The Iraq Study Group Is Right: It’s Time For Us To Go

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.

  • J Delphik

    So it comes to it: the time when every day of confusion and delay costs lives. Now is the time for the Decider to show his true inner resolve. Or can Bush can only “decide” that which brings glory?

    Perhaps he sees a sort of honor in going down with the ship of his misguided decisions. His declaration that he would stay the course even if it was down to him, his wife, and his dog, signals such an attitude. I fear we’ll see momentarily whether Bush decides to be Cuffy Meigs or David Koresh.

  • sunshine

    Some problems need to be sorted by the Iraqis themselves. I dosent matter who created them but they have a problem which they now need to deal with. I do not see what a foreign presence can do that cannot even really understand what ails the Iraqis. All we can do now is wish them well and hope they will limp back to normalcy soon.

  • Eric

    As far as Update #2 goes, do you suppose that the bad guys might have made a serious effort to make that happen today?

  • malik

    blo me

  • mike

    So Eric, you’re saying that our enemies might be attempting to manipulate the media?

    No way!!


  • Eric

    Just pointing out that perhaps it isn’t “sad irony” and maybe everyone should reflect on the reality of the impact that manipulation of the media has had.

  • Kevin

    It is time to leave Iraq because we have no plan nor did we ever have the plan or intention to win a victory there. We did not send in enough troops to secure the nation in the beginning. We did not spend the time to lay the foundations of a successful liberal state. We did not adequately train the Iraqi security forces. We insisted on keeping Iraq a united state, even though two out of the three factions did not wish this. Finally and more importantly, we have never ever defined with a straight face what “victory” is.

    If we are going to withdraw, we must withdraw immediately because a phased withdrawal will only put American troops in unnecssary risk as the terrorists step up their attacks. Furthermore, continuing to arm and train the Iraqi security forces at this point is only arming at best a sectarian army in a Northern Ireland type religious war at worst an Iranian proxy army. However, we need to make provisions to evacuate all those Iraqis who did work with us as translaters and in other capacities and those Iraqi leaders who are civilized.

    In all in all, history will not be kind to George W. Bush and when the day comes when America loses the War on Islamic Terror, which I believe is now inevitable, Iraq will be seen as the Midway in this war.

  • Joe Picc

    It is amazing how language can be used to impose one’s bias on an audience.

    On the subject of the “occupation”…

    “Hague Conventions of 1907 – Laws and Customs of War on Land – Art. 42.

    Territory is considered occupied when it is actually placed under the authority of the hostile army. ”

    How are we a “hostile army” when the government of that territory does not want us to leave?

    On the subject of “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”

    From “President Bush Outlines Iraqi Threat” dated October 7, 2002,

    Tonight I want to take a few minutes to discuss a grave threat to peace, and America’s determination to lead the world in confronting that threat.

    The threat comes from Iraq. It arises directly from the Iraqi regime’s own actions — its history of aggression, and its drive toward an arsenal of terror. Eleven years ago, as a condition for ending the Persian Gulf War, the Iraqi regime was required to destroy its weapons of mass destruction, to cease all development of such weapons, and to stop all support for terrorist groups. The Iraqi regime has violated all of those obligations. It possesses and produces chemical and biological weapons. It is seeking nuclear weapons. It has given shelter and support to terrorism, and practices terror against its own people. The entire world has witnessed Iraq’s eleven-year history of defiance, deception and bad faith.

    Sounds like there were several reasons that we were “sold”, any one of which were justification for the war under UN 1441 (read it if you think otherwise).

    As far as what was found in Iraq:

    From David Kay’s ISG testimony (

    “We have discovered dozens of WMD-related program activities and significant amounts of equipment that Iraq concealed from the United Nations during the inspections that began in late 2002. The discovery of these deliberate concealment efforts have come about both through the admissions of Iraqi scientists and officials concerning information they deliberately withheld and through physical evidence of equipment and activities that ISG has discovered that should have been declared to the UN. ”

    Who’s selling us something now???? Sounds like you and the mainstream media.

    The Truth…
    1. War sucks. The intelligence was flawed. “Stay the course” is a horrible, failed mantra.
    2. Iraq violated the terms of 1441. That resolution provided the authority to take action.

    The only way we WILL win a war against extremists is with the assistance of moderates. Iraq was seen (right or wrong) as a “winnable” way to take down a bad guy and show those who would be extremists that freedom was a better way. While the war has had the opposite effect in the short term, the long term effect could go either way. If the people of Iraq are able to elect a government, and that government is able to protect itself from foreign terrorists while keeping peace and freedom within its own borders; many will see this as a sign of hope.

