Let’s be objective about pulling out of Iraq

Marketplace Staff Aug 3, 2006

KAI RYSSDAL: Donald Rumsfeld wouldn’t say it today. But two top generals did. Peter Pace, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; and John Abizaid, the commander of US forces in the Middle East. They said the violence in Iraq might turn into an all-out civil war. All three men were testifying in front of the Senate Armed Services Committee. The general line of questioning from the senators was: How’re we doing? What are we getting for our quarter of a trillion dollar investment there?

The answer is critical, of course. But the problem is, we just don’t know. Commentator and comptroller general of the United States David Walker explains.

DAVID WALKER: What people think about progress in Iraq typically depends on whether they supported going to war in the first place. But that’s no way to judge anything.

Instead, we need a clear way to measure progress on every front, from governance, security and the Iraqi economy, to international cooperation. Right now, we haven’t got that.

The administration is working on a set of reliable metrics, but they aren’t final. The ones they’ve tested privately show a very mixed record.

The good news? We know we won the offensive war fast. The vast majority of our military personnel have served honorably and with great effectiveness. We are making real progress in training Iraqi security forces, though it’s true that they require considerable support.

In the last three elections, Iraqis voted in much higher percentages than Americans do. Iraq now has its first real democratically elected government. Saddam is in jail and Al Zarqawi is gone.

But on the other side of the coin, insurgent attacks are increasing, major parts of the country aren’t safe, and coalition partners are leaving. Employment levels, oil production, safe water distribution, and sanitation still haven’t reached their pre-war levels.

Iraqis care about the same basic issues that Americans do. Things like safe streets, good jobs, reliable energy, clean drinking water, and regular trash pick-up. So, the US and the international community need to do a lot more to help the Iraqi government combat corruption and deliver real results.

But without a clear way of measuring the country’s position and progress, we won’t have a clue whether the Iraqi government is delivering the results that all Iraqis — Shia, Sunni and Kurd — want and deserve. That’s the part of the war we could win sooner rather than later.

But only if we’ve got real metrics and more capable, nonuniformed professionals from around the world to help Iraq achieve real and sustainable success.

RYSSDAL: David Walker is the comptroller general of the United States. That’s the actual title for the person who runs the Government Accountability Office.

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