A bump in the middle of the road


by matttbastard

The Iraq Study Group released its long awaited report on the US mission in Iraq to much media fanfare in Washington. President Bush made a classic non-commitment to the report (much like he did to the recommendations made by the 9/11 Commission – and we all know how many of those were implemented) leaving some to wonder what the point of the whole exercise was* – besides signaling a superficial course correction in Bush Admin policy: ‘stay the course’ is out, ‘bipartisan consensus’ in.

Many analysts were less than impressed with the conclusions reached in the report. Slate military correspondent Fred Kaplan called the report an “amorphous, equivocal grab bag”. Former National Security adviser to President Carter Zbigniew Brzezinski said findings represent “a typical, middle-of-the-road consensus among an elite Washington “focus group”, composed of esteemed individuals not handicapped by much historical or geopolitical familiarity with the region’s problems.” But the most damning assessment came from the constituency that was left out of deliberations: Iraqis. Today’s Washington Post frontpages this report on the reaction from Iraqi officials and analysts to the ISG’s findings:

[Iraqi politicians and analysts] said the report is a recipe, backed by threats and disincentives, that neither addresses nor understands the complex forces that fuel Iraq’s woes. They described it as a strategy largely to help U.S. troops return home and resurrect America’s frayed influence in the Middle East.

Iraqis also expressed fear that the report’s recommendations, if implemented, could weaken an already besieged government in a country teetering on the edge of civil war.

It is a report to solve American problems, and not to solve Iraq’s problems,” said Ayad al-Sammarai, an influential Sunni Muslim politician.


For months, the Bush administration has pressured the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to take steps toward bringing the warring groups together and tackle Iraq’s violent militias and corruption. But the Iraq Study Group recommends withdrawing U.S. support if the Iraqis fail to show advances.

“If the Iraqi government does not make substantial progress toward the achievement of milestones on national reconciliation, security, and governance, the United States should reduce its political, military, or economic support for the Iraqi government,” the report’s executive summary says.

For some Iraqis, the statement suggested that the report’s authors did not grasp, or refused to acknowledge, the diverse ambitions, rivalries and weaknesses that plague the government.

The final word goes to CSIS analyst Anthony Cordesman, who has long said the US no longer controls the course of affairs in Iraq:

The U.S. effectively sent a bull in to liberate a china shop, and the Study Group now called upon the U.S. to threaten to remove the bull if the shop doesn’t fix the china.

update: Hilzoy gets to the crux of the matter:

Among the lessons I took away from the Vietnam war was: it’s no good wishing a country had an effective, honest, and visionary leader when it doesn’t. Nor is the solution to replace the leader: for one thing, what prevents a leader from being effective might be features of the political situation, not his own inadequacies, and for another, it’s impossible for an occupying power to confer political legitimacy on anyone (except possibly by opposing that person, which is presumably not what we have in mind.) In Iraq, the democratically elected officials do not seem particularly interested in national reconciliation, and there is no reason to suppose that their replacements would be either. (At least, if we leave aside the sort of reconciliation that involves killing all one’s opponents.)

Get out. Now.

*update In comments @ Obwi, dmbeaster gives one possible answer: “It was primarily an effort by the those that supported the war, and have still not issued a mea culpa, to find a face-saving way out.”

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