HEARING OF THE HOUSE COMMITTEE ON FOREIGN AFFAIRS
SUBJECT: IRAQI BENCHMARKS: AN OBJECTIVE ASSESSMENT
CHAIRED BY: REP. TOM LANTOS (D-CA)
WITNESS: DAVID WALKER, COMPTROLLER GENERAL, GOVERNMENT ACCOUNTABILITY OFFICE
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REP. ILEANA ROS-LEHTINEN (R-FL): Thank you so much as always, Mr. Chairman, for this timely hearing.
And Comptroller General Walker, I'd like to thank you and your staff not only for the hard work that you have dedicated to this assessment but also for the over 100 other reports that you have worked on concerning our efforts in Iraq.
The developments and the issues covered by this GAO report and to be addressed by General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker next week are personally important to me as my step-son, Douglas, and my daughter- in-law, Lindsey, having served as Marine fighter pilots in Iraq, contributed to safeguarding U.S. interests in that country and for the emergence of a free, democratic Iraqi nation. And they are but two among so many brave men and women committed to the successful accomplishment of our mission in Iraq.
Given the gravity of this subject, it should come as no surprise that significant challenges do remain and that all of the benchmarks were not fully achieved within the three-and-a-half-month time frame since the supplemental was enacted.
And rather than using my time to give broad rhetorical statements on the Iraq policy, I will raise a few specific questions and issues to the comptroller general to address during his presentation, if I may, Mr. Chairman.
First, clarification on the methodology used to interpret the benchmarks -- that would be greatly appreciated. Throughout the report there are footnotes noting how the GAO defined a particular benchmark or a particular subset within the broader benchmark. What were the general parameters guiding the GAO in arriving at such individual definitions?
And related to that, I'm interested to learn your reasons for classifying certain benchmarks as not having been met, while indicating that progress has in fact been achieved on some of the issues under consideration within a particular benchmark. Should this not qualify under your assessment as "partially met"?
For example, in the benchmark regarding the formation of a constitutional review committee and completing the constitutional review, your report indicates that the Iraqi legislature formed a constitution review committee in November of 2006. Would this not constitute the partial achievement of this benchmark?
Furthermore, would you agree that the fact that the constitutional review committee has received an extension and will most likely petition the Council of Representatives for another indicate that the CRC is making forward progress in addressing these issues?
Similarly, what criteria did you utilize to come to the conclusion that the Iraqi government has failed to comply with the benchmark calling for enacting and implementing legislation establishing an independent high electoral commission, provincial elections law, provincial council authority and a date for provincial elections when they have enacted and implemented legislation establishing an independent high electoral commission?
Understanding that, as stated in your report, that the benchmark requires more than the establishment of the commission -- such as the enactment of supporting laws -- under what circumstances, then, would it be considered as partially achieved?
I would also appreciate it if you would elaborate upon your findings regarding the benchmarks requiring -- enacting and implementing both the hydrocarbons and the de-Ba'athification legislation.
By the GAO's report's own description, the Iraqi government has drafted pieces of legislation aimed at ensuring an equitable distribution of Iraqi oil resources. The report goes on to elaborate upon the legislative process that these bills are subject to, highlighting the review of the Shura Council of one bill and noting with respect to oil sharing that the Iraqi constitution does not reserve this oil sharing right exclusively for the central government. As such, the regions do have a degree of discretionary authority. Thus, while we understand while the final assessment on benchmark three and other legislative benchmarks is listed as "not met," would you not agree that there is forward movement and progress being made on these issues?
Based on the GAO's evaluation, would you be able to extrapolate a potential time frame for when some of these bills may be enacted? Of course, as legislators ourselves, we know how unpredictable the legislative process can be, how many different dynamics can alter the estimated timeline for adoption and then enactment.
And I would also greatly appreciate further clarification, Mr. Comptroller General, on your criteria for assessing other benchmarks. For example, the report states that the benchmark requiring that the government of Iraq provide Iraqi commanders with all authorities to execute the Baghdad security plan without political intervention has not been met, citing that political intervention in the conduct of some security operations continues. At what level, then, is this interference taking place, and is it the official policy of the government of Iraq, explicit or implied?
Similarly, regarding the benchmark concerning enforcement of the law by the Iraqi security forces, is this the stated policy of the government of Iraq or as mandated by Prime Minister Maliki?
Finally, with respect to the benchmark aimed at ensuring that Iraq's political authorities are not undermining or making false accusations against members of the Iraqi security forces, which particular authorities were involved in making these accusations -- is it isolated to the periphery of the political spectrum or is it the conduct of the central government?
And pertinent to these issues, I have constituents serving in Iraq, as many of us do. But they have a more positive assessment of the situation on the ground based on their direct firsthand experiences. One just recently sent me an e-mail last week which highlights the immense risks taken by Iraqi leaders at all levels and the extreme pressure they are subjected to.
And my constituent wrote that in the area where he is stationed -- located near Baghdad -- and I'm quoting him: "The key al Qaeda leaders have fled the area. Families have running water almost all day now and maybe 16 hours of electricity each day. More and more people are opening their shops on the market street as they feel comfortable enough to sell their goods to their neighbors. Iraqi army leaders are taking a genuine interest in securing the area and helping locals with their day-to-day problems."
He continues, "However, al Qaeda has been attempting to thwart our efforts to gain control and better the community. They have murdered five members of one family because one of the younger sons desired to become an Iraqi policeman. There has been one town mayor murdered who had taken much initiative to form a neighborhood watch group to inform us and the Iraqi army of suspicious activity and enemy intelligence," end quote.
