Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Some Preemptive Thoughts on the Iraq Study Group

Of course, Major General Caldwell's Washington Post op-ed (see below) will likely get completely ignored because of the combined media circus surrounding Robert Gates confirmation hearings and the release of the Iraq Study Group's report. Speaking for myself, and based strictly upon the leaks that have been made to the press, I think the ISG report will be a signal disaster for Iraq and America's efforts here.

First, the notion that we should negotiate with Iran and Syria to stabilize Iraq is risible. What common interest in Iraq do we have with these two anti-American dictatorships? They clearly do not care whether Iraq is in chaos or not, as both nations are currently stoking the chaos at little or no cost to themselves. They clearly do not want any sort of a democracy to emerge next door, which only points out to their own oppressed populaces that an Arab/Muslim democracy is possible. If we are just looking for a discrete way to withdraw, we can do that without selling out our other interests (i.e. a non-nuclear Iran, a free Lebanon) and just pullout. Further, even if we were to strike some sort of grand bargain with Syria and Iran that led to the withdrawal of U.S. forces, what leverage would we have once redeployed that would force them to hold up their end of the bargain? This suggestion, if true and acted upon, will be a greater disaster than losing honorably in Iraq, because it will compound that defeat with the precedent of capitulation to the demands of anti-American aggressors in the region.

Second, there are rumors that the report will link ending the insurgency in Iraq to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. If true, this will do nothing more than validate the Sunni insurgencies propaganda, and lead to a lot more dead Americans. Like many innumerable autocrats in the Middle East, the Sunni extremists justify their violence and inhumanity by citing the Israeli-Palestinian dispute in their rhetoric. This is nonsense, of course -- they just want to regain the power they lost when Saddam was toppled. But if the ISG publicly declares a linkage between the two conflicts, this will justify all the attacks against U.S. troops to many of the Sunnis who are now seeking to end the insurgency through reconciliation. Again, the consequences of this recommendation are potentially disastrous.

Third, the composition of the Iraq Study Group is less than reassuring. Whereas they are quite accomplished in their chosen fields of endeavor, is there a reason to believe that Vernon Jordan and Sandra Day O'Connor can come up with strategic alternatives that have somehow eluded every general in Iraq? Would it have killed them to have included at least one person with military experience in the past 30 years? Even disgruntled former Generals who opposed the war, i.e. Anthony Zinni whom I've criticized heavily in the past, would have been better. (And yes, I respect Chuck Robb for his service very much, but again, foot soldiers do not always make the best strategists).

Finally, and this is a nitpick, I realize, but I wish they'd named it something other than the ISG. The team that searched Iraq for WMD's after Baghdad's liberation was called the Iraq Survey Group, and within the government the first retooling of Iraq policy from the White House in the fall of 2003 was called the Iraq Stabilization Group. Someday when I write my book about Iraq, having to spell out which "ISG" I'm referring to with each reference will likely give me Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. So I have that to look forward to.

Seriously, though, one member of the Baker Commission (as it should be truthfully called) told the New York Times,
''We had to move the national debate from whether to stay the course to how do we start down the path out.''
In other words, they did not even honestly consider how to win in Iraq. This is a slap in the face to every service member here who risks their lives every day to help secure and rebuild this country. Why should they (I use the third person because I don't claim to be under that much threat here in the IZ) face this danger if it is not for the purpose of winning?

Everything other than that quote is a rumor or a strategic leak, which is why it is particularly frightening. Hopefully our worst fears about the Iraq Study Group will not come true, or if so, the President will thank them for their time and shelve the report.