The Bush administration will not try to assess whether the troop increase in Iraq is producing signs of political progress or greater security until September, and many of Mr. Bush’s top advisers now anticipate that any gains by then will be limited, according to senior administration officials.
In interviews over the past week, the officials made clear that the White House is gradually scaling back its expectations for the government of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki. The timelines they are now discussing suggest that the White House may maintain the increased numbers of American troops in Iraq well into next year.
Of course, none of this is surprising. I don't see it as too early to say that this escalation is failing to achieve the other real goal that matters as far as ending this conflict - political reconciliation.
Word is now that Democrats in Congress may pass an Iraq spending bill with benchmarks to be met by the Iraqi government, but it's unclear how binding they could be or what consequences could be tied to them but still garner Republican support and a Bush signature. All three parties are set to meet next Wednesday about the funding bill they hope to be complete by June 1st.
Meanwhile, the question is can the Iraqis get anything done:
By the time Ambassador Crocker and General Petraeus complete a comprehensive assessment of progress in September, three months after the troop increase has been fully in place, American officials are hoping that some of the pieces of crucial legislation will have passed.
But Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates found himself pressing Mr. Maliki last week to keep Parliament from taking a two-month summer break. If lawmakers remain in Baghdad, said one senior American official who did not want to be identified because he was discussing internal White House deliberations, “we’ll have some outputs then.”
He added, “That’s different from having outcomes,” drawing a distinction between a sign of activity and a sign of success, which could take considerably longer.
So even if we convince the Iraqi parliament not to go on a two-month recess during the time that escalation ramps up completely, it doesn't mean we'll see any significant signs of progress. So what is it exactly the Bush administration plans to report in September? What are we trying to buy Malaki time for here exactly?
And it's clear that despite the fact Bush will veto the Democrats' Iraq bill on Tuesday (the anniversary of his infamous "Mission Accomplished" speech no less), he is running out of time here at home. Many moderate Republicans conviced to support the administration this time may defect if there's no progress by the end of summer. That's why many, including myself, think the Congress should pass a spending bill that funds the war only until September. If this article is any indication, it's clear there's going to be a low and unacceptable progress report at that time, and it will be all the more apparent the "surge" is a failed strategy and orderly withdrawal is the only real option we have left.
UPDATE: Even as auditors find seven out of eight Iraqi projects are crumbling, Secretary of State Rice says Bush will veto any bill that holds the Iraqi government accountable for failing to make progress.
UPDATE II: Audit reports Iraq using Saddam-era law to block corruption probes.