"It is this conundrum of calamities, and I really think that at $330 million a day and 3,700 of our precious Americans fallen and tens of thousands devastatingly injured, there's nothing about what we have been able to produce with the surge that tells me there's a political surge in the offing that will cut the insurgency in half and lead to peace and stability for the Iraqis," she said.
She cited as an example al-Anbar province, where Sunni tribal leaders, incensed at insurgents' Taliban-like religious crackdown, have thrown their support to coalition forces, even as Sunni political leaders have walked away from participation in the central government.
"It is a vexing, complicated, complex geometric problem," she said. "You take two steps backward and then you take five steps forward and then six steps backward."
Tauscher, D-Alamo, chairwoman of the House Armed Services Strategic Forces subcommittee, is leading a bipartisan congressional delegation to gauge the progress in Iraq. With her on the trip are Rep. Jim Moran, D-Va., who serves on the Appropriations
Defense Subcommittee, and Rep. Jon Porter, R-Nev.
Tauscher, in a telephone interview from Iraq, said the group met Saturday with the surge's architect, Gen. David Petraeus, and with U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker.
"They obviously are advocates for the surge, they have a lot of data that shows more American troops on the ground, in those places where they are, create more stability," she said. "Not surprisingly, when you have the finest fighting force in the world and you add more of them, you get more security."
But those tactical advances aren't producing strategic progress, she said she told Deputy Prime Minister Barham Salih, a Kurdish politician. "He is somebody that we really think is a pretty savvy guy ... but I delivered him a pretty stiff assessment," she said.
Based on what she has seen and heard before and during this trip, she said, "we really don't think that they have used the time (provided by the surge) wisely or productively," Tauscher said she told Salih. "I tried to be as frank and as fair as I could be but also to deliver the message that we're deeply disappointed" with the Iraqi government's lack of progress on vital issues such as sharing oil revenues with the Iraqi people and implementing legislation on de-Baathification reform, she said.
"Not surprisingly, he blamed a lot on the Sunnis and their inability to coalesce around a leader and give that leader empowerment to make decisions that will stick," she said. "He made a very impassioned plea not to abandon them, to stick with them ... these are all very sobering arguments, but in the end I told him I didn't support the surge because I didn't see enough political activity toward reconciliation."
Tauscher said she was still planning to meet with the Iraqi national security adviser, with Kurdish and Sunni regional leaders, and with Deputy President Adil Abdul-Mahdi, a Shiite, before flying out to Kuwait and then Washington.
A new, unclassified summary of a National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq released Thursday notes "measurable but uneven improvements" regarding the security situation in Iraq, but questions Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's ability to effect political reconciliation and unify Iraq.
As Tauscher noted in a letter to President Bush just before leaving for this trip, a National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq released Thursday predicts that "Iraq's security will continue to improve modestly during the next 12 months but levels of insurgent and sectarian violence will remain high and the Iraqi Government will continue to struggle to achieve national-level political reconciliation and improved governance."
The report prepared by U.S. intelligence agencies also said "broadly accepted political compromises required for sustained security, long-term political progress, and economic development are unlikely to emerge unless there is a fundamental shift in the factors driving Iraqi political and security developments."
And the report predicted that the Iraqi Government "will become more precarious over the next six to 12 months because of criticism by other members of the major Shia coalition ... the strains of the security situation and absence of key leaders have stalled internal political debates, slowed national decision-making, and increased Maliki's vulnerability to alternative coalitions."