Now that I’ve read the whole thing, the good news about the Iraq Study Group report is that it’s filled with accurate observations about the situation in Iraq. As Kevin Drum writes it’s “more reality-based than the Bush administration, which represents at least a little bit of progress.” On the level of concepts on logic, however, it’s more-or-less a sick joke. As the report outlines, the fundamental problem in Iraq is the absence of broad-based national reconciliation. Absent such reconciliation, it’s impossible for the US military to provide security to the country, impossible to create effective Iraqi institutions, and impossible to isolate hard-core extremists on either side of the sectarian divide.
An emailer wonders how this hilarous David Broder parody made it into today’s Post. The special unintentional comedy prize goes to former Senator Alan Simpson for his observation that “No one wanted to see us embarrassed by being unable to come to consensus.”
And there’s the rub. The purpose of the commission is for a bipartisan political elite to try to avoid embarrassment.
The Iraq Study Group report is 125 pages long and contains 79 recommendations. Some key points:
RECOMMENDATION 22: The President should state that the United States does not seek permanent military bases in Iraq. If the Iraqi government were to request a temporary base or bases, then the U.S. government could consider that request as it would in the case of any other government.
RECOMMENDATION 35: The United States must make active efforts to engage all parties in Iraq, with the exception of al Qaeda. The United States must find a way to talk to Grand Ayatollah Sistani, Moqtada al-Sadr, and militia and insur-
RECOMMENDATION 40: The United States should not make an open-ended commitment to keep large numbers of American troops deployed in Iraq.
RECOMMENDATION 41: The United States must make it clear to the Iraqi government that the United States could carry out its plans, including planned redeployments, even if Iraq does not implement its planned changes. America’s
other security needs and the future of our military cannot be made hostage to the actions or inactions of the Iraqi government.
Lee Smith’s piece, “The Shia Problem,” is important. Smith organizes a big-picture look at the Middle East around an emerging, region-wide Sunni-Shia civil war. (A prospect alluded to at the Gates hearing.) Our real interests in that civil war are on the Sunni side, which is a big reason why a deal with Iran is probably a bad idea.
This sounds great to me. No deal with Iran! Can we cut a deal with Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein to form a grand Sunni Islamist / American / Arab nationalist alignment against the rising tide of Shiism. Maybe now that Don Rumsfeld doesn’t have a day job he’d like to orchestrate another sit-down with Saddam. Dunno who we can send as our envoy to OBL, but no doubt if Bush could call Musharraf and Musharraf can call someone in the ISI who knows how to get in touch with Osama.
I’ve only read the ISG excerpts not the whole thing, and even in the excerpts there’s a lot to read and digest. I found myself, however, choking over this one:
The primary mission of U.S. forces in Iraq should evolve to one of supporting the Iraqi army, which would take over primary responsibility for combat operations. By the first quarter of 2008, subject to unexpected developments in the security situation on the ground, all combat brigades not necessary for force protection could be out of Iraq. At that time, U.S. combat forces in Iraq could be deployed only in units embedded with Iraqi forces, in rapid-reaction and special operations teams and in training, equipping, advising, force protection and search and rescue. Intelligence and support efforts would continue. A vital mission of those rapid reaction and special operations forces would be to undertake strikes against al-Qaida in Iraq.
Emphasis added, because there’s the rub. It’s worth saying that from the beginning the Bush administration has always had a plan to withdraw the bulk of US combat forces from Iraq in 12-18 months. It’s just that the “plan” has always gone something like “we’ll do this super-awesome stuff, then the situation will improve, and then most of the combat troops will leave.” The problem, of course, keeps being that the situation “unexpectedly” fails to improve. The policy’s failure therefore becomes the justification for continuing the very policy that’s failing.
This morning on NBC, former Vice President Al Gore called Iraq the “worst strategic mistake in the history of the United States.”
He urged President Bush “to try to separate out the personal issues of being blamed in history for this mistake and instead recognize it’s not about him. It’s about our country and we all have to find a way to get our troops home and to prevent a regional conflagration there.” Watch it:
Full transcript: Read more
Via Jim Henley, Kevin Hall and David Montgomery tally up the price of war in ways you might neglect. To make a long story short, for all the billions that have been appropriated for Iraq, those appropriations don’t actually cover the bills. That means cutbacks elsewhere. Specifically, services (janitorial, mail, bill payment) at military bases, it means that equipment isn’t being procured for training purposes, it means that not all the equipment damaged in Iraq is getting repaired, etc. What’s more, the thousands of dead soldiers are the least of the human toll: “More than 73,000 soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan have been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) . . . Internet blogs written by soldiers or their wives tell of suicide attempts by soldiers haunted by the horror of combat, civilian careers of reservists who’ve been harmed by deployment and redeployment, and marriages broken by distance and the trauma of war.”
All the Senators seemed very pleased with Robert Gates yesterday. And as John Judis says, Gates really does seem less eager to buy into geopolitical madness than many of his Republican predecessors. Still, Gates seems to be part of the “mainstream” elite consensus which holds that Iraq is almost certainly doomed, but that we should sort of keep on prosecuting the war for years and years just because it would be embarrassing to give up and, hell, who knows maybe a pony will come along. That sort of thing works, I think, if and only if you regard the war as a total abstraction, rather than actual events happening to actual people.
Not to get unduly resentment-oriented, but unless I’m crazy the American media is really downplaying the deteriorating situation in Lebanon relative to the huge play they gave to big street protests during the “Cedar Revolution.” I’m not really all that certain that events in Lebanon are all that crucially important to the United States of America, but certainly when anti-Syrian and somewhat pro-Western forces appeared to be on the rise this was treated as a major development. Insofar as that’s the case, then surely the reverse turn of events as pro-Syrian mass movements flex their muscle is also important. This situation also at least appears to have the potential to turn into massive bloodshed at some point, so it’s kind of worth keeping track of.