Progress Report 

Last week, comedian and satirist Bill Maher said, "The surge is working — not the actual surge, but the phrase 'the surge is working' is working."

It would be hard to come up with a more succinct summation of our current Iraq contretemps than Maher's. The Government Accounting Office's Iraq report, commissioned by Congress, stated that the Iraqi government has failed to meet 15 of the 18 benchmarks set out by the military and the Bush administration to indicate progress in Iraq.

But, as this administration has done since the very beginning of this ill-fated Iraq debacle, when one set of stated goals isn't met, it simply moves the goalposts. Six months ago, we were told the goal of the surge was to allow the Iraqi government to make political progress. They were to meet the aforementioned 18 benchmarks.

Oops. No political progress occurred. Just the opposite, in fact, unless you consider meeting three of 18 benchmarks sufficient progress. So now we're being told that the goal of the surge is to provide increased security for the Iraqi people. Meanwhile, certain administration insiders and some of its supporters in Congress are calling for the ouster of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. He was the man the people of Iraq voted into office via parliament during the much ballyhooed elections awhile back. Purple fingers, remember?

Ah, but here's the rub: Iraq is majority Shiite and so is Iran. So when the U.S. took out Saddam and instituted democracy in Iraq, we created a potential ally for Iran. Who could have anticipated such a result? In our opinion, Maliki would be well-advised not to take out any long-term magazine subscriptions. And Iran? Well, let's just say Vice President Dick Cheney wants to attack sooner than later, and President Bush has called Iran's Revolutionary Guards a "terrorist threat."

In the midst of all this, General David Petraeus is supposed to provide another progress report later this month. It is widely assumed that since the report will also serve as a de facto summation of his own efforts in Iraq, Petraeus will give himself — and the surge — high marks.

This five-year game of "whack-a-mole" would be funny in its ineptitude if it weren't so tragic. How many times do the American people have to hear the phrase "six more months" before they realize it's a shell game? It reminds us of the big sign on the patio wall at Neil's in Midtown: "Free Beer Tomorrow." And, of course, the sign says the same thing tomorrow — and the next day and the next. The joke is there ain't no free beer.

The administration's tactics seem ever more clearly to be an elaborate stall, the goal of which is merely to keep as many troops as possible in Iraq for as long as possible. "Six more months." "The surge is working." "Support the troops." "We can't cut and run." Pick your poison, and these guys have tried it.

And now, shortly before Petraeus' report is due, the president makes a "surprise" visit to Iraq. And, surprise! The surge is working.

Why are we not surprised?

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