Iraq Study Group Report

The Iraq Study Group has released its report; it is available on line in at least two locations:

The executive summary begins:

The situation in Iraq is grave and deteriorating. There is no path that can guarantee success, but the prospects can be improved.
In this report, we make a number of recommendations for actions to be taken in Iraq, the United States, and the region. Our most important recommendations call for new and enhanced diplomatic and political efforts in Iraq and the region, and a change in the primary mission of U.S. forces in Iraq that will enable the United States to begin to move its combat forces out of Iraq responsibly. We believe that these two recommendations are equally important and reinforce one another. If they are effectively implemented, and if the Iraqi government moves forward with national reconciliation, Iraqis will have an opportunity for a better future, terrorism will be dealt a blow, stability will be enhanced in an important part of the world, and America’s credibility, interests, and values will be protected.
The challenges in Iraq are complex. Violence is increasing in scope and lethality. It is fed by a Sunni Arab insurgency, Shiite militias and death squads, al Qaeda, and widespread criminality. Sectarian conflict is the principal challenge to stability. The Iraqi people have a democratically elected government, yet it is not adequately advancing national reconciliation, providing basic security, or delivering essential services. Pessimism is pervasive.
If the situation continues to deteriorate, the consequences could be severe. A slide toward chaos could trigger the collapse of Iraq’s government and a humanitarian catastrophe. Neighboring countries could intervene. Sunni-Shia clashes could spread. Al Qaeda could win a propaganda victory and expand its base of operations. The global standing of the United States could be diminished. Americans could become more polarized.
During the past nine months we have considered a full range of approaches for moving forward. All have flaws. Our recommended course has shortcomings, but we firmly believe that it includes the best strategies and tactics to positively influence the outcome in Iraq and the region.

Antonia Juhasz, on Democracy Now!, points out that the recommendations include selling off Iraq’s oil industry:

All told, the report calls for privatization of Iraq’s oil, turning it over to private foreign corporate hands, putting all of the oil in the hands of the central government, and essentially, I would argue, extending the war in Iraq to ensure that US oil companies get what the Bush administration went in there for: control and greater access to Iraq’s oil.

Lawrence Korb criticizes the recommendations as “only a first step. In truth, they do not go nearly far enough to get us out of the mess that the Bush administration has created.” He argues that the recommendations do not place enough pressure on the Iraqi government:

The proposal that we threaten to withdraw troops and financial support if Nouri Al Maliki’s government does not meet certain benchmarks is not strong enough. The report merely says that, if Iraqis do not meet the benchmarks, we could withdraw–not that we should by a specific date. In fact, to put real pressure on Maliki, we must begin to withdraw under a fixed timetable. If the Iraqi leadership knows we will be gone by a specific date, it will know that, if it hasn’t made the necessary compromises by then, it will have to deal with the consequences alone.

It’s worth commenting here, that there is no satisfactory evidence that the Iraqi government is even capable of meeting these benchmarks. Korb correctly observes that there is a problem with motivating Iraqi forces to establish security.

Finally, by not setting a date for a complete withdrawal of all of our military forces, we embolden the insurgents (and their supporters), because they see us as occupiers who will never leave. Nearly 80 percent of the Iraqis believe that our presence is fueling the violence, and 60 percent think it is acceptable to kill Americans. And, what’s more, without a complete withdrawal, we will not get the help we need from the countries in the region.

Senator John McCain (R-AZ), who continues to argue for more troops in Iraq, complained, “There’s only one thing worse than an over-stressed Army and Marine Corps, and that’s a defeated Army and Marine Corps.” It is unclear how adding more troops when, as Korb put it, “[n]early 80 percent of the Iraqis believe that our presence is fueling the violence, and 60 percent think it is acceptable to kill Americans,” will do anything but further exacerbate the situation.

I was talking with a professor, Dr. Agha Saeed, whom I haven’t talked with in a while, last evening. I need to talk with him more often. (He can be seen on Global Forum TV.) Though we broadly agree on many issues, he, being of Pakistani origin, can take whatever perspective I bring and turn it on its head.

Where I argue that we are seeing the end of U.S. hegemony, he believes we are headed for a multipolar world. Where I worry that when the metaphor of a “shining city on the hill” is no longer viable, that someone here might go nuts with all our weapons of mass destruction, he points out that someone here has already gone nuts–at the cost of over 655,000 Iraqi lives. Yeah, I need to talk with him more often.

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