Iraq War supporters, opponents disagree on GAO report
David Edwards and Muriel Kane
Published: Friday August 31, 2007

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The Washington Post reported on Thursday that the leaked draft of a Governmental Accountability Office progress report on Iraq concludes that "Iraq has failed to meet all but three of 18 congressionally mandated benchmarks."

That report, while welcomed by critics of the war, has already been disputed by the Pentagon and dismissed by administration officials on the grounds that the benchmarks set unrealistic goals.

CNN spoke on Friday with Michael O'Hanlon, co-author with Kenneth Pollack of a controversial July 31 New York Times op-ed, "A War We Just Might Win," which claimed that "we were surprised by the gains we saw [in Iraq] and the potential to produce ... a sustainable stability,"

O'Hanlon disputed the GAO report's conclusions, saying, "For their allegation that there's no progress whatsoever in the security environment to be true would mean that every person I spoke to in Iraq was wrong." He contrasted General Petraeus's recent claim of a 75% reduction in sectarian killings in Baghdad since last winter with the report's assessment of no progress on security and suggested that this discrepancy could undermine the credibility of the report as a whole.

The Pentagon has recently been accused of using "fuzzy math" to minimize the number of deaths classified as "religious and ethnic killings."

Keith Olbermann also discussed the draft GAO report, on Thursday's Countdown, suggesting that President Bush is already seeking to water it down before its official release and that someone at GAO might have leaked the it to the Post out of fear it would be "neutered."

Olbermann further cited an internal White House memo, obtained by the Associated Press, which suggests the administration is preparing to downplay the meaningfulness of the Iraq benchmarks. He pointed out, however, that President Bush himself had called those benchmarks "a clear roadmap to help the Iraqis secure their country and strengthen their young democracy" when he agreed to them last May.

"Does that not make it difficult for the White House to argue now that this GAO report will not present a true picture of the situation in Iraq?" Olbermann asked MSNBC analyst General Wesley Clark

"Exactly right," replied Clark. "They should not be able to squirm out from underneath these standards. ... The American people are making a judgment every day as they see the results of the war. The benchmarks confirm that judgment, and this is a huge problem for the White House."

Clark concluded by calling on the administration to come up with a political and diplomatic strategy for the region and "stop hiding behind General Petraeus."

The following video clips are from MSNBC's Countdown and CNN's Newsroom, broadcast on August 30 and 31.