Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Accountability, If You Can Keep It

Before yesterday, most Americans paid little attention to government audits other than to lament yet another failure in public policy or insult to common sense. Yesterday’s report by the Government Accountability Office on Securing, Stabilizing, and Rebuilding Iraq may grab their attention. It should. The report tells the country what CheneyBush’s occupation of Iraq has accomplished. The results are not good. Critical political reconciliation, economic and security goals are unmet. The few that have been met involve creating committees, not actual accomplishment. Here, America, are the fruits of the war initiated in your name, with the lives of your sons and daughters.

The report’s political critics try to marginalize its impact with allegations of “factually incorrect”, “outdated data” and “set up” to deliver a negative report. The military argues that GAO conclusions on violence levels would be different if only GAO has looked at August figures. Don’t buy any of this. I’ve heard it all before in the many program evaluations and performance audits I conducted over the past 30 years. Sometimes critics may be right or actually provide additional information that will change conclusions but, if the audit the evaluation is done honestly and competently, the criticisms have no weight, however loudly the critics howl.

GAO did an honest review of progress toward the benchmarks. I know because I do this kind of work. It’s been my career. I’ve evaluated everything from licensing funeral directors to corrections systems to highway construction and maintenance. I never evaluated a war or national security operation but I know the process. That part is simple. Any good auditor knows what to look for. Reading the GAO report, it’s clear to me that GAO did all the right things in its review.

The Comptroller General’s transmittal letter states that GAO conducted the review in accordance with generally accepted government auditing standards. The standards establish requirements for independence, competence, planning, supervision and reporting. In following the standards GAO ensures that it has the credibility to report objectively and accurately. The report begins by stating the basis for its review: the 18 benchmarks mandated by Congress in law. A handy figure on page 4 shows the origin of each benchmark and demonstrates broad agreement between the US and Iraqi governments about what the US is trying to achieve in Iraq and that these goals are consistent with the Iraqi government’s’ own goals. Although the benchmarks were mandated by Congress, they are drawn from US executive and Iraqi government sources. This is not Congress judging based on some obscure or narrow definition. This is judging based on what all participants have stated are the primary goals of US and Iraqi government policies. When you hear the politicians barking about “narrow definitions, “arbitrary either-or choices” or “not looking at the big picture”, don’ buy it. This IS the big picture.

Next, GAO presents its conclusions on performance meeting the benchmarks. GAO uses a Consumer Reports format on page 6 to show results: blank circles indicate benchmarks “not met”, black circles show benchmarks “met” and half-filled circle represent “partially met”. Only three circles are completely black. Four others are half-filled. The remaining 11 benchmarks are unmet. GAO includes comments on the status of the benchmarks that provides some compelling insight on the results. Benchmark 9, providing three trained and ready Iraqi brigades to support Baghdad operations, is partially met; the status questions the reliability of the forces provided. Benchmark 16, ensuring the rights of minority political parties are protected in the legislature, is met but the status notes that the political rights of minority citizens are unprotected. Benchmark 8 is rated as met because committees have been established. It’s nice they have committees. I wonder if the committees are functioning and what they might be accomplishing. The comments suggests even less real accomplishment than the limited results reported.

The report discusses legislative benchmarks, legislation and parliamentary actions necessary to achieve consensus and reconciliation within Iraq, actions which all sentient observers recognize as the only long-term solution to Iraq’s instability and violence. Only one of eight of these benchmarks–protecting the rights of minority parties in the legislature–has been met,. The six unmet benchmarks are the key issues that have been at the center of conflict throughout the occupation: constitutional reform, de-Baathification and sharing oil revenues. Although CheneyBush claimed progress in legislative benchmarks, GAO’s figure on page shows how little has actually been accomplished.

GAO finds mixed results in meeting security benchmarks. Only two are met, creating committees to support the security plan and establishing joint security bases. The latter is probably the more significant. Progress on eliminating safe havens for militias and providing trained Iraqi troops is partially met but safe havens still exist, according to GAO. Even more significant are the five unmet benchmarks, all of which address critical security issues. GAO uses level of violence as a key measure and concludes that it is unchanged since February 2007 when the Baghdad Security Plan (aka The Surge) began. The military is arguing that August would show a significant drop. The Comptroller General responds that levels of violence are measured in a variety of ways and that GAO did not find agreement among the responsible organizations that violence is reduced.

On page 12 GAO compares its assessment of performance with CheneyBush’s progress report issued this summer. The latter is more positive but the two reports are not completely at odds. Neither is particularly hopeful; even the Administration claims satisfactory progress in only eight of the benchmarks, not even half. The two reports differ dramatically on only one benchmark, constitutional reform, rest are differences of degree and level of evidence. GAO clearly outclasses the Administration in documenting lack of legislative progress (Figure 3)and reports that the administration offered little information to support its claim of satisfactory progress on this benchmark. The administration does not even attempt to report progress on two benchmarks--amnesty legislation and disarming militias to ensure that security forces are accountable only to the government and loyal to the Iraqi constitution–only that “conditions are not present for these benchmarks”. Whatever that means. I believe it can only mean benchmark “not met”, which is also GAO’s conclusion. I sense that the “conditions are not present” language is the Administration’s excuse for no progress on the most vexing political and security challenges of the occupation.

The report is written in simple audit language with just enough detail in its 18 pages to convey a complete story. A classified (and no doubt longer) report was also submitted to Congress. GAO’s language does not sensationalize its findings, it simply characterizes performance and assesses results. Critics will dismiss GAO’s findings as simplistic, preferring to hear from the “commanders on the ground” when General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker report to Congress next week. I’m pretty sure both will argue for completing the mission, giving the counterinsurgency strategy time to create the space for political reconciliation. That’s why they went to Iraq, to salvage the mission. They also both know that a military solution will not resolve Iraq’s political crisis. The only real solution is an Iraqi solution wherein Iraqis bridge their sectarian, ethnic and political divisions. I expect Petraeus and Crocker to argue for more opportunity to succeed, focusing on some limited successes. But in the end, the real job is an Iraqi one. Congress should be skeptical when

And when Petraeus and Crocker talk about success, remember the war reported by so many of “the troops”: the junior officers, NCO’s and enlisted men on the ground fighting this war. Most recently they wrote about the danger and uncertainty of fighting in a multi-dimensional civil war where your friends during the day are helping your enemies at night, where you cannot trust anyone. The pace of combat operations in Iraq and the repeated deployments into what has been a deteriorating situation for years has pretty much exhausted the Army and Marine Corps. They will be a long time rebuilding.

The GAO report is a significant achievement in legislative oversight. It won't end the war but for the first time Congress has an independent view of the Operation Iraqi Freedom, the official name of the occupation. Members of Congress are in a position to critically evaluate Administration claims and hyperbole and they damn well better use that information to ask questions and demand straight answers. If they do, perhaps Constitutional government will survive the CheneyBush years of predation.

Above all don’t be distracted when you hear CheneyBush and his apologists say that they need more time to make the new strategy work. The GAO is reporting on Iraq FOUR AND A HALF YEARS after the United States began its experiment in “democratic reform. The results we see now clearly document CheneyBush’s inability to use American resources and assets to provide for the common defense. Congress and the American people have every right to demand a change, that our government secure America’s foreign interests without resorting to unprovoked war, that American policy support local and regional initiatives to stabilize Iraq and create non-violent alternatives for resolving differences.

It’s about fucking time.

Labels: , ,


Post a Comment

<< Home