Since its release, the report has been much maligned from both sides of the political aisle. In my previous post, I wrote that the report was significant because its assessment of the situation in Iraq has neutered Mr. Bush’s argument about "progress" in Iraq. It has also quite clearly demonstrated Mr. Bush’s foreign policy as an utter failure. While the right is making a valiant attempt to discredit the report, I think the damage has already been done. Mr. Bush will need that drink, he may even huff and puff, but I stand by my assertion that the foreign policy of the United States is no longer in the hands of this president. He has been put in a corner like a petulant preschooler.
My previous post focused on the "Assessment" part of the report. This post will address the 79 recommendations. As I mentioned earlier, I think the report’s central failure is its recommendation that Iraqi forces be trained by the U.S. military into 2008. The recommendations, taken together, really are not recommendations at all. It seems to me the recommendations themselves are simply criticisms of Mr. Bush’s Iraq policy – the recommendations point out specific failures that have led us to the Iraq of today as spelled out in the "Assessment".
The recommendations are in three parts. First, Mr. Bush’s failure to engage in regional diplomacy. Second, Mr. Bush’s failure to pursue national reconciliation. Third, Mr. Bush’s failure to properly train and equip the Iraqi security forces. The failures together have facilitated Iraq’s slide into chaos. The report holds out the hope that if those failures are remedied immediately there is a chance that chaos may be averted in Iraq. I have my doubts.
Mr. Bush’s failure in Iraq is rooted in the same failure that led to the war in the first place. It is a failure to grasp reality. When ideology drives policy, reality is not that important to the ideologues. However, reality has a way of asserting itself. The report explains the basics to Mr. Bush:
Good policy is difficult to make when information is systematically collected in a way that minimizes its discrepancy with policy goals. [p.95]
While the rest of the world understood that the insurgency in Iraq was complex, Mr. Bush and his lackeys "knew" that it was al Qaeda and a few "dead-enders". Therefore, no effort was expended finding out about the nature of the enemy:
While the United States has been able to acquire good and sometimes superb tactical intelligence on al Qaeda in Iraq, our government still does not understand very well either the insurgency in Iraq or the role of the militias.
Congress has appropriated almost $2 billion this year for countermeasures to protect our troops in Iraq against improvised explosive devices, but the administration has not put forward a request to invest comparable resources in trying to understand the people who fabricate, plant and explode those devices. [pp. 93-94]
You see, Mr. Bush knows they are "evil-doers". So, it is not important to know what motivates them and how they operate. A smarter or more curious man might think it was important to know your enemy’s motivations so that you can combat your enemy more effectively. But not this president.
The two recommendations that follow, recommendations 77 and 78, after the ISG points out our lack of knowledge about our enemy are almost cursory.
The report points out the importance of engaging Iraq’s neighbors. The reason is quite simple – all of Iraq’s neighbors have a stake in a stable Iraq, almost certainly more of a stake than the United States:
It is clear to Iraq Study Group members that all of Iraq’s neighbors are anxious about the situation in Iraq. They favor a unified Iraq that is strong enough to maintain its territorial integrity, but not so powerful as to threaten its neighbors. None favors the breakup of the Iraqi state. [p. 47]
Given the importance of engaging Iraq’s neighbors, it is striking how little has been accomplished in this area. To date, Iraq has not yet established a working embassy even in Saudi Arabia [recommendation 2].
The report also states that Iran and Syria should be engaged without preconditions:
Dealing with Iran and Syria is controversial. Nevertheless, it is our view that in diplomacy, a nation can and should engage its adversaries and enemies to try to resolve conflicts and differences consistent with its own interests. Accordingly, the Support Group should actively engage Iran and Syria in its diplomatic dialogue, without preconditions. [p. 50]
Engaging one’s enemy is anathema to the Decider – he has already scoffed at the idea. However, Mr. Bush does not hold many cards and an ostrich is sometimes forced to pull its head out of the sand if it wants to breathe. Recommendations 9 and 16 offer carrots to Iran and Syria to sit down at the bargaining table. Those two recommendations have already set the tone for U.S. foreign policy, sooner or later Mr. Bush will be forced to follow, or remain irrelevant.
