And Who's Moving Goalposts?
The Senate got itself all in a tizzy yesterday over the attempt by the Bush administration to 'move the goalposts' on the Iraq benchmarks. Senator Kerry was among those decrying the Bush administration's supposed sleight of hand, and Senator Biden even told Ambassador Crocker that he needed to make clear to the Iraqis 'We're not staying... You don't have much time.'
Of course, the Senate and House both chose to pass a war funding bill that gave the President full latitude to determine how to prosecute the war -- so it's funny that Biden would now behave as if a departure plan is already set in stone. (After all, if it's clear that we're leaving Iraq soon, what are the Democrats complaining about?)
But anyway, with all the talk by the Democrats that the Bush administration is trying to 'weasel out' of a September 15 deadline, it's important to go back and see exactly what the Congress required.
And for that, you need to look at the text of HR 2206, signed into law by the President on May 25. The relevant section of the legislation (starting on page 21) says:
(A) The United States strategy in Iraq, hereafter, shall be conditioned on the Iraqi government meeting benchmarks, as told to members of Congress by the President, the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Defense, and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and reflected in the Iraqi Government’s commitments to the United States, and to the international community, including:(B) The President shall submit reports to Congress on how the sovereign Government of Iraq is, or is not, achieving progress towards accomplishing the aforementioned benchmarks, and shall advise the Congress on how that assessment requires, or does not require, changes to the strategy announced on January 10, 2007.
- Forming a Constitutional Review Committee and then completing the constitutional review.
- Enacting and implementing legislation on de-Baathification.
- Enacting and implementing legislation to ensure the equitable distribution of hydrocarbon resources of the people of Iraq without regard to the sect or ethnicity of recipients, and enacting and implementing legislation to ensure that the energy resources of Iraq benefit Sunni Arabs, Shia Arabs, Kurds, and other Iraqi citizensin an equitable manner.
- Enacting and implementing legislation on procedures to form semi-autonomous regions.
- Enacting and implementing legislation establishing an Independent High Electoral Commission, provincial elections law, provincial council authorities, and a date for provincial elections.
- Enacting and implementing legislation addressing amnesty.
- Enacting and implementing legislation establishing a strong militia disarmament program to ensure that such security forces are accountable only to the central government and loyal to the Constitution of Iraq.
- Establishing supporting political, media, economic, and services committees in support of the Baghdad Security Plan.
- Providing three trained and ready Iraqi brigades to support Baghdad operations.
- Providing Iraqi commanders with all authorities to execute this plan and to make tactical and operational decisions, in consultation with U.S commanders, without political intervention, to include the authority to pursue all extremists, including Sunni insurgents and Shiite militias.
- Ensuring that the Iraqi Security Forces are providing even handed enforcement of the law.
- Ensuring that, according to President Bush, Prime Minister Maliki said ‘‘the Baghdad security plan will not provide a safe haven for any outlaws, regardless of [their] sectarian or political affiliation’’
- Reducing the level of sectarian violence in Iraq and eliminating militia control of local security.
- Establishing all of the planned joint security stations in neighborhoods across Baghdad.
- Increasing the number of Iraqi security forces units capable of operating independently.
- Ensuring that the rights of minority political parties in the Iraqi legislature are protected.
- Allocating and spending $10 billion in Iraqi revenues for reconstruction projects, including delivery of essential services, on an equitable basis.
- Ensuring that Iraq’s political authorities are not undermining or making false accusations against members of the Iraqi Security Forces.
(2) REPORTS REQUIRED.
(A) The President shall submit an initial report, in classified and unclassified format, to the Congress, not later than July 15, 2007, assessing the status of each of the specific benchmarks established above, and declaring, in his judgment, whether satisfactory progress toward meeting these benchmarks is, or is not, being achieved.
(B) The President, having consulted with the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Defense, the Commander, Multi-National Forces Iraq, the United States Ambassador to Iraq, and the Commander of U.S. Central Command, will prepare the report and submit the report to Congress.
(C) If the President’s assessment of any of the specific benchmarks established above is unsatisfactory, the President shall include in that report a description of such revisions to the political, economic, regional, and military components of the strategy, as announced by the President on January 10, 2007. In addition, the President shall include in the report, the advisability of implementing such aspects of the bipartisan Iraq Study Group, as he deems appropriate.
(D) The President shall submit a second report to the Congress, not later than September 15, 2007, following the same procedures and criteria outlined above.
A simple reading of the statute enacted into law shows that the administration is NOT moving any goalposts. The legislation requires the administration to submit 'status reports' on the efforts of the government of Iraq to meet 18 benchmarks, and to recommend any changes in strategy that the President may deem appropriate. That's it.
The statute doesn't say that if all 18 are not achieved by September 18, the mission is over. It doesn't even force the President to recommend any changes in strategy by that date. Rather, it requires him to report on progress on that date.
So for Ambassador Crocker or General Odierno -- or David Petraeus, or anyone -- to suggest that we won't know about the success of the surge until after September 15 is completely consistent with and contemplated by the legislation that the Senate passed by a voice vote (meaning, with no objections).
For war opponents now to claim that September 15 is some kind of make or break date under the terms of the law is specious. The date is important politically, since it's clear that many in Congress regard it as a do-or-die test. But by the terms of the law, September 15 is no more than the date that a report is due to Congress. And there are thousands of those every year.