Last month, Lt. Gen. Ray Odierno went to the Hill for his confirmation hearing as the U.S.’s new Iraq commander and… no one cared. Odierno, formerly David Petraeus’ second in command, is taking over post-surge Iraq, which you might think merits a discrete strategy. Instead, all the Senators focused on Petraeus himself, who happened to also be testifying alongside Odierno. As a result, Odierno sounded like Petraeus-lite, suggesting that he’d hew to Petraeus’s "population protection" strategy, even though Petraeus had five more Army brigades than Odierno will. No one cared.

In the Washington Post today, it appears that if Odierno actually has a post-surge strategy, he’s the only one. The GAO says that the Bush administration has come full circle in terms of cluelessness:

The administration lacks an updated and comprehensive Iraq strategy to move beyond the "surge" of combat troops President Bush launched in January 2007 as an 18-month effort to curtail violence and build Iraqi democracy, government investigators said yesterday.

While agreeing with the administration that violence has decreased sharply, a report released yesterday by the Government Accountability Office concluded that many other goals Bush outlined a year and a half ago in the "New Way Forward" strategy remain unmet.

Aside from that, though, the surge totally worked! The Kagans told me so!

That’s not all. Doing her job as a reporter, the Post‘s Karen DeYoung noted the differences between the GAO’s assessment and the Pentagon’s:

The GAO report contrasted with a Pentagon report, dated June 13 but not released until yesterday. The Defense Department’s quarterly assessment to Congress, "Measuring Security and Stability in Iraq," said that "security, political and economic trends in Iraq continue to be positive, although they remain fragile, reversible and uneven."

In many respects, the two reports seemed to assess wholly different realities. The 74-page Pentagon document emphasized what it called the "negative role" in Iraqi security that Iran and Syria have played. The 94-page GAO report did not mention Iran and referred to Syria only in the context of Iraqi refugees who had settled there.

There’s also a piece of classic newspeak. The Defense Department "nonconcurs" — their word! — with a classified GAO assessment that reportedly says the Petraeus/Crocker "Joint Campaign Plan" is less a strategy than "an operational plan with limitations." You’d think that’d be an anodyne criticism, since it was clear from the start that the surge was an attempt at making the 2005-vintage Clear-Hold-Build plan work . But conceding that point that won’t help elect John McCain.

Spencer Ackerman

Spencer Ackerman