The Iraq Study Group Is Right: It’s Time For Us To Goby Doug Mataconis
The Iraq Study Group released it’s report today, and it’s about what we expected:
Conditions in Iraq are “grave and deteriorating,” with the prospect that a “slide toward chaos” could topple the U.S.-backed government and trigger a regional war unless the United States changes course and seeks a broader diplomatic and political solution involving all of Iraq’s neighbors, according to a bipartisan panel that gave its recommendations to President Bush and Congress today.
In what amounts to the most extensive independent assessment of the nearly four-year-old conflict that has claimed the lives of more than 2,800 Americans and tens of thousands of Iraqis, the Iraq Study Group paints a bleak picture of a nation that Bush has repeatedly vowed to transform into a beacon of freedom and democracy in the Middle East.
Despite a list of 79 recommendations meant to encourage regional diplomacy and lead to a reduction of U.S. forces over the next year, the panel acknowledges that stability in Iraq may be impossible to achieve any time soon.
The group’s recommendations for the way forward in Iraq focus largely on building a broad international consensus for helping the nation, pushing Iraq to meet a set of rather ambitious deadlines for internal progress, and gradually reducing the U.S. troop presence there while boosting support for Iraqi army control of the security situation.
“No one can guarantee that any course of action in Iraq at this point will stop sectarian warfare, growing violence or a slide toward chaos,” the study group’s co-chairmen warn in a joint letter by accompanying the report. “If current trends continue, the potential consequences are severe.”
There are several specific recommendations, but the two most important are:
The study group recommends that the United States withdraw nearly all of its combat units from Iraq by early 2008, sharply reducing the current troop level of more than 140,000 while leaving behind tens of thousands of U.S. military personnel to advise, train and embed with Iraqi forces.
It also recommends that Bush threaten to reduce economic and military support for Iraq’s government if it fails to meet specific benchmarks intended to improve security in the country. It suggests that the Bush administration open talks with Iran and Syria about ways to end the violence in Iraq, proposes holding a regional conference to bring together all of Iraq’s neighbors and urges Bush to aggressively tackle the Israeli-Palestinian dispute to reduce the broader regional tensions fueling the Iraq conflict.
However, they also rejected two proposals that have been discussed frequently since the election:
In outlining possible alternatives, the panel emphatically ruled out an immediate withdrawal of American forces, saying “it would be wrong to abandon the country through a precipitate withdrawal of troops and support.” In a section that uses Bush’s own words in its title, “Staying the Course,” the report similarly dismisses an embrace of the status quo. “Current U.S. policy is not working,” the report says, adding that “making no changes in policy would simply delay the day of reckoning at a high cost.”
The report also rejects the idea of partitioning Iraq into separate, autonomous regions, saying the countries ethnic groups are geographically too diffuse, and the concept too politically volatile, to be viable.
President Bush received the report today, but obviously not with enthusiasm. Politically, though, it will be hard for him and his supporters to continue with the “stay the course” mantra after a report like this. There has been some speculation that Bush would use the ISG report as political cover for a draw-down of troops in Iraq, and that would certainly seem the rational thing to do at this point.
Rationality, however, has not been a strong point of American policy in the occupation of post-Saddam Iraq. And that’s why I’ve finally reached a conclusion I probably should have reached months ago, it’s time for the United States to begin the process of extracting itself from the Iraq fiasco.
While there are some commentators who insist on characterizing the Iraq War as part of the War on Terror, in the beginning, it was sold to the American public, and the world, as a necessary action to remove from power a man who was hiding weapons of mass destruction. That intelligence turned out to be dead wrong; but the biggest failure of the Iraq War wasn’t the war itself (which was a stunning success) but the occupation, which has been a disaster from the beginning. It became evident from the day the Baathist regime fell that the United States really didn’t have a plan in place to govern and administer an occupied country the size of Iraq, nor did there seem to be a plan that took into account Iraq’s ethnic divisions.
Instead of a smooth transition to a free Iraq, or at least a free-er Iraq than existed under Saddam, we have instead created a nation in chaos where car bombs kill civilians every day and the central government seems incapable of protecting its own citizens. Rather than hanging on with hundreds of thousands of troops hoping for a victory that will never come, it’s time to give the Iraqis the tools they need to govern and protect themselves and then leave.
Others blogging on this: Michelle Malkin
Update: James Joyner has a detailed, updated analysis of the ISG’s report and recommendations. I do agree with James on one point, the group’s suggestion that we should get Syria and Iran involved in resolving the problems in Iraq is about as foolish as suggesting that we should have hired John Dillinger to guard Fort Knox.
Update # 2: I’m usually not one to dwell on individual casualty reports, but there is some sad irony in the fact that this should happen on the same day the ISG’s report is released.