Yesterday, a leaked draft of an upcoming Government Accountability Office (GAO) report on progress in Iraq painted a “strikingly negative” picture of the war-torn country. The draft contradicts “the Bush administration’s conclusion in July that sectarian violence was decreasing as a result” of the surge. It concludes, “The average number of daily attacks against civilians remained about the same over the last six months; 25 in February versus 26 in July.”
On CNN this morning, Brookings analyst Michael O’Hanlon, who recently co-wrote a New York Times op-ed declaring progress in Iraq, took exception to the report: “I have to be quite critical of the GAO.” He implied that he trusted Bush administration’s numbers more than the GAO’s, and said he hoped the GAO report would be “improved” to better reflect progress:
Gen. Petraeus just gave an interview, I think yesterday, to an Australian paper, in which he said that there could be a 75 percent reduction in sectarian killing since the winter time. Now let’s allow for the possibility that Petraeus’ data isn’t quite right.
Let’s allow for the possibility that in other parts of Iraq, things could be a little worse perhaps. Still, a 75 percent reduction is very striking. GAO by contrast is apparently saying, “no documented change whatsoever in the secuity environment.”
I just don’t understand how that could be their conclusion. And I will look forward to their report. I hope it’s a flaw in the draft that will be improved in the final result.
O’Hanlon’s desire for the GAO report to be “improved in the final result,” so as to show a rosier picture in Iraq is emblematic of why the draft was leaked in the first place:
The person who provided the draft report to The Post said it was being conveyed from a government official who feared that its pessimistic conclusions would be watered down in the final version — as some officials have said happened with security judgments in this month’s National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq.
By claiming that the GAO report said there was “no documented change whatsoever in the secuity environment,” O’Hanlon is misrepresenting the report in order to attack it. In reality, the draft reported that “there have been fewer attacks against U.S. forces.” But it also found that “the number of attacks against Iraqi civilians remains unchanged” and “violence remains high.”
It’s unsurprising though that O’Hanlon chose to accept Petraeus’s vague claim that “there could be a 75 percent reduction in sectarian killing” while dismissing the GAO’s empirical assessment. After all, it was O’Hanlon who claimed in June that no one can “question the forthrightness” of Petraeus, despite the general’s conflict of interest in reporting on the success of his own plan.