VISITING IRAQ….Lawrence Korb just got back from a trip to Iraq. “Unreal” seemed to be his overall reaction to the PowerPoint-laden presentations he heard from various American and Iraqi officials, most of which were entirely divorced from the ground-level reality of day-to-day life in Iraq. In a different sense it also applies to his conclusions about the surge:

Getting through Iraqi customs was a chore….The long wait did allow me to speak to some of the contractors about the situation on the ground. When I assured them I was not a member of the press, they were unanimous that the surge was not working….The most optimistic projection was “maybe temporarily.” But most people speaking off the record believe that the insurgents will shift to other areas and lay low for a while in Baghdad.

….No one in or out of the American or Iraqi government seemed to have a good answer to my question: “how does it end?” On the back of this visit, I am more and more convinced that we must take control of our own destiny by setting a specific timetable for withdrawal. Currently, our fate is in the hands of an Iraqi government that does not have any real incentive to get its act together and does not even seem to understand the gravity of the situation or the declining level of support in the United States.

Italics mine. Other tidbits: George Bush and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki don’t actually talk much on their conference calls. Mostly they just trade scripted presentations. General George Casey didn’t think much of Zalmay Khalilzad, the former U.S. Ambassador to Iraq. Foreign governments like dealing with Deputy Prime Minister Barham Saleh better than dealing with Maliki, apparently because Saleh speaks really good English. But Saleh is a weasel who just tells you what you want to hear.

Yet more: American consultants in Iraq are very good at convincing people who come for short visits that the situation in Iraq is improving — but if you push them you learn that “the place is a mess” and it’s not improving. Iraqis call the Green Zone PX the “Christian pharmacy” because that’s where you get liquor. The Interior Ministry can’t get enough officers to come to Baghdad, and there aren’t very many American patrolling the streets of Baghdad either. (Korb didn’t see a single one during his stay.)

Also this: “Do not believe anyone who tells you that the situation is getting better.” Seems like sound advice.