This firsthand account raises questions for me about some of the conclusions in the report that we are evaluating today, and it also highlights the need to contextualize the assessments to provide clarity about whether the problems that remain are due to a lack of will rather than a lack of capacity. Are they caused by Iraqi inaction or rather by the actions of insurgents, Islamic jihadists, and rogue regimes neighboring Iraq who are doing everything possible to establish their control over Iraq and the entire region?
In the report, the GAO recommends that the secretary of Defense provide certain information to the president with appropriate caveats. Perhaps the GAO should consider similar steps in formulating future assessments.
Mr. Chairman, I'd like to thank again Comptroller General Walker for appearing before the committee today and thank him for his insight as to where our energies may be better focused to help the government in Iraq, the people in Iraq in meeting these benchmarks while advocating strong U.S. strategic security interests here.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
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REP. ROS-LEHTINEN: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
What is the role of the Government Accountability Office? You know, when I'm listening to these questions and the answers and the report -- I have great respect for you obviously, Mr. Walker, but I'm used to reading reports from the GAO about student loan compliance, about Medicare programs.
And now we have the General -- the Government Accountability Office, the comptroller general telling us is the Army stretched or not stretched, are we meeting these benchmarks, and reading the reports that say Democratic leaders jumped on the GAO's conclusions to bolster their calls for a new strategy in Iraq and Republican leaders dismissed your report as "dated and politically insignificant."
The GAO report on the war effort and benchmarks -- I realize that this is something we did to ourselves. We passed it because -- a lot of horse trading in order to get the supplemental through.
And we said okay, the GAO report is going to give us their assessment of whether benchmarks were met or not.
And I just -- there's something about this whole procedure that I find so unsettling, as if we would have a GAO report on World War II and a GAO report on the Civil War and base our conclusions on that. And there's so much more that is involved here.
And I'm not saying that you're bean counters and I'm not saying that you're out of your realm of expertise, but I just feel uncomfortable listening to a report by the Government Accountability Office about our war effort and about Iraqi benchmarks. It just doesn't seem to fit. We have this round peg and this square peg and we're just trying to make it fit.
And I realize we tasked you with this. It's nothing that you asked for, but it just doesn't seem to fit. It's the round peg and the square hole, whatever the metaphor is, and I just can't get my arms around it. I just have a sense of being very uncomfortable by having you, sir, with great credibility and wonderful service that can give us great insight about student loans and about Medicare compliance, but I can't fathom why you are saying to us the Army is stretched too thin. What in the world qualifies you --
MR. WALKER: Sure.
REP. ROS-LEHTINEN: -- to say that?
I certainly am not qualified to say it, but yet here you are, telling us about the insurgents and all of these incredibly complex issues.
MR. WALKER: I'm not the only person that said that. People at the Pentagon have said that, people in uniform have said that -- with stars on their soldiers -- so by no means am I the first person to say that.
I think it's important to keep in mind that look, we're in the fact business. And when Congress wants to try to be able to obtain facts and to have a professional, objective, fact-based, nonpartisan, non-ideological and hopefully fair and balanced assessment --
REP. ROS-LEHTINEN: But sir --
MR. WALKER: -- who you going to turn to?
REP. ROS-LEHTINEN: -- let me interrupt you.
When you say -- you said the Army is stretched.
MR. WALKER: Right.
REP. ROS-LEHTINEN: What --
MR. WALKER: The OPTEMPO.
REP. ROS-LEHTINEN: -- the fact --
MR. WALKER: Of the OPTEMPO. I'll give you some specifics.
REP. ROS-LEHTINEN: -- where do get the fact because -- you're a general?
MR. WALKER: If you look at -- if you -- and we've issued reports on this. This is not new. In fact, we've got more work we're doing right now, work that Congress has asked us to do with regard to what is the current readiness status of U.S. troops. There's a significant difference between our deployed forces and our forces here at home in a variety of areas. We've done work with regard to the operations tempo and the ability of the Army to continue to supply the necessary force structure while still maintaining a commitment that people won't be over there for more than a year. And so, you know, there are a number of different factors that we've assessed.
And by the way, everything that we do we provide the opportunity of the Department of Defense, State, whomever it might be, an opportunity to review and comment on what we say. We consider their comments in some cases or make changes. In other cases we won't.
REP. ROS-LEHTINEN: Okay. Thank you. It's just -- I just can't imagine at one point during World War II if we would have gotten a report from the General Accountability Office about whether we're meeting the benchmarks and on D-Day, what that report would have looked at, whether it would have said -- what it would have done to the American people to issue such a report at that critical time.
And I just find it disheartening. And realizing that we're the ones who asked for this report, but it would be, I believe, as significant as if the Foreign Affairs Committee would have issued a report on meeting the benchmarks.
It's a good guide, but I worry that it seems to be having a lot of credibility that I think is unwarranted with the American public.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
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REP. ROS-LEHTINEN: Mr. Chairman, would the gentleman yield?
REP. DELAHUNT: Sure.
REP. ROS-LEHTINEN: Just in case -- maybe I was too subtle or maybe I was too blunt and it's not getting through to some members. The point I was making is that absolutely all of those individuals who you named are absolutely qualified to give assessments about whether our Army is stretched or not -- give valid assessments, whether we agree with them or not.
But those are the people who make those statements, and our great, esteemed witness is a wonderful man -- he is not qualified to make those assessments --
REP. DELAHUNT: Well --
REP. ROS-LEHTINEN: If he gives his opinion by citing sources who are knowledgeable sources, I understand that. But it seems to me that he's given a lot of opinions that don't have -- (inaudible) -- qualified.
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