It's all so eerily similar, almost as if frustrating memories suppressed in the deep recesses of one's mind are resurfacing in a bewildering dream sequence.
A veteran US senator visits Iraq. He meets with senior Iraqi civilian and military leaders. He huddles with US military commanders spearheading the war effort.
Upon his return stateside, he briefs reporters about what he saw and heard — and, most importantly, his Big Takeaway. It's usually measured and caveated, but almost always mostly upbeat, with talk of progress and gains and hope about the ever-elusive US military victory. Such assessments, after a dozen years of briefly interrupted military operations in the Levant, have become so predictably routine they border on monotonous.
This is not completely the fault of the lawmakers doing the hearing, seeing and assessing — and they should be applauded for talking to reporters, often soon after touching down on US soil. For the most part, the member sees and hears what the Iraqi government and US military want him to. And, since they're delivering the briefings, both have ample influence on the lawmaker's Big Takeaway.
So it wasn't that surprising last week to hear Rhode Island's Jack Reed, the top Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee, deliver just that kind of assessment about the US-led effort in Iraq against the Islamic State group.
"ISIS remains capable, but their momentum has been stopped," Reed told reporters Feb. 25, using one of several acronyms used globally to identify the violent Sunni group. "They've lost a bit of territory, but they are still capable of conducting attacks," and Iraq has "a long way to go."
Then, right on cue, things turned upbeat. He reported Iraq's government has "taken some positive steps forward.
"What we sense is that the [Islamic State] threat has pulled together all of the sectarian groups. They have a common enemy now," Reed said. "There is a focus on a common enemy. And the government is trying to take steps to effectively deal with, in a collaborative way, with ISIS."
Then there are US military commanders. They almost never offer Congress anything but an assessment of an Iraq war effort doused in red, white and blue optimism.
Sure, retired Marine Corps Gen. John Allen sat at a Senate witness table an hour later in civilian attire as the White House's envoy to the counter-Islamic State coalition. But make no mistake, he's still a military man.
Allen acknowledged the situation in Iraq "remains extraordinarily complex," and warned senators "the road ahead will be challenging and non-linear."
But he skillfully slid rose-colored glasses on those seated around the half oval-shaped dais.
"Considering where we were only eight months ago," Allen said in a cadence laced with a Marine's bravado and conviction, "one begins to see how this first phase of our strategy is delivering results."
He noted that due to US air strikes, the Islamic State "advance has been largely blunted." He claimed it has "lost half of its Iraq-based leadership and thousands of hardened fighters" and has been "degraded."
Of course, we've heard rose-colored assessments about Iraq from US lawmakers and military commanders before. Did those pan out?