To help stabilize Iraq and repair some of the damage done by the U.S., there will need to be a viable strategy for responsible withdrawal and continued development assistance. In a word: “benchmarks.”Dial the way-back machine further to the summer of 2003, when EPIC hosted a weekend Iraq Forum and lobbied more than 100 Members of Congress, delivering our Citizens' Humanitarian Pledge to the Peace of Iraq signed by 30,000 Americans. Our message at that time was the same, Congress must establish benchmarks to hold the Bush administration accountable for progress in helping the people of Iraq rebuild after the U.S. invasion and decades of war, tyranny and crippling sanctions.
Four years later and Congressional leaders from both sides of the aisle are finally converging on benchmarks, but sadly they’re not the benchmarks that I had in mind. The benchmarks proposed by Senator Olympia Snowe and other Republicans are one-sided and misguided. One-sided because they focus on “Iraqi progress” and ignore the American side of the equation. Misguided because they seem to suggest that Iraq has a fully functional state and if Iraq’s leaders would simply get on with it, there would be a political solution to Iraq’s multiple conflicts and we'd soon see the country's economy, infrastructure, and government services back on track.
This week the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR) released its latest quarterly report evaluating “U.S. progress.” The findings are summed up nicely by the Washington Post: “The U.S. project to rebuild Iraq remains far short of its targets, leaving the country plagued by power outages, inadequate oil production and shortages of clean water and health care, according to a report to be issued today by a U.S. government oversight agency.”
Benchmarks are not a bad idea, but they ought to be realistic and balanced to demand government performance from both Washington and Baghdad.