Iraq Study Group: Some of it is Nonsense, or How is This Going to Work, Exactly?

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Reading through the executive summary [pdf] of the Iraq Study Group report, I was struck by how many of the recommendations in the “External Approach” asked foreign governments to do things clearly not in their interest, and by how many of the recommendations in the “Internal Approach” asked the U.S. and the Iraqis to do things they are already doing. Observe:

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.

Now, why would a government poised to gain (1) vastly increased control over its oil-rich neighbor and long-time enemy, and (2) greater influence in the region, decide to turn it down and say, “You know what? We’ll help the Americans out of a jam instead.” Especially considering Iran is happily sending arms to Iraq, training Shia militias, and backing/funding/influencing various Iraqi political parties, and shows no signs of stopping?

In particular because the ISG report goes on to say this:

The 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.

So let’s maintain the status quo on Iran’s number one foreign policy priority, where they are repeatedly getting shut down by the U.S. and the U.N., but expect them to sacrifice the increased power that comes with a wrecked or Shiite-controlled Iraq? I’m not buying it.

More from the ISG:

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

First of all, if we can’t control the border to the stem the flow of funding, insurgents, and terrorists in and out of Iraq, I don’t know why we expect the Syrian government, which often can’t control whole portions of its own country, to be able to. Second, Syria — or parts of Syria, if not the Syrian government directly — sent funding and insurgents into Lebanon during the Israel vs. Hezbollah fight earlier this year. Are we giving them any incentives to turn down the same opportunity for influence this time around?

As for “Internal Approach,” here’s one example of several recommendations that seem to be either already underway or so commonsensical as to be useless:

The Iraqi government should accelerate assuming responsibility for Iraqi security by increasing the number and quality of Iraqi Army brigades.

As if no one in the American military or diplomatic apparatus has suggested this before? The slow pace in building up Iraqi forces and the inability of Iraqis to take responsibility for security is a failure of capability, not will. Does anyone think Maliki has the ability to set training in motion for four more battalions of Iraqi Army units, but chooses instead to sit and twiddle his thumbs?

Also, the ISG report contains a fair amount of highly patronizing Iraqi-blaming. Things like “encourage the Iraqi people to take control of their own destiny.” What, exactly, does that mean? Tell them to stop killing each other? Well, the portions of the population killing each other see a Shiite-dominated state or a Sunni-dominated state as their destiny. And the everyday Iraqis who simply want life to return to normal can’t do anything to stop the militias and pervading violence. Any who “take control of their own destiny,” by speaking out against the militias, or writing for a newspaper, or even wearing shorts in the street as a protest of creeping Islamofacism are likely to be shot. So are we referring to the politicians? Because they have their own agendas that they are working for, sometimes on behalf of the folks trying to kill each other, and probably won’t be convinced to change course when we say, “Hey, guys, c’mon. Try harder.” I’d like to believe this is more than empty rhetoric from the Baker Commission, but someone is going to have to prove it to me.

(And, for the record, let’s not forget who chose this “destiny” for the Iraqi people. They don’t bear the brunt of the responsibility for fixing this mess; we do. To some extent, the international bodies tasked with helping failed states do. So don’t blame them for being so shellshocked they can’t create a civil society out of the ashes of a totalitarian regime.)

While the rest of the report may make good points about the Iraqi criminal justice system, the oil sector, reassignment of troops with a new emphasis on special ops, budgeting, and so forth, the fuzziness on the main points leads me to believe that Baker, Hamilton, and everyone else involved with creating this report know the cynical side of why they were asked to do it in the first place: putting the current zeitgeist (essentially, recognizing the obvious) into a formal form so it can be lauded and cherrypicked from by the Bush Administration, which can gain PR points for trying to solve this mess.

But, then, if Bush rejects or ignores all of these recommendations, it’s all moot in the end.


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