Note: This week, I have examined in three separate posts, each of the eighteen benchmarks which the Bush Administration is using to document the effectiveness of The Surge, on its own terms and in its own words.  Links for fast access to this Iraq Primer (should open in new window for reference):
Benchmarks 1-6 — Benchmarks 7-12 — Benchmarks 13-18.

Part One on the July Benchmark Report:

All is in the hands of man. Therefore wash them often.
                                                                      –Stanislaw Jerzy Lec

Introduction: Eight out of eighteen means nothing:
Approximately ten days ago, the July version of the Iraq Benchmark report was made available to Congress and the public.  The military and Bush 2 Administration reported eight out of eighteen benchmarks at ‘satisfactory progress’, less than half on the numerical scale.  This ratio (8/18) was taken in terms of a kind of gross percentage that, while unscientific, accurately reflects that progress is at a tipping point.  More, this ratio reflects U.S. ambivalence (or, contention) concerning what to do next.

Yet in terms of affecting outcomes, analysis on a simple ratio basis (8/18) does not reflecting the complexity or interrelation of the benchmarks themselves.  Thus, the 8/18 ratio may mask real progress—or its lack.

Further, the disposition of Iraq is not one where half-measures are stable enough to take root.  In other words, all or nearly all of the benchmarks must be met in order to shore up each other.  Amnesty and reconstruction are to a great extent requirements of security; oil law is contingent upon provincial government’s administration; and security requires legislative initiatives to clear the space for operations.  It’s not horseshoes: it’s all or none.

We looked at Benchmarks in Detail:
Previous examination of the benchmarks (Iraq Primer, 3 parts), reveals that some are so comprehensive that they require generations of trust-building (Benchmark 6), while others require a mere time amendment on a course already agreed (Benchmark 4) and should therefore be more easily obtained.  Some benchmarks have detailed steps (Benchmark 5); others do not (Benchmark 17).

Overall character of the JBR structure
Strongly acknowledges core realities:

One strength of this report is that it acknowledges an actual and political reality. An early statement in the July Benchmark Report (hereinafter JBR) is that it acknowledges a hard reality: these benchmarks should have already been met by the Iraqi government.  Therefore, the report explicitly acknowledges the failures thus far in achieving conclusive results in the areas discussed.   By extension, progress which is incomplete on any benchmarks in this report shows continued failure to conclude separate parts of Iraq’s state-building process under U.S. or Multi-National Force (MNF) aegis.  It should be noted that even those benchmarks on which there was “satisfactory progress”–are incomplete.  No benchmark is completed.

But benchmarks reflect U.S. & Iraqi confusion and disorganization
The JBR’s greatest weakness, which may help us reflect upon our own diplomatic and military leadership in Iraq, is that the benchmarks themselves are poorly organized in this document.  This is immediately surprising, because the first twelve benchmarks correlate to Iraq Study Group Report (ISGR) recommendations somewhat sequentially, and the ISGR did have good organization and nuancing from one recommendation to the next.  However, in this benchmark report, those nuances have largely disappeared.  Only the order remains, and with it, a spurious and stripped-down fidelity to the ISGR efforts.

A second sign of disorganization is that the last six benchmarks are tacked on in a poor order: the last three in particular are amplifications of previous benchmarks.  Without rhyme or reason, they are an attempt to add in some specific aspects to previous benchmarks.  In my view it appears that the ISGR nuances were stripped out, and then a few different nuances were put back in, but without integrating them as a whole.  The other possibility is that the latter benchmarks were unresolved wishes or stray ends of what ultimately is a committee effort, and that committee was not unified.  Long story short: not literature–a rush job, which for benchmarks upon which to base a campaign in Iraq and in D.C., is hardly optimal.

The benchmarks are written into Public Law 110-28 (May 25, 2007) Section 1314. on pages  121-125 (pp. 11-15 of pdf) and as such were promulgated by Congress based upon Secretary of State Rice’s agreement with the Iraqi government (Section 10, p. 12).

And have Conspicuous Omissions
A third aspect of the July report has to do with what is not included, which I will mention here and not again.  The benchmarks (and therefore the JBR) omit, by design, the regional and international requirements or benchmarks that act in concert with Iraq’s governmental behavior.  An internationally-coordinated, region-focussed approach was a particular feature of the ISGR.  It can be argued, perhaps properly, that the report was meant to focus upon Iraq alone.  In this case, the number of omissions are greatly lessened, but still obtrude.  For instance, benchmarks for Iraq’s diplomatic rapprochement with neighbors are conspicuously absent–these would include economic and political diplomacy, but also immediate regional concerns, for instance concerning aid and support to refugees.

Within these acknowledged and/or unacknowledged limits, there is still plenty to discuss under more specific headings.

Restructuring JBR to analyze its initiatives:
In view of the JBR’s organizational problems, I have restructured its goals into initiative areas.  These include the following:  a. Amnesty (Benchmarks 2 and 6); b. Governmental organization (Benchmarks 1, part of 3, and 4, 5, and 16); c. Security (Benchmarks 7, and 9 through 15) ; d. Reconstruction (part of 3, the Oil Law, and 17);  and e. Public Discourse (Benchmarks 8 and 18).

Next post: Amnesty and onward