Monday, February 18, 2008

Remembering Those Benchmarks?

Fred Barnes
The Weekly Standard | 2/18/2008

A year ago, when neither the war nor political reconciliation was A going well, the Bush administration reluctantly agreed to 18 benchmarks for judging progress in Iraq. And the Democratic Congress eagerly wrote the benchmarks into law, also requiring the administration to report back in July and September on whether the benchmarks were being met.. Despite the surge of additional American troops and a new counterinsurgency strategy, the reports found little progress on the political benchmarks requiring tangible steps toward reconciliation between Shia and Sunnis. Democrats insisted this meant the surge had failed.

They had a point, but not anymore. The surge, by quelling violence and providing security, was supposed to produce "breathing space" in which reconciliation could take place. Now it has, not because President Bush says so, but based on those same benchmarks that Democrats once claimed were measures of failure in Iraq.

Last week, the Iraqi parliament passed three laws that amounted to a political surge to achieve reconciliation. Taken together, the laws are likely to bring minority Sunnis fully into the political process they had earlier boycotted and to produce a new class of political leaders.

Just as important is what the laws reflect in Iraq today. "The whole motivating factor" behind the legislation was "reconciliation, not retribution," says American ambassador Ryan Crocker, who has never sugarcoated the impediments to progress in Iraq. This is "remarkably different" from six months ago, he said.

The Iraqi government had made progress on nine of the 18 benchmarks before last week. But these were the easier ones, like forming a constitutional review committee or establishing security stations in Baghdad with American and Iraqi soldiers. The new laws deal with the harder, more divisive issues.

The most controversial--and the toughest to enact--gives significant power to provincial councils and mandates new provincial elections by October 1. As a result, leaders of the so-called Sunni Awakening who have broken with al Qaeda and insurgents are all but certain to gain power. And Iraq will have a decentralized, federal system of government.

In assessing progress last fall, the administration conceded the Iraqis had "not made significant progress" on achieving the benchmark on provincial powers. Now they have.

Next in importance to reconciliation is an amnesty law under which thousands of jailed Sunnis who haven't been charged with a crime will be released. Months ago, the administration said "the prerequisites for a successful general amnesty are not present." But the surge changed that by reducing violence and creating the conditions for amnesty.

If th

No comments: