TESTIMONY before Congress by Gen. David Petraeus and U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker on the situation in Iraq has pointed up once again the contrast between the reality on the ground and the fantastical assessments of administration officials.
In Iraq today - five years after the Bush Administration declared "Mission Accomplished" and five years after the fall of Baghdad - the country is not under the control of the United States or the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
The Green Zone, U.S. and Iraqi government headquarters in Baghdad, is a dangerous place, under regular mortar attack from outside its walls. Three Americans were killed and 31 wounded there two weekends ago.
In Basra, the Iraqi troops that the United States has been training for years engaged in intra-Shiite warfare against the Mahdi Army forces of Mr. al-Maliki's rival, cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, and did not succeed in taking control of the country's oil center from his and other Shiite militias.
Many of the Iraqi government troops even took off their uniforms and deserted to the Mahdi army.
Iraq's economy remains in a shambles, and there has been much reporting from there of Iraqi corruption as well as nonperformance or malfeasance by American contractors who were drawn to the money-rich environment of a war zone swallowing at least $2 billion a week in U.S. taxpayer money.
For perspective, consider the situation in Germany and Japan five years after World War II ended in 1945. Both countries were peaceful in 1950 and well on the road to economic recovery and political democracy.
General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker obviously had little choice but to present the Congress and the American people with the most upbeat picture of the Iraq situation that they could manage without sacrificing their credibility.
Still, the general acknowledged that despite the American troop surge, "We haven't turned any corners. We haven't seen any lights at the end of the tunnel."
His assessment contrasted sharply with the blindly optimistic claims of President Bush and the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, Sen. John McCain, who declared, "We're no longer staring into the abyss of defeat and we can now look ahead to the genuine prospect of success."
The sober analysis by General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker makes it important for Americans to retain a clear picture of what is actually happening in Iraq to be able to vote from a truly informed point of view in November.