About as bad as advertised

I’ve read the executive summary of the Iraq Study Group report. That’s probably all I’ll have time to read today.
According to the summary, the ISG is making two recommendations. First, it’s recommending that the U.S. actively engage Iraq’s neighbors — the only two it names are Syria and Iran — without preconditions in order to induce them to help stabilize the situation in Iraq. The report states that the U.S. has “discentives and incentives” available with which to influence these countries. The only such incentive or disincentive mentioned in the summary is “dealing directly with the Arab-Israeli conflict.”
Thus, the ISG report lives up to its advanced billing. The best the “wise men” can come up with is to have our worst enemies try to help us stabilize Iraq. And, apparently, the primary inducement will be to pressure Israel into creating a Palestinian state (as if Iran really cares about that). It’s difficult to say which is more pronounced, the craven nature of this recommendation or its lack of realism.
The other main recommendation calls for a change in our military mission for the express purpose not of succeeding, but “to enable the United States to begin to move its combat forces out of Iraq responsibly.” The report calls on the Iraqi government to accelerate assumption of responsibility for Iraqi security, and for the U.S. to facilitate this process by “significantly increas[ing] the number of U.S. military personnel, including combat troops, embedded in and supporting Iraqi Army units.” As these actions proceed, says the report, “U.S. combat forces could begin to move out of Iraq.” The report says that by 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.”
So basically the ISG wants us to stand down in one year even though there’s no evidence that the Iraqis are ready to stand up. The issue here is less the combat capability of the Iraqis (although that’s a concern) than the fact that the Iraqi government, which will control its military, does not appear committed to key U.S. objectives such as fighting pro-Iranian militias (of course our “peace partners” in Iran will be fine with that). Thus, the U.S. needs to maintain a substantial military presence for purposes largely independent of supporting Iraqi military objectives.
I’ll reserve final judgment until I’ve read the the whole thing. But right now, this report looks like the worst of all possible worlds — give up in Iraq over the course of one year and make concessions to Iran and Syria on the way out. I think I’d prefer an old-fashioned surrender.
JOHN adds: I’ve read the executive summary as well; suffice it to say that the summary leaves some obvious holes that perhaps the full report will fill. What the ISG says about Iran and Syria seems, to use the most polite characterization I can think of, unrealistic:

No country in the region will benefit in the long term from a chaotic Iraq. Yet Iraq’s neighbors are not doing enough to help Iraq achieve stability. Some are undercutting stability.

But wait! If a chaotic Iraq hurts everyone in the region, they why are some deliberately creating chaos? Do Iran and Syria misapprehend their own interests? The ISG never explains; the fantasy only deepens when those countries are discussed specifically:

Given the ability of Iran and Syria to influence events within Iraq and their interest in avoiding chaos in Iraq, the United States should engage them constructively.***Iran should stem the flow of arms and training to Iraq, respect Iraq’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, and use its influence over Iraqi Shia groups to encourage national reconciliation.

Really? Define “should.” Unquestionably, it would be in our interest (and Iraq’s) for Iran to do these things. But currently, Iran is shipping arms into Iraq and training militias; doing everything it can to undermine Iraq’s sovereignty; and using its considerable influence over Iraq’s Shia population to foment violence against Sunnis. Iran is doing these things because it perceives them to be in its interest, likely correctly: it’s easy to see why the mullahs who rule Iran would like to see their deadly enemy, Iraq, reduced to impotence. So, once again, why does Iran have an “interest in avoiding chaos in Iraq”?
Apparently that “interest” doesn’t yet exist, but is to be created by us. But how? The only hint in the executive summary is the bland statement–immediately following the recitation of “shoulds” quoted above–that “[t]he issue of Iran’s nuclear programs should continue to be dealt with by the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany.” Hmm. If there is an explanation there of why Iran will be persuaded to reconsider where its interests lie, it’s awfully subtle.
The same unreality afflicts the report’s approach to Syria:

Syria should control its border with Iraq to stem the flow of funding, insurgents, and terrorists in and out of Iraq.

There’s that “should” again. Of course, as the executive summary implicitly acknowledges but never comes out and says, Syria is currently facilitating, not “stemming,” the flow of money and jihadists into Iraq. Why? Because Syria’s rulers believe they have an interest in doing so. How are we going to change their calculation? Here the ISG is a little less oblique than in the case of Iran:

There must be a renewed and sustained commitment by the United States to a comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace on all fronts: Lebanon, Syria, and President Bush’s June 2002 commitment to a two-state solution for Israel and Palestine. This commitment must include direct talks with, by, and between Israel, Lebanon, Palestinians (those who accept Israel’s right to exist), and Syria.

Hmm, once again. Does anyone see a possible problem in achieving a “comprehensive peace” that simply leaves out the Palestinians (and others, presumably) who don’t accept Israel’s right to exist? How, exactly, is that “comprehensive”?
More to the point, what does it have to do with Iraq? Nothing whatever. The idea, evidently, is that Syria can be bribed to stop the flow of men and money into Iraq by giving it Lebanon and the Golan Heights. (If that isn’t the idea, can anyone explain what is?) What a pity that Israel is nowhere near Iran; otherwise, perhaps we could secure that country’s cooperation by selling out Israel as well–killing two birds with one stone, so to speak.
The ISG’s other major recommendation seems equally devoid of substance:

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.

Isn’t that a precise statement of the administration’s current policy? In fact, hasn’t the Iraqi army taken over primary responsibility for more than half of the country already? The reason why the Iraqis have not yet taken over primary responsibility for the most troubled areas of Baghdad and Anbar province is not that the idea hadn’t occurred to the administration; it’s because they aren’t ready to do so yet. In the meantime, aren’t we already training Iraqis as furiously as we can?
Based on the executive summary, it’s hard to see much merit in the ISG report. I may have time to read the full report tonight, and if so will comment further.
To discuss this post, go here.
Many thanks to Cedric Long, who recovered the last half of this post for us, and all others who responded!


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