past September. But I insist that the Iraqi government be a partner, not a passive bystander or just one more partisan player trying to manipulate things to its own sectarian ends.

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