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U.S.: Should Congress Judge Iraq Now, Or Wait For General's Report?

A U.S. soldier at the site of a May car bomb blast in Baghdad (AFP) WASHINGTON, July 12, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- As early as today, the White House is to issue an interim report on the Iraqi government's progress in meeting goals set by the U.S. Congress.

The report will say how the government has performed on 18 security and political benchmarks.

It comes ahead of a full report due in mid-September -- by the top U.S. military general in Iraq, David Petraeus -- on the success of the surge strategy announced by U.S. President George W. Bush earlier this year,

White House Urges Patience

The White House sees progress in some areas and acknowledges trouble in others.

But many opposition Democrats in the Senate say they're ready to judge the success of Bush's strategy on the basis of the interim report.

The White House is working to persuade them and even several of Bush's fellow Republicans to postpone judgment until Petraeus issues his report two months from now.

Several Republicans already have publicly split with Bush over the war, and the White House is working hard to keep more from defecting.

Even Bush himself is being pressed into service. On July 10 he went to the industrial city of Cleveland in hopes of winning public support for his argument that it's too soon to judge progress in Iraq.

"To make a snap judgment that could affect radically the policy before you've really given it a full chance to play out isn't particularly fair." -- analyst Norman Ornstein

Bush encouraged debate on the war, but said the full complement of new troops wasn't in place until about two weeks ago. He urged Americans to give Petraeus time to bring these additional soldiers onto the scene.

"I welcome a good, honest debate about the consequences of failure, the consequences of success in this war. But I believe that it's in this nation's interest to give the commander a chance to fully implement his operations," Bush said. "And I believe Congress ought to wait for General Petraeus to come back and give his assessment of the strategy that he's putting in place before they make any decisions. That's what the American people expect."

'Political Charade'

So why are some members of Congress so eager to pass judgment now?

Alan Lichtman, a professor of American political history at American University in Washington, says neither side is playing fair, and that in politics, there are "double standards, there are triple standards, there are quadruple standards."

"All of this is an absolute charade on both sides," Lichtman says. "It doesn't matter to either side what's in this report. The report is meaningless. It's the administration evaluating itself. And this is all strictly a matter of political push and pull, and a matter of fundamental differences in policy."

But political maneuvering aside, Lichtman says the debate really isn't about whether it's fair to judge progress now or two months from now. It's about people already having made up their minds -- including the American people, who increasingly oppose the war.

"For most Democrats, and seemingly for now a pretty substantial portion of the American people, none of this matters," Lichtman says. "They've come to the conclusion that this war was a mistake to start with and that the objectives cannot be achieved, and America has to pull out. Whereas Bush still seems to be committed to the project. And that's what's going on here."

Snap Judgment 'Unfair'

Norman Ornstein looks at it differently. He's a veteran political analyst at the American Enterprise Institute, a private policy research center in Washington. Ornstein says Bush has a strong case to make in the debate.

"He indicated when the surge began that it was going to take some time, first of all, to get the additional troops actually out in the field; that it would take some time when they were out in the field, with adjustments being required along the way, to figure out what worked and what didn't work, and Petraeus himself said that," Ornstein says. "To make a snap judgment that could affect radically the policy before you've really given it a full chance to play out isn't particularly fair to Petraeus."

Ornstein says Petraeus clearly believes that with enough troops and enough time, he can make enough of a difference in Iraq for the government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki to take over security responsibility for his country.

Petraeus (left) is due to give his report in September (epa)

But Ornstein stresses that there's what he calls "another reality" that's more important -- a reality that's not Petraeus' responsibility:

"The point of the surge, as the president expressed it, was not to create a military victory, but it was to get us out of genocidal warfare [and] create a more placid climate so that we could move toward some kind of political solution in Iraq," he says. "That's out of the sphere of influence of Petraeus. That is in some ways beyond his pay grade."

And in the United States, Ornstein says, the pervasive belief is now that not only has the political situation in Iraq not improved, it has become even worse, despite any improvements in the military situation.

Ornstein says Iraq is now "a huge mess" that won't be cleaned up until the Bush administration can find a way to synchronize its political and military efforts.

Searching For A Way Forward

Searching For A Way Forward
A boy looks out from his Baghdad home (AFP)

LOOKING BEYOND AL-MALIKI: RFE/RL Iraq analyst Kathleen Ridolfo led an RFE/RL briefing about the changing political landscape in Iraq, focusing on efforts to gain the upper hand in the event that the government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki falls.


Listen to the entire briefing (about 70 minutes):
Real Audio Windows Media


Opposition Appears Set On Bringing Down Al-Maliki

Former Premier Pushing New Plan For Reconciliation

Al-Sadr Prepares For Post-Coalition Era

Sunni Ultimatum Rocks Al-Maliki's Position

THE COMPLETE STORY: RFE/RL's complete coverage of events in Iraq and that country's ongoing transition.

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