SEPTEMBER….Bryon York joins Defense Secretary Robert Gates in wondering if setting a few deadlines might have a salutary effect on the Iraqi government:

Every instance in which there has been significant progress in Iraq — the writing of a constitution, election of a legislature, etc. — has come as a result of the U.S. pushing the Iraqis to meet a deadline. Without a deadline, they mess around, and mess around some more, and act as if they have all the time in the world. And even with a deadline, they are likely to miss it and delay until the last minute before getting anything done.

This is true. But there’s more. Needless to say, the situation in Iraq after four years of bungling is pretty close to hopeless, but given that reality it’s also true that the current state of affairs is about as good as things could plausibly get. Consider:

  • We have five more battalions either in Baghdad or on their way.

  • We have a commanding general in Iraq who (we’re told) knows how to use them.

  • We have a Democratic Congress making extremely credible threats to the Iraqi leadership that they need to make progress ASAP or else troops are likely to start coming home whether George Bush likes it or not.

Now, maybe you think these conditions aren’t ideal. Perhaps, like Fred Kagan, you think five battalions isn’t enough. Perhaps, like me, you’re not quite as impressed with David Petraeus as everyone else*. Perhaps, like Dick Cheney, you think Democrats should all just shut up.

Woulda, coulda, shoulda. The fact remains that five battalions is the best we can do, Petraeus is probably the best general available for this job, and congressional threats really are providing incentives to Iraqi leaders to resolve their differences. This is why I suspect that September might really be September. Given the current conditions — the best ones it’s reasonable to hope for at this point — if there isn’t serious political progress in the next few months there are a fair number of nondelusional Republicans who are finally going to decide that they aren’t willing to flush their careers down the toilet just to show solidarity with a lame duck president.

I know, I know: counting on moderate Republicans to come to their senses is a sucker’s bet. But there are a lot of things coming to a head this time: the initial progress report on the surge that’s due in September, the looming 2008 elections, hardening public support against the war, and the likelihood that Iraqi politics will be as stalemated as ever when September rolls around. Wayne Gilchrest’s “30 to 60” House Republicans who opposed the surge may have gotten bullied into voting against the timelines in last month’s supplemental funding bill (see Dave Weigel’s interview with Gilchrest over at Reason for more), but the pressure on them to face reality is going to keep increasing. They can’t hold out forever.

But it would still be nice to pin them down on their positions ahead of time. Maybe Josh Marshall could mobilize his army of citizen journalists to do the job district by district. I doubt that anyone else is going to try.

*I don’t have anything against Petraeus, really, and he does seem to understand what needs to be done in Iraq better than most. But I continue to have this niggling thought in the back of my head that he’s the guy who was originally in charge of training Iraqi security forces, and that really didn’t work out so well.