Iraq Benchmarks: Progress and Hurdles
NOAH ADAMS, host:
In January, President Bush said he would send more than 20,000 additional troops to Iraq. He said Iraqis must see progress in their communities.
President GEORGE W. BUSH: So America will hold the Iraqi government to the benchmarks it has announced.
ADAMS: So, are these benchmarks indeed being reached? Here is NPR's Mike Pesca.
MIKE PESCA: The president laid out four main areas for improvement: Security, oil revenue, domestic spending and electoral reform. Philip Zelikow was Condoleezza Rice's top adviser for much of her tenure as secretary of state. He offers this assessment.
Mr. PHILIP ZELIKOW (Executive Director, 9/11 Commission; Condoleezza Rice's adviser): The oil law: good. The other benchmarks - political and economic -not so good.
PESCA: Let's go through them one by one. The first benchmark the president announced was what all Iraq watchers say the fundamental goal from which all other progress will follow.
Pres. BUSH: The Iraqi government plans to take responsibility for security in all of Iraq's provinces by November.
PESCA: Carlos Pascual, the director of foreign policy studies at The Brookings Institution, says this goal will be all but impossible to meet. He points to the number of troops needed.
Mr. CARLOS PASCUAL (Director, Foreign Policy Studies at The Brookings Institution): It's a start with 150,000 on the part of the Americans, 50,000 on the part of the Iraqis who are competent. You still need, perhaps, another 200,000 forces, competent forces, to be able to deal with something like this on a sustained basis.
PESCA: Where will they come from especially if Americans leave? The goal seems unrealistic. Philip Zelikow agrees. He says the U.S. has likely rethought that particular aim. On to the next benchmark.
Pres. BUSH: Iraq will pass legislation to share oil revenues among all Iraqis.
PESCA: Both Pascual and Zelikow said this is happening as we speak. Details are still to be worked out, but sharing oil revenue is something the Iraqis can point to as an area of real progress, much more so than the third plank that the president touch on.
Pres. BUSH: The Iraqi government will spend $10 billion of his own money on reconstruction and infrastructure projects that will create new jobs.
Mr. PASCUAL: They may actually appropriate the money. In fact, it's actually been included in the budget this year, but there's no way that they're going to spend it.
PESCA: Carlos Pascual says there's a huge difference in a broken society like Iraq, between an item in the budget and cash in people's hands. Even the U.S. can't spend nearly all the billions it appropriates for Iraq. Zelikow concurs with Pascual.
Mr. ZELIKOW: The money is in the bank. They have the money.
PESCA: Budget execution that's the term the experts used for actually getting the funds flowing.
Mr. ZELIKOW: They've actually been so worried about being accused of corruption that they're reluctant to spend money.
PESCA: Onto the last batch of benchmarks.
Pres. BUSH: Iraqis plan to hold provincial elections later this year and to allow more Iraqis to reenter their nation's political life. The government will reform the de-Baathification laws, and establish a fair process for considering amendments to Iraq's constitution.
PESCA: Pascual, a lifelong diplomat, who dealt with elections in places like Bosnia, says this about Iraqi provincial elections.
Mr. PASCUAL: They may happen, I think it would be a bad idea.
PESCA: His point is that elections that result in no reforms are real progress could dishearten the populace.
Mr. PASCUAL: Democratic participation can actually be counter-productive because people will become disillusioned with their votes. They will see it as not meaningful.
PESCA: Zelikow begs to differ.
Mr. ZELIKOW: Also elections in this case actually are a pretty big part of democracy, and I think actually the provincial elections would be a very good thing.
PESCA: He points to provinces like Ninawa province, currently governed by Kurds, but where Sunnis are, in fact, the majority. Zelikow says a good provincial election could right that wrong. That's where reforming de-Baathification laws and constitutional reform. Zelikow was less sanguine.
Mr. ZELIKOW: It's going along slowly, and not as well as the United States would like.
PESCA: But the most important thing that Zelikow emphasizes is that meeting benchmarks isn't the same thing as progress or solving the problem of Iraq. Carlos Pascual analogizes Iraq to a terminally ill patient.
Mr. PASCUAL: The point that people make is that the Iraqis are the ones that are in the end responsible. Absolutely. A patient has to take part in his or her own recovery.
PESCA: But he says the sick patient needs all the expertise and assistance he can get.
Mike Pesca, NPR News, New York.
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