It is in the area of national reconciliation where the report breaks important ground. A number of the ideas have been proposed separately in the past. The report ties them together within a coherent strategy with a nice payoff at the end:
The point is for the United States and Iraq to make clear their shared interest in the orderly departure of U.S. forces as Iraqi forces take on the security mission. A successful national reconciliation dialogue will advance that departure date. [p.67]
To that end, recommendation 34 calls for the issue of U.S. force presence in Iraq to be on the table for any national reconciliation dialogue. This is a far cry from Mr. Bush’s belligerent tone to date.
The report proposes the reversal of the disastrous de-baathification process (recommendation 27) and it calls for oil revenue to be shared based on population (recommendation 28). The oil revenue recommendation specifically addresses the ambiguity that exists in the current draft of the Iraqi constitution. The report calls for the revenue from future oil fields to also be shared based on population. This recommendation is essential to bringing the Sunnis into the national reconciliation process.
The report punts on the most difficult, and perhaps the most intractable, of Iraq’s issues – Kirkuk. Recommendation 30 does suggest wisely that the referendum of the future of Kirkuk be postponed to avoid violence. In many ways, the Kirkuk problem is beginning to resemble the Kashmir issue in the Indian sub-continent – what is popular at the local level may not necessarily be in the national interest. Unsurprisingly, Kurds led by Massoud Barzani (and parroted by Jalal Talabani) have been critical of the report because it favors more central control of Iraq than the Kurds would prefer. The Kurdish claim to Kirkuk and its oil revenues are directly challenged by the report.
Above all, the report stresses the importance of talking to your enemies – the essential ingredient of national reconciliation. It proposes far-reaching amnesty (recommendation 31), engaging all parties, including Moqtada al-Sadr (recommendation 35), and less meddling by the United States:
Recommendation 37: Iraqi amnesty proposals must not be undercut in Washington by either the executive or the legislative branch.
As part of national reconciliation, the report proposes the disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration (DDR) of the militias:
The use of force by the government of Iraq is appropriate and necessary to stop militias that act as death squads or use violence against institutions of the state. However, solving the problem of militias requires national reconciliation.
Because the United States is a party to the conflict, the U.S. military should not be involved in implementing such a program. [pp.68-69]
The report recommends the presence of neutral international experts, who have significant experience from previous civil wars, to facilitate the DDR of militias [recommendation 38]. It is Mr. Bush’s failure to recognize the conflict for what it is that has prevented this essential step in national reconciliation from taking place.
While the report, in my opinion, errs in the area of training security forces, it nonetheless does offer one very important and necessary recommendation:
Recommendation 50: The entire Iraqi National Police should be transferred to the Ministry of Defense, where the police commando units will become part of the new Iraqi Army.
This recommendation is important for two reasons. First, the Iraqi National Police is geared toward counterinsurgency and not police work. Therefore, it does not belong under the Ministry of Interior. The Iraqi Police Service, which does police work, is the appropriate force to be under the Ministry of Interior. Second and more importantly, by moving the Iraqi National Police out from under the MOI (which is under Shia militia control), Shia militia control of the force is diluted. It should come as no surprise that SCIRI has condemned this recommendation so harshly.
The ISG report is focused on bringing parties into the national reconciliation process. This is something the Bush Administration should have been pursuing from the start. The report makes overtures toward the Shia nationalists (Sadrists) as well as the Iraqi Sunnis, the ethnic minority. It does point to the essential formula of a future stable Iraq, if one is to emerge from this chaos. In any national reconciliation, the stronger group must make accomodations to include the weaker group if peace is to be the outcome. The report thus recognizes the importance of bringing the Iraqi Sunnis into the dialogue. This is in marked contrast to the "80% solution" being contemplated by the Bush Administration. It seems to me, that taken together, the national reconciliation and the regional diplomacy proposed by the report set the groundwork for an American withdrawal from Iraq.
Upon reading the full report, one wonders why the recommendations of the report have not already been tried by the Bush Administration in the last 3 years. One wonders what they have been doing the last 3 years. While the American military have been taking casualties, it appears that the White House has been out to lunch. That is the result of ignoring reality in favor of ideology.
While it is debatable if "success" was ever in the cards once Mr. Bush made the ill-informed and ill-conceived decision to invade Iraq, the ISG report makes it clear that whatever hope of "success" might have existed in Iraq was out of reach for this most incompetent of administrations. That will be the legacy of this report – exposing George W Bush for his incompetence in Iraq the way the television pictures from New Orleans exposed George W Bush’s incompetence in protecting the American people at home.