Time to move some goalposts. The White House today released its third benchmark report (pdf) on Iraq, and, miracle of miracles, it shows some achievements. Iraq is now making "satisfactory" progress toward de-Baathification reform. Repeat after me, in your best Johnny Drama voice: Victory!
Of course, the Iraqi parliament has been on vacation for all of August, almost half of the time since the White House's last benchmark status update. Needless to say, no law relaxing the purge of overwhelmingly Sunni ex-Baath Party officials has been passed. Just last week, the U.S. Government Accountability Office bluntly assessed the de-Baathification benchmark as "not met" in its report. So what gives?
What gives is the White House has seized on an agreement between the different factions of the Iraqi government in August to relax the de-Baathification program as evidence of progress. Now, the salient fact here is that the government of Nouri al-Maliki doesn't contain any Sunnis. One influential Sunni official, Tariq al-Hashemi, signed onto the agreement. But that was largely out of politesse. Not only did his Sunni political bloc not rejoin the government, but one of his deputies dismissed the agreement as "an irrelevant media production."
And that's exactly why it's good enough for President Bush. The report expects the American people to believe that yet another in an endless litany of promises is a sign of the inevitable march of sectarian healing. "The fact that legislation has not yet passed the [parliament] should not diminish the significance of the agreement," the report hectors. But the GAO included the agreement in its assessment, which is far more realistic: "No consensus exists on reforming the current de-Ba'athification policy, and many Iraqis are concerned about the prospect of former Ba'athists returning to power."
And there lies the new way forward for the Iraq war: to paraphrase Senator George Aiken of Vermont, declare victory and stay in forever.