Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Weekly "Progress Reports" on Iraq

Readers who want the horse-hockey results can visit the State Department website once a week to see the latest "progress" being made in the Iraq war.

A year ago, President Bush announced a new plan for Iraq, framed around "eight pillars" of U.S. policy for victory. In the past month, the president and his national security team have been busily working on a new recipe for success in Iraq, having declared the previous plan a failure. ...

The State Department continues every Wednesday to issue a 30-page public report that details exactly how the U.S. government is meeting the goals set forth in the president's now-abandoned plan. The report frames the data around Bush's storied eight pillars, which include such goals as "Defeat the Terrorists and Neutralize the Insurgents" (Pillar 1) and "Increase International Support for Iraq" (Pillar 7).

In many ways, the report is a microcosm of the administration's lost year in Iraq. The reams of details aimed at touting success belie the fact that few of the goals are being met.

The report is often upbeat as it presents some of the most minuscule factoids of the situation in Iraq. The Dec. 13 report noted that on Dec. 7, 40 sheikhs from across Diyala province met "to discuss ways to maintain peace and stability" and that on Dec. 9, U.S. soldiers discovered a factory for making improvised explosive devices in a house in Baqubah.

But the bottom-line graphs tell a story of failure. Under Pillar 5 ("Help Iraq Strengthen Its Economy") the reports show that week after week, the Iraqis cannot meet their goals for crude oil production. Another chart shows that efforts to build a 15-day supply of all refined products, such as diesel and gasoline, are woefully behind schedule, reaching a peak of a four-day supply. ...

The report is prepared not by State Department officials but by a team of about 10 people hired by a management consulting firm. The firm, BearingPoint, has a $2 million contract to produce the report and to manage the process of running Iraq policy in the administration, the State Department official said.

Below the level of the top policymakers, working groups from across the government implement Iraq policy day by day. The BearingPoint employees, who work out of offices in the State Department, arrange the meetings, set the agendas, take notes and provide summaries of the discussions, the official said. They also maintain the Web site of the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad. ...

The report seemed uncertain how to treat the release of a report by the Iraq Study Group, the independent bipartisan panel that criticized the administration's policy and spurred the White House to come up with a new plan. The earliest mention of the study group's report, in the Dec. 13 edition, came under Pillar 3, "Help Iraqis to Forge a National Compact for Democratic Government."

The headline said it all: "Iraqi Leaders Blast Iraq Study Group's Report." The State Department, perhaps in an effort to demonstrate the unity of Iraqi leaders, then devoted a whole page to negative quotes about the panel's recommendations.

To see this year's reports go to http://www.state.gov/p/nea/rls/rpt/iraqstatus/2006/c18335.htm


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