I just got off of a conference call in which ISG members William Perry and Alan Simpson discussed the ISG Report with a group of bloggers. Since I haven’t read any further in the Report than when I posted this morning, I’ll confine myself to reporting on the call, without editorial comment.
Perry summarized the Report’s conclusion as follows: the situation in Iraq is dire; if we don’t change course it will get worse; the proper change is to focus on training Iraqis and to send home all of troops except those needed for force protection and to fight al Qaeda, and on the diplomatic front, to open talks with Iraq’s neighbors and try to negotiate peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians.
Simpson added that the situation in Iraq is “tragic” and “spinning out of control.” He said that the ISG is a great example of bipartisanship, but that he expected it to be attacked by those “on the far left and the far right” whom he also called “the 100 percenters.”
Steve Clemons expressed the fear (which he has heard voiced by leaders in other Middle East countries) that the withdrawal of U.S. forces could lead to the fall of several governments in the region and/or to governments tilting strongly towards Tehran. Perry responded that we’d leave behind a “sizeable” force in Iraq and maintain a “robust” presence in the region. Simpson said the remaining forces in Iraq would be the cream-of-the-crop — Seals, Special ops, and Rangers. Neither member indicated how many troops they envisaged remaining.
Clements also asked about whether the ISG discussed taking military action against Iran. Simpson sounded shocked, and answered in a way that suggested he (at least) regarded such action as about as thinkable as bombing New York.
A liberal blogger associated with John Podesta asked what the ISG thought would constitute an “unexpected development” that would be good cause to keep combat brigades in Iraq past early 2008. Perry mentioned an all-out civil war and said there could be others. But Perry later said that, in the event of all out civil war, the best idea would be to leave Iraq.
Jim Geraghty asked what would happen if the Iraqis aren’t up to the job. Simpson said he had “no idea.” However, he said the ISG believes the Iraq army is starting to take hold as a national army. Simpson then focused on the need to talk to Iran. He asserted that Iran hates chaos in Iraq more than it hates the U.S. He also opined that life teaches us that talking with those you disagree with (such as a spouse) is a good thing, and that the present strategy of not talking to Iran “isn’t working.”
Spencer Ackerman asked whether the real problem with training the Iraqis is less technical than political. In other words, aren’t there limits on our ability to create an effective army and police force if there are sectarian divides within these organizations? Perry agreed that political progress is necessary for training to produce results.
John Aravosis asked whether the ISG recommendations represent what the ISG really wants or just what the group thinks will be acceptable to the White House. Simpson assured him that nobody worried about what the administration will think. He recalled one member saying “wait until Cheney sees this.” Simpson also reported that President Bush was very attentive when he met with the group this morning and assured the members that he would move quickly to consider their recommendations. Perry added that he doesn’t like President Bush but was glad that James Baker had given him a heads up about the Report. Perry added that Baker did not suggest any revisions after his private meeting with Bush and that, if Baker had, the response would have been negative.
Aravosis then asked whether Iraq isn’t “already dead.” Simpson said there are some good things going on in Iraq. Perry said we still “have a shot.” Success, he added depends on (1) whether we can continue to build a national army and (2) whether the govenment will act to implement reconciliation proposals.
Richard Fernandez asked for the ISG’s position on granting amnesty to those who have killed Americans. Perry compared the situation to that of the IRA and said the issue “has to be faced.”
The call ended with that answer.
JOHN implores: Please tell me that Simpson’s comments about Iran didn’t sound as stupid over the phone as they read in black and white.
PAUL responds: Some did, some didn’t.
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