13 July 2007


You may have heard news stories about the new report on progress in Iraq, saying that on eight out of eighteen measures, there has been satisfactory progress.

Fred Kaplan actually reads the 25-page report.

The legislation required the president to submit a report “declaring, in his judgment, whether satisfactory progress toward meeting these benchmarks is, or is not, being achieved.”

The White House report states, “In order to make this judgment … we … asked the following question: As measured from a January 2007 baseline, do we assess that present trend data demonstrates a positive trajectory, which is tracking toward satisfactory accomplishment in the near term? If the answer is yes, we have provided a ‘Satisfactory’ assessment; if the answer is no, the assessment is ‘Unsatisfactory.’ ” (All italics added.)

Subtle but pernicious wordplay is going on here. “Satisfactory progress” toward a benchmark is very different from “a positive trajectory … toward satisfactory accomplishment.” The congressional language requires a satisfactory degree of progress. The White House interpretation allows high marks for the slightest bit of progress—the “positive trajectory” could be an angstrom, as long as it's “tracking toward” the goal; the degree of progress doesn't need to be addressed.

Yet even by this extraordinarily lenient standard, the White House authors could not bring themselves to give a passing grade to the Iraqi government on half of the benchmarks—and the most important benchmarks, at that.

I note that the report was issued yesterday, and has disappeared from CNN's home page today. There was no time to read the report this closely yesterday, but today the story is already over. This is why the White House thinks that it can get away with a cheap semantic trick.

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