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

Comments by

James Warner

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3. Dealing with Iran and Syria, paragraph 7
January 9, 2007, 3:41 am

Then perhaps we should be prepared to offer Iran the concession we have previously withheld: a security guarantee–an assurance that we will not seek regime change. Hopefully this is a concession which costs us little, because hopefully we are not contemplating military action against Iran. But a security guarantee would be worth a lot to Iran, and we should only give it in exchange for substantial concessions from them. Though we have not threatened to use force, we have–particularly in the debate over its nuclear program–maintained it as an implicit threat: the threat of a threat. Removing that threat would take away a substantial stick with which to push Iran towards nuclear compliance and away from sponsoring Hizbullah. But those are issues in which other countries have a stake as well. Of all of Iran’s undesirable activities, its meddling in Iraq is the one that most directly and adversely affects the United States. If giving Iran a security guarantee will improve its cooperation in Iraq, then it may be a trade worth making.

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3. Dealing with Iran and Syria, paragraph 3
January 9, 2007, 1:25 am

Taking this section in parts:

Incentive i. – At the moment, disorder in Iraq hurts American interests more than those of Syria or Iran. Though Iraq’s disintegration is undesirable to its neighbors, the civil war and insurgency could go on for some time before the country comes apart completely. Syria and Iran might believe that they can stoke the violence and keep it at a controlled burn to cause the U.S. maximum discomfort.

Incentive ii. – Can we credibly threaten to leave Afghanistan to the Taliban? We have to stay there out of our own interests.

Incentives iii.-vi. – Why have these incentives not been successful in convincing Iran to move on other issues, like its nuclear program?

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2. The Iraq International Support Group, paragraph 5
January 9, 2007, 12:07 am

I have a few problems with this section on Saudi Arabia.

Firstly, if Iran was seriously interested in cementing its influence in Iraq, and was convinced it could succeed, then Saudi Arabia’s nonagression pact would be of little interest to it.

Secondly, if Saudi Arabia can “help Iraq confront and eliminate al Qaeda in Iraq,” why can’t we press them to do that now? Similarly, why can they not be pressed to persuade the Syrians to cooperate now?

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2. The Iraq International Support Group, paragraph 6
January 8, 2007, 11:39 pm

But the United States has a delicate balance of interests with Turkey and the Kurds. At the moment, we owe the Kurds a great deal, for theirs is the only part of Iraq that can be called (relatively) stable or prosperous. Their achievements are due to the autonomy they currently enjoy, and they may gain further autonomy as we seek to stabilize the rest of the country. Kurdish independence may become a fact on the ground long before the final status of the region is formally decided.

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2. The Iraq International Support Group, paragraph 13
January 8, 2007, 10:56 pm

The Support Group should also bear in mind that these interests might be fundamentally incompatible.

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2. The Iraq International Support Group, paragraph 7
January 8, 2007, 10:50 pm

Will Egypt be able to reconcile supporting Sunni political participation while it is suppressing the Muslim Brotherhood at home?

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A. The External Approach: Building an International Consensus, paragraph 2
January 8, 2007, 10:34 pm

However, as I will expand on in a later note, the authors make a false choice here and throughout the report. The possible futures in Iraq are not only stability or chaos. While it might not be in Iran or Syria’s interest for Iraq to dissolve into “a humanitarian catastrophe”, it could be in their interest to contnue to exert enough of a destabilizing influence to frustrate American goals, and effect a stalemate that would sap our strength the longer it lasted.

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1. The New Diplomatic Offensive, paragraph 8
January 8, 2007, 3:26 pm

Does the security environment in Baghdad allow for such a meeting? Considering Bush had to meet al-Maliki in Jordan, would it be possible or economically to guarantee the safety of the delegates to these proposed conferences?

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1. The New Diplomatic Offensive, entire page
January 7, 2007, 1:52 pm

Missing from this overview–and from the report overall–is an assessment of America’s diplomatic position in the region and around the world. In general, concerning Iraq, we are negotiating from a position of weakness. Iraq is an open wound in our foreign policy, and we are seeking concessions and help. We are not, generally speaking, in a position to demand or coerce those concessions or help. We will have to win them through concessions of our own.

Secondly, “The New Diplomatic Offensive,” is a terrible title for this effort. Besides being an easy target for derision (one could quip that our diplomacy concerning Iraq has been offensive enough), it is the wrong image, and I wonder how it will translate into Arabic. Better titles would be a New Diplomatic Initiative, or a New Diplomatic Effort, which would convey the reality of our situation: we must renew and improve our diplomacy to achieve an acceptable result in Iraq, and that means bargaining with other countries, some of them unsavory. This is not an offensive. We are not on the attack. We are seeking and inviting cooperation from a position of diminshed strength and prestige.

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I. Assessment, entire page
January 7, 2007, 1:09 pm

In addition, the decision to omit any references or citations from the text does not enrich the report. Phrases like “pessimism is pervasive,” should be backed up by some evidence. Was this the authors’ impression? Or is it an assertion based on public opinion polling in Iraq (which does exist), or general anecdotal evidence from the people the authors consulted?

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I. Assessment, paragraph 1
January 7, 2007, 1:00 pm

The use of the passive voice here –”Saddam Hussein has been removed from power”–is peculiar. Besides being a construction that would never pass muster in academia or journalism, the authors’ use of the passive voice here speaks to a general aversion throughout the report to a frank acceptance of American responsibility for initating the Iraq War, for its (mis) conduct, and for the consequences which have and will follow.