Rich Lowry

Even in the age of instant communication, it takes three months or more for developments in Iraq to have any impact on the U.S. political debate. The war is like a distant star whose light we only see well after the fact.

So Democrats still warn that we'll never be able to police a sectarian civil war, even after violence has significantly declined in Iraq -- because we have successfully policed a sectarian civil war. Some critics of the war have seamlessly passed from lamenting the unstoppability of the Iraqi civil war to warning that the rise of Sunni security volunteers could be a harbinger of ... a civil war.

The outdated anti-war sound bite of the moment is that the surge has failed because the Iraqi government hasn't met 18 benchmarks set out for it by Congress last year. It is routinely asserted that only a handful of the benchmarks have been met. In Newsweek in March, columnist Fareed Zakaria darkly noted that a few newly passed laws "add up to only three or four of the 18 benchmarks."

The benchmarks are much cited, but apparently little read. Of the 18, seven have to do with supporting the surge and the effort to establish security in Baghdad: things like providing three brigades to support operations in the city; establishing joint security stations with U.S. forces in neighborhoods; and reducing sectarian violence and eliminating militia control of local security.

By any standard, almost all these security benchmarks have been met. They were formulated at a time when the Iraqi government's will to secure Baghdad was in question. Forget three brigades -- as Fred Kagan of the American Enterprise Institute points out, soon enough the Iraqis will have three divisions in and around Baghdad. The neutralization of militias has been more problematic, but now Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has declared himself against the most dangerous Shia militia, Moqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army.

The highest-profile benchmarks are the seven legislative ones. Four of the key ones have been passed: a law undoing the excesses of de-Baathification; a provision granting amnesty to former insurgents; legislation allowing the formation of semiautonomous regions; and measures setting out provincial powers and a date for provincial elections. Another important one, a hydrocarbons law, is stalled, but the passage of a budget sharing oil revenues around the country serves some of the same function.

Rich Lowry

Rich Lowry is author of Legacy: Paying the Price for the Clinton Years .
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