Friday, December 08, 2006

Iraqi Study Group: FATAL FLAW. Paschal's comment.

The Iraq Study Group: A Fatal Flaw
by Robert Dreyfuss

There's good news and bad news in the long-awaited report of the Iraq
Study Group. Happily, it starts the United States down the path of
withdrawal. Unhappily, its most basic premise--that the United States
can somehow support the non-existent Iraqi government and bolster its
viciously sectarian armed forces--is fatally flawed.

Let's start with the good news. The ISG has delivered a stunning body
blow to the White House. Stripped of its details, the ISG's message is
that President Bush's Iraq policy is a complete failure that has brought
Iraq and the Middle East to the brink of catastrophe.
As a result, the
United States must execute an about-face. Almost immediately, the United
States must begin withdrawing virtually all of its combat forces from
Iraq, a withdrawal that should be completed early in 2008. At the same
time, it says, the United States will have to scramble to launch a
diplomatic effort involving Iraq's neighbors--including Syria and
Iran--the Arab League, the UN, the Organization of the Islamic
Conference and other world powers to prevent Iraq from spiraling into

Further, says the ISG report--which was handed personally to Bush by
Hamilton and his co-chair, former Secretary of State Jim Baker,
Wednesday--the United States must renounce any idea of permanent bases
in Iraq, "reject the notion that the United States seeks to control
Iraq's oil" and urgently seek national reconciliation in Iraq.
To that
latter end, the ISG proposes that the United States "must also try to
talk directly to Muqtada al-Sadr, to militia leaders, and to insurgent
leaders"--in other words, instead of seeking to crush the Iraqi
resistance and smash Sadr's Mahdi Army, it's time to talk to them. And
to top it all off, the ISG proposes a vigorous effort to restart the
Palestinian-Israeli peace process.

It's hard to imagine a more sweeping rebuke to the President's
disastrously misguided Middle East policy
. The report breathes not one
word about "victory" in Iraq. Ever the master of understatement, Baker
said that the idea of staying the course in Iraq "is no longer viable."

The Baker-Hamilton report instantly isolated President Bush against a
snowballing consensus among the mainstream political establishment. In a
collective I-told-you-so, Democrats mostly heaped praise on the ISG
report. "If the president is serious about the need for change in Iraq,
he will find Democrats ready to work with him in a bipartisan fashion to
find a way to end the war as quickly as possible," said Nancy Pelosi,
the incoming speaker of the House, who added that the ISG report echoed
virtually all of the Democrats' main talking points on Iraq.

Over on the Republican side, moderates and mainstream conservatives such
as Senators Chuck Hagel, Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe also cheered
its conclusions. "It gives impetus to both the Congress and hopefully
the President," said Snowe. "The time has come to change our course and
to support a plan...that ultimately leads to a withdrawal of troops from

Against the emerging political consensus, Bush has no real option other
than to come around. Jon Alterman, director of the Middle East
program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS),
one of four think tanks that sponsored the ISG, noted that the ISG
report frees Republicans to break with Bush. "With the issuance of this
report, it has become far easier to claim that one is a loyal Republican
and that one differs strongly with the Bush Administration on Iraq. When
some Congressional Republicans did that in September, it set off a
tremor. This could provoke an earthquake and leave the President very
isolated if he refuses to change course."

Of course, notoriously stubborn, frighteningly ignorant of foreign
affairs, still susceptible to the whisperings of Vice President Cheney
and perhaps convinced that his Middle East policy is a holy Christian
mission, Bush is not guaranteed to go along. At the news
conference releasing the report, Baker explicitly refused to
psychoanalyze President Bush. Later, Larry Eagleburger, who served on
the ISG and who was Secretary of State under former President George
Bush, could only speculate on how Bush was reacting to the ISG's
142-page insult. "I was impressed with the fact that number one, he
didn't make any negative remarks at all, and secondly, he didn't have a
sour look on his face," he said.

But the situation is so grave, according to Baker, Hamilton, et al.,
that even President Bush has to get it. The United States, said Hamilton
in a television interview with Anderson Cooper on CNN, has "not
months but weeks, even days" to act to prevent possible all-out civil
war and regional conflict.

Although the ISG co-chairs were willing to say--as did Secretary of
Defense Robert Gates, a former ISG member--that the United States is not
winning in Iraq, they were loath to face the real truth: that the
United States is losing; indeed, that the war is lost. Which brings us
to the bad news.

Unfortunately, the Baker-Hamilton task force insists that with a precise
combination of diplomacy, military action, micromanagement of Iraqi
politics, threats and bribes, it is still possible to salvage, well,
not victory but "success" in Iraq, and to do so in a way that protects
the "global standing of the United States." It notes that the United
States must hang on to an imperial presence in the Persian Gulf, not
only by maintaining several tens of thousands of troops in Iraq but
substantial forces in Afghanistan, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain and elsewhere
in the region.

