Taking Five Years to Smell the Coffee

For U.S., The Goal Is Now ‘Iraqi Solutions’
Approach Acknowledges Benchmarks Aren’t Met

By Thomas E. Ricks and Karen DeYoung
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, January 10, 2008; A01
In the year since President Bush announced he was changing course in Iraq with a troop “surge” and a new strategy, U.S. military and diplomatic officials have begun their own quiet policy shift. After countless unsuccessful efforts to push Iraqis toward various political, economic and security goals, they have decided to let the Iraqis figure some things out themselves.
From Gen. David H. Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker to Army privates and aid workers, officials are expressing their willingness to stand back and help Iraqis develop their own answers. “We try to come up with Iraqi solutions for Iraqi problems,” said Stephen Fakan, the leader of a provincial reconstruction team with U.S. troops in Fallujah.
In many cases — particularly on the political front — Iraqi solutions bear little resemblance to the ambitious goals for 2007 that Bush laid out in his speech to the nation last Jan. 10. “To give every Iraqi citizen a stake in the country’s economy, Iraq will pass legislation to share oil revenues among all Iraqis,” he pledged. “Iraqis plan to hold provincial elections later this year . . . the government will reform de-Baathification laws, and establish a fair process for considering amendments to Iraq’s constitution.”
If you can’t achieve the goal after five years, a trillion bucks and two-thirds of a million civilian deaths in the country we ‘rescued’ from Saddam Hussein . . .
. . . then . . . change the definitions of the goal.
  • Iraqis have figured out a way to distribute oil revenue without laws to regulate it; (definition)–currently called the ‘strong man’ method. Some call it theft, but they’re the pessimists (or the hungry and jobless).
  • Former Baathists are getting jobs; (definition)–someone has to clean the toilets.
  • Local and provincial governing bodies — some elected, some not — are up and running; (definition)–mostly they are running for their lives.
  • The Iraqis “are at the point where they are able to fashion their own approaches and desired outcomes;” (definition)–nothing we do and nothing we suggest seems to work.
  • “I think, in part recognizing that and in part reflecting on where we have been over the last almost five years, are increasingly prepared to say it’s got to be done in Iraqi terms;” (definition)–it took us a very long time to smell the Iraqi coffee.
“The new phrasing is both the dawning of reality, and the cynical use of language and common sense to camouflage past errors, hoping to avoid the audit of flawed logic that got us to this point,” said a retired British general familiar with the U.S. experience in Iraq. Which supports the old British adage that the dawn cannot always be depended upon to come up like thunder.
What a breath of fresh air it would be to hear someone from the administration admit “we had no idea what we were doing or how disastrous it would be and now we just don’t know how the hell to get out.”
But fresh air is in short supply as well.

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