by Randolph T. Holhut
American Reporter Correspondent
September 7, 2007
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- Here's a question that the White House press corps never seems to ask. If things in Iraq are getting better and the "surge" is working, how come the only trips to Iraq that President Bush and other top officials can make are "surprise" visits?
The answer: Because things in Iraq are not getting better and Air Force One would likely get blown out of the sky if the various Iraqi militias had advance notice that President Bush was coming to town.
But the Bush Administration's abilities to deny reality remain powerful and few of the reporters that cover the White House have the guts to point out that the president is lying virtually every time he opens his mouth.
So that how Mr. Bush's "surprise" visit to Iraq on Monday got spun into another P.R. opportunity to sell the success of the surge.
The last time the President made an impromptu stop in Iraq was in June 2006, when he came to see Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki to - as Bush said later that day in a speech to American soldiers - "look at (al-Maliki) in the eyes and determine whether or not he is as dedicated to a free Iraq as you are."
In the President's view that day, "I believe he is."
More than a year later, Mr. Bush returned to an Iraq that has seen little if any improvement in a variety of areas.
How little improvement? A State Department report leaked over the weekend to National Public Radio and The Nation concluded that the al-Maliki government is "not capable of even rudimentary enforcement of anti-corruption laws" and that al-Maliki's office has impeded investigations into fraud and crime within the Iraqi government.
The al-Maliki government, according to the 70-page report, is riddled with corruption and criminals. The Interior Ministry is a stronghold of Shia militias and has used U.S. weapons and money to commit crimes such as kidnapping, extortion and bribery. Iraqi investigators make little headway because they doesn't have staff or resources to conduct investigations and fear they will be killed if they pursue their cases too vigorously.
Reining in corruption is not one of the 18 congressionally mandated benchmarks for Iraq and the al-Maliki government. If it was, the government would get a failing grade.
Corruption aside, the al-Maliki government is already graded as failing in 15 of those benchmarks, according to a report by the Government Accountability Office that was delivered to Congress on Tuesday.
The GAO has conducted more than 100 investigations of various aspects of the U.S. occupation of Iraq over the last four years, so it's staff knows what it is talking about. While the White House and the Pentagon are claiming that at least eight of the 18 benchmarks have been met, both are apparently grading the Iraqis more leniently than the GAO.
The GAO report found that only one of the eight political benchmarks - protection of the rights of minority parties - has been met. On the others, including legislation on constitutional reform, new oil laws and de-Ba'athification, the GAO hands out failing grades.
As for the nine security benchmarks, the GAO report found the Iraqis have met only two; it contradicts the White House's contentions that violence is down in Iraq and that there are more Iraqi security forces ready to operate without U.S. assistance.
The GAO report found the level of violence has been essentially unchanged since the start of the Bush Administration's so-called troop surge. It also found that the number of capable Iraqi units has declined, from 10 in March to six in July.
This month is supposed to be the month that will determine the future of U.S. involvement in Iraq. The much-hyped report by Gen. David Petraeus and Iraq Ambassador Ryan Crocker will be presented to Congress next week. There are now 162,000 U.S. troops in Iraq, the highest number since the war began, and President Bush is seeking another $200 billion from Congress to keep the Iraqi occupation going.
The White House claims everything is coming up roses in Iraq, and the Crocker/Petraeus report will likely reflect that. The reality is that Iraq still has a corrupt and incompetent government unable to deliver even basic services to its people. It still is seeing violence on an unimaginable scale. It is perilously close to being a failed state. No amount of spin or P.R. can change this reality.
Randolph T. Holhut has been a journalist in New England for more than 25 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books). He can be reached at email@example.com.