The troops remaining in Iraq would include up to 20,000 US forces to
provide "training...advice, combat assistance, and staff assistance"
to Iraqi forces, plus "intelligence, transportation, air support, and
logistics support," along with "rapid-reaction teams" and "special
operations teams." And (on page 73 of its report) the ISG drops this
zinger, noting that it might not oppose a "surge" of US forces:

We could, however, support a short-term redeployment or
surge of American combat forces to stabilize Baghdad, or to speed up the
training and equipping mission, if the U.S. commander in Iraq determines
that such steps would be effective.

The central premise of the ISG report is fatally flawed. It proposes to
support an Iraqi government that doesn't exist, and to strengthen an
Iraqi army that is not a national army but an array of sectarian and
ethnic militias.

It proposes to withdraw perhaps 70,000 to 100,000 US combat forces by
early 2008, but to quadruple US trainers and other experts to strengthen
the Iraqi armed forces. Problem is, those Iraqi forces are nearly
entirely made up of Shiites and Kurds, including tens of thousands of
Shiite militiamen and Kurdish peshmerga forces. That means that
strengthening the Iraqi army simply bolsters two sides in a three-sided
civil war. (Incidentally, nowhere in the Iraq Study Group report do the
words "civil war" appear.) Baker and Hamilton say: "The primary mission
of U.S. forces in Iraq should evolve to one of supporting the Iraqi
army." But they don't even try to explain how that might work, since
the Iraqi army is utterly broken and filled with sectarian and ethnic

And Iraq's government, led by the hapless Nouri al-Maliki, is a fiction.
On one hand, the Baker-Hamilton task force proposes to enhance the power
of the Maliki government and to give it increased control over its own
armed forces. On the other hand, Baker-Hamilton warn darkly about
threats and ultimatums that the United States must issue to Maliki. Yet
neither incentives nor threats can work when the object of those
incentives and threats is powerless. Maliki's status as a US puppet,
installed by an American occupation, kills any chance that he can emerge
as a credible Iraqi leader.

Which brings us to the most basic flaw of the Baker-Hamilton report. In
fact, the only Iraqi government that could have any credibility with
large numbers of Iraqis is one that militantly opposes the US occupation
of Iraq, demands the withdrawal of US forces on an orderly but speedy
timetable and supports the unity and integrity of the Iraqi state and
nation. Between 60 percent and 80 percent of Iraqis want the United States to leave
Iraq, quickly, and so do well over a hundred Iraqi members of
Parliament, if not an actual majority of that body. Perhaps a government
that represents them could emerge on the ruins of the Maliki regime, if
Maliki is forced from office or overthrown by Iraqis. There is, little
reported by American media, a strong effort to create a movement across
the Sunni-Shiite divide, one that could include Sadr's Mahdi Army, other
Shiite parties, many Sunni leaders in the current parliament and a
large part of the Iraqi resistance.

It's too much to expect the Iraq Study Group to support the creation of
an anti-American Iraqi government. Indeed, many of its commissioners
seem lost in a dream of somehow recapturing the lost US position in the
Middle East. But regardless of the ISG's seventy-nine options, things
are moving fast in Iraq. Much of Iraq, of course, is moving toward a
bloody civil war, pitting sect against sect and Arab against Kurd. But
there is also an Iraqi movement for a nationalist republic, one free of
the American occupation imposed on it by George W. Bush in 2003. Either
way, it's likely that the pace of that movement will accelerate in the
weeks and months ahead.

As a result, the real value of the ISG report is that it starts the
United States down the road toward a withdrawal of a major portion of
the occupation army, and toward a diplomatic effort in its place. That's
all to the good--and for most Americans, who won't bother reading all seventy-nine
recommendations, the only thing they will get from the news of the ISG's
work is that a bunch of smart people say it's time to get out of Iraq.
The rest is details. And things in Iraq are moving so fast that few, if
any, of those details will ever have any impact in the real world.

PASCHAL: I disagree with the last paragraph. Sadly, it does not start the US anywhere. My prediction is that Mr. Bush will reject either all or most of the report. He is, in fact, as I said five years ago, a dry alcoholic, with his irrational "Fix" on victory. He will take our nation down this tube of disaster and despair, because he cannot admit any self-criticism, or stepping back from his dream of being seen as the new Liberator and Founder of a democratic Middle East.
He is fixated, and on this point, simply insane. Unfortunately also, the only thing likely to slow him is Impreachment proceedings. I also believe that he is increasingly unstable, as he is basically a bully who has always gotten his way while disdaining any self-reflection. Despite never having known combat, he is willing to throw our men and women into impossible situations. It is a civil war. Most Iraqis want us out and most believe some of the violence will cease when that happens. He really is a dangerous man. December 8, 6:30 a.m.

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