Rich Lowry

The balance of the other benchmarks has to do with the performance of the Iraqi government and protecting minority rights. They are harder to evaluate. Of course, all the grading is somewhat subjective, but roughly 12 of the 18 benchmarks have been met (and there's been movement on the others), which makes a much less seductive anti-war talking point. As the reality on the benchmarks slowly sinks in, opponents of the war will surely move on to something else -- probably the war's cost.

Needless to say, if a benchmark has been met, it doesn't necessarily mean the underlying law is wise or will be effective. The war's critics argue that, in its fine print, the new de-Baathification law may exclude as many Sunnis from government as the original, offending law. They're right. Which is why it was always foolish to try to judge the progress of a nascent, violence-plagued democracy by a crude checklist.

Already, there has been a shifting of goal posts. Zakaria warned that some of the new laws passed only "after months of intense wrangling." Horrors! What was so remarkable about the Feb. 13 passage of a package including a budget, provincial powers law and amnesty provision wasn't the intensity of the wrangling but the cross-ethnic and -sectarian logrolling that produced a grand compromise unlocking the stuck wheels of the Iraqi parliament.

Logrolling, alas, is not one of the benchmarks. The last time Gen. David Petraeus came to Washington, he heralded tentative but widely discounted security gains. Now he brings news of tentative but widely discounted political progress. We'll know he's had an impact when the benchmarks fade away from anti-war discourse.

Rich Lowry

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