Last week the Bush Administration announced that the Iraqi government had made "satisfactory" progress on just 8 of the 18 benchmarks the Administration and Congress set this spring. Yet little attention has been paid to what these benchmarks actually are and whether they matter.
The report judged that progress was "satisfactory" in eight of 18 benchmarks, including a review of the Iraqi constitution; legislation to divide Iraq into semi-autonomous regions; the protection of minority rights; and government, military and civil support for the new strategy. But it noted mixed progress on new electoral laws, militia disarmament and the reduction in militia control of local areas.
Areas receiving unsatisfactory grades included reform of Iraq's de-Baathification laws; enactment of a new law governing oil revenue; the ability of Iraqi security forces to operate independently from U.S. forces; and a range of benchmarks measuring sectarian bias in the government.
So the most important targets--curbing sectarian violence, empowering Iraqi forces, cracking down on militias, fairly distributing oil revenues--remain unmet. The Administration has little to show for the $2 billion per week our government is spending in Iraq.
Yet the incessant talk about benchmarks, on both sides of the Iraq debate, misses the point. "By setting 18 benchmarks that will be nearly impossible to reach but saying you won't leave until they are met is a recipe for long-term occupation," says Erik Leaver, an Iraq expert at the Institute for Policy Studies in DC. "There's no need for benchmarks at this point if you believe the war is a failure and can't be won."
Leaver notes that there is no similar mechanism of accountability or official indexes of progress for US troops and reconstruction teams. We didn't benchmark our way into this war and we won't benchmark our way out.