PROGRESS IN IRAQ….I was channel surfing earlier this evening and caught a few seconds of Carl Levin on the News Hour complaining that there’s still only one Iraqi combat battalion capable of fighting on its own. Yeah, that kind of sucks, I thought.

Turns out it’s worse than that:

The number of Iraqi army battalions that can fight insurgents without U.S. and coalition help has dropped from three to one, top U.S. generals told Congress yesterday, adding that the security situation in Iraq is too uncertain to predict large-scale American troop withdrawals anytime soon.

Gen. George W. Casey Jr., who oversees U.S. forces in Iraq, said there are fewer Iraqi battalions at “Level 1” readiness than there were a few months ago….

Now, Casey can claim until his face turns blue that things in Iraq are getting better, but if this is where we’re at after two years of Iraqi troop training, then his definition of “better” is a far, far different one than mine.

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, this is why we need firm goals and benchmarks for progress in Iraq. Casey says that “conditions-based reduction of coalition forces is a critical element of our strategy,” but that’s meaningless twaddle unless you’re willing to say what conditions you’re talking about. I say, let’s hear it. What are the conditions we need to meet in order to begin drawing down troops? This isn’t the dreaded timetable that everyone is so afraid will send the insurgency into a frenzy, it’s a simple statement of what we’re trying to accomplish in Iraq, something that the American public can hold the military accountable for.

Let’s hear it.

POSTSCRIPT: If there were a Pollyanna decoration for military officers, Casey would have won one today:

Asked whether the insurgency has worsened, Casey said it has not expanded geographically or numerically, “to the extent we can know that.” But he noted that current “levels of violence are above norms,” exceeding 500 attacks a week. “I’ll tell you that levels of violence are a lagging indicator of success,” he added.

Violence is “above norms” but that doesn’t mean things are getting worse. In fact, violence is a “lagging indicator of success”! The more bombs, the better we’re doing!