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Last week, a draft of a congressional report was leaked to the media out of fear that the Bush administration would 'water down' the assessment. And while the final draft isn't as dour as the leaked version, it's still pretty bad. Among the things it found were that violence has remained relatively unchanged and that the Iraqi government has only been able to fully meet three of the 18 benchmarks set.

Of course as we've come to expect with the Bush administration, whenever it comes to accountability, goalposts are never embedded in concrete. They are now attempting to downplay the significance of the GAO report by suggesting it has relied not only on outmoded data but also has been judging the wrong criteria.

First up, the claim that the GAO report didn't have all the available data. Via Kevin Drum we learn of the new talking point.
House Minority Whip Roy Blunt (Mo.) said Pentagon officials had told Republican leaders that the GAO had relied on outdated information....He added that lawmakers were far more interested in the assessment coming next week from Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, and Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker.

....The GAO concluded that all forms of violence remain high in Iraq — causing senior military officials to complain that the report did not consider statistics for August, when, they said, trends in sectarian violence and the performance of the Iraqi security forces improved.

"They use the end of July as the data and evidentiary cutoff and therefore are not taking into account any gains in any of the benchmarks that may have become more clear throughout August," one official said.

Now if one were inclined to give the Pentagon the benefit of the doubt, this claim that the GAO didn't take into account the data from August is rather specious when you consider that the Pentagon has been the one withholding said data. It's a bit like turning in only the first two pages of a three page test and expecting the teacher to give you a full grade on it. And of those first two pages, not all the answers have even been filled out completely.

But this numbers game isn't the only way in which the Bushies are attempting to shift the debate over the success of the surge. They are also pushing the meme that the GAO has been judging the benchmarks for the Iraqi government but over looking the 'mini-benchmarks' at the provincial and local levels. The term "bottom-up" has been used to describe this strategy whereby we rely on a sort of 'trickle-up reconciliation'.

Leaving aside for the moment that the President and his allies in Congress once heralded these benchmarks as so important in judging whether the surge was a success, relying on this strategy is an exercise in futility simple because there is no "up" to be had. The Bushies probably do not see the irony is pinning their hopes on a strategy that has very little chance of succeeding because their previous strategy has failed.

Then again they don't see much beyond progress and success these days.

See also Jon Soltz and Cenk Uygur.

(Filed at State of the Day and All Spin Zone)