Presented by Lapham's Quarterly and the Institute for the Future of the Book

Comments by

Frances FitzGerald

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2. National Reconciliation, entire page
January 4, 2007, 1:49 pm

As more sophisticated members of the ISG must know, national reconciliation and the disbanding of the militias in Iraq are not going to be completed on a US electoral schedule. It will take much more than two years for that under the best of circumstances. The Kurds, for example, will never dismantle the pershmerga until they feel their security is completely assured – and perhaps not even then. (That some wear Iraqi army uniforms doesn’t make them any less peshmerga.) As for the Arabs, it is not clear they could disband the militias even if Moqtada al-Sadr and every other prominent leader agreed to the idea. So, what is the purpose of this series of recommendations? Well, it would be one way to extricate the American troops and blame the Iraqis for whatever ensues.

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1. Performance on Milestones, entire page
January 4, 2007, 1:48 pm

Given its own assessment of the current situation, the ISG
recommendations in this section seem less than serious. The administration has tried milestones, it’s tried ordering the Iraqis to do lots things it thinks would be good for them. It’s told the Shia leaders to embrace the moderate Sunni and visa versa; it has bent to Shia demands, then to Sunni, but all it has done is to convince both sides that the US can’t be trusted. The only thing it hasn’t tried is threatening the government with a withdrawal of support if it doesn’t do what is asked. Some US military commanders in Iraq believe such a threat – backed up by actual withdrawals – is the only way to convince Iraqis of the need for national reconciliation. Perhaps. But it seems just as likely – or more so – that, faced the threat of US withdrawals, Iraqi leaders may conclude that their only hope for security lies in beefing up their own militias – at government expense and with government police and army units. And if the threat of withdrawal doesn’t work, the US would be left with no leverage at all.

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3. Security and Military Forces, entire page
January 4, 2007, 1:45 pm

Here the ISG hasn’t much more to say than the Bush administration: as the Iraqi army stands up, US forces stand down. Its one original recommendation is to increase the number of advisors and trainers embedded in Iraqi units while US combat troops move out of Iraq. But how crazy is this? When US regular troops withdraw, the American advisors will be targeted not only those by those target them now but quite conceivably by the units they are advising. (The IRG speaks of “force protection units” but does not explain how advisors scattered in Iraqi units throughout country could actually be protected.)

In general, this part of the report seems to have been written by people who have not read the assessment section at the top. That section makes it clear that the problem in Iraq is not military but political, but this one assumes that building an Iraqi army is a good thing in itself. In other words, the ISG here shares the administration’s fantasy that putting men into the same uniform removes their sectarian and ethnic loyalties and makes them into true nationalists.

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A. The External Approach: Building an International Consensus, entire page
January 4, 2007, 1:38 pm

This is the most important recommendation in the report. The civil war in Iraq will certainly continue if neighboring countries continue to arm and encourage the militias. Whether it would stop if the neighbors actively tried to stop it is far from certain, but it is the only hope. If the situation continues to deteriorate, an agreement among the neighboring countries will be all the more necessary to prevent the conflict from spreading throughout the region. And the conflict will surely spread unless Iran and Saudi Arabia come to some agreement.

The Bush administration is, of course, highly unlikely to pursue this recommendation because, among other things, it would entail setting some kind of timetable for the withdrawal of American troops from Iraq. But even if it did decide to go against its nature and ask for help, how could it possibly succeed? Another administration with, say, James Baker as Secretary of State, would have a hard enough time persuading the Iranians to cooperate with the Great Satan, but this administration doesn’t negotiate, even with friendly governments. It doesn’t seem to know how.

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General Comments on the ISG Report, entire page
January 4, 2007, 1:36 pm

Given their assessment of the situation in Iraq, the members of the Iraq Study Group might have simply concluded that the US government has lost control of events and can not avert the disasters they see ahead. But it is not in the nature of blue-ribbon panels to counsel despair, so instead they have recommended a half a dozen Hail Mary passes, all of which must be completed at once if current trends are to be reversed. Whatever its members actually think, the report is a counsel of despair.