It seems as if everybody is getting into the act when it comes to assessing the situation in Iraq, adding to the confusion of many voters and members of Congress who are looking for something definitive about how the war is going. Instead, nearly every day another report is issued or leaked—and the appropriate course of action remains muddled, according to public opinion analysts of both parties.
The latest addition to the growing stack of literature on the state of the "surge" of U.S. troops is yesterday's story in the Washington Post of a Government Accountability Office draft report. The report, to be finalized next week, finds that Iraq has failed to meet all but three of 18 congressionally mandated benchmarks for political and military progress.
The Post called the conclusions "strikingly negative." On the other side, President Bush and administration officials have been delivering their own, far more positive assessments in recent weeks in what amounts to a series of upbeat status reports in the form of interviews, press conferences, and speeches. There has also been a stream of assessments, optimistic and pessimistic, from members of Congress, including the influential GOP Sen. John Warner of Virginia, who called for President Bush to begin a symbolic redeployment to encourage reforms by the Baghdad government.
Earlier this month, there was the National Intelligence Estimate, which seemed to give ammunition to all sides in the debate. And then there are the seemingly endless analyses of think tanks and academics. Yet to come is an assessment of Iraqi security forces by an independent commission headed by retired Marine Gen. James Jones, which Congress sought as a means for comparison with the administration's assessments. The Jones report is due next week. Of course, during the second week of September will come the formal White House report to Congress on Iraq, along with congressional testimony from Gen. David Petraeus, the U.S. commander in Iraq, and Ambassador Ryan Crocker, the senior U.S. diplomat there.
What all this means is that Americans will probably harden their existing views, which have turned against the war but without a consensus on how to end U.S. involvement.
"The attitudes have set in very deeply, and it doesn't look like much will change them," says a senior Republican strategist. Adds a Democratic pollster: "People's opinions are pretty well set." That will make Congress's job all the more difficult in trying to find a way out and deciding whether to grant Bush his full funding request for the war this fall.
—Kenneth T. Walsh