    If this approach does not work, we will be at a crossroad of irreconcilable differences. On one side, the philosophy that one god rules supreme and non believers are to be conquered; that freedom allows evil and evil must be smitten. On the other side, the belief that freedom reigns supreme; that we must take the good and bad it begets. When that day comes, be prepared for a war that relegates the current conflict in Iraq to the status of minor skirmish. I pray that day never comes.


  • Eric

    Hmmm, I don’t think that Iraq is the first domino, any more than Vietnam was the domino that brought about ComIntern victory. In fact, I see quite a few similarities to Vietnam and the Long Struggle of the Cold War. While the US had a massive political defeat in Vietnam, the USSR had a massive economic defeat. Vietnam was very contributory to the state of the Soviet economy in the 1970’s, which led to an even worse situation after their Afghani adventure. They basically expended all of their foreign currency between the two and their own economy was incapable of sustaining itself.

    Now, interestingly, Iraq is a proxy war as well, with the contestants being, respectively, the US and Iran. Iran is in the same boat as the USSR, shaky economy, limited currency reserves. The currency of al Qaeda, people, is even shakier. There are only so many people willing to die for the cause and capable of dying in a way that is beneficial to the cause. Consider the implications of two more years in Iraq, plus, undoubtedly, a couple more years of war after we withdraw. Especially if oil prices aren’t sustained at the current, or higher, levels. Iran will bankrupt themselves to “win” in Iraq. A hollow victory really, a bunch more sand and swamps and Shi’ite Arabs, much of the oil in Kirkuk rather than Shi’ite controlled territory. Al Qaeda will expend many more dedicated lives and end up with … Baghdad and Fallujah, at the most.

    No, I really don’t think this is the beginning of the end, or anything like that. I do think that Bush and Rumsfeld badly mismanaged the political side of this war and they are paying the price. Unfortunately, so are we. Dead and wounded soldiers, an Army that will be somewhat hollow, the treasure expended, and the budget deficits engendered by fighting a war on a peacetime budget (i.e. the LBJ syndrome). There will be some malaise, some retreat, a recession perhaps.

    But the end? No, in fact, I suspect that the Salafist and Shi’ite extremists are on the brink of overreach that will do them in.

  • Eric

    PS George Bush and Don Rumsfeld don’t deserve to be treated well by history. No better than LBJ and McNamara, to be precise.

  • mike

    Couldn’t agree more about the mismanagement of the political side of the war. I think the two biggest errors are on the budgetary side and the political will side; they’re actually related. The American people weren’t engaged, either in the economic sense or in the political sense. We tried to run the war, as you said, on a peacetime budget; we didn’t put the economy on a wartime footing.

    More importantly, the American people aren’t engaged with the war. Unless you have someone close who is in the military, most people don’t have a connection to the war beyond what they see/hear through the media.

    The political will of the nation is THE most important Center of Gravity (CoG) in the kind of warfare we have been fighting, with a few exceptions, since Vietnam, and will be fighting for a very long time. You wouldn’t know that by the emphasis the administration has put on that front.

    They’ve ceded the most important CoG to our foes, and that’s the biggest reason they won’t be treated kindly by history.

  • Adam Selene

    The lesson was learned in Vietnam and Bush/Rumsfeld/Cheney tried to fight Iraq just like LBJ/McNamara tried to fight Vietnam. It failed miserably both times. Nixon had to send more troops to Vietnam to get us out and I wouldn’t be surprised to see us send more troops to Iraq to get out this time.

  • Kevin

    Plus Adam, Nixon had to conduct the largest bombing campaign in the war to cover the phased retreat. Bush and Gates don’t appear willing to do the same. That’s primarily why I support an immediate withdrawal.

  • mike

    I’d have to disagree with you there Kevin, because contrary to popular belief, Vietnam in 72-73 wasn’t an insurgency. At least, not the kind of insurgency we’ve fighting in Iraq.

    Yes, Vietnam obviously started out as an insurgency, but it was an insurgency that had direct, credible ties with an established state (the North). In addition to that, after Tet the VC ceased to exist. The battles were still being fought in the jungle, and the enemy still appeared to melt away, but they were NVA regulars and they didn’t melt into the civilian population; they simply retreated further into the jungle.

    The point here is that a “large bombing campaign” or any other sort of large application of conventional military force would have little to no effect in Iraq, unless we’re willing to bomb Iran and Syria, and that’s a whole ‘nother can of worms.

  • KJ

    The lesson of Vietnam was (1) don’t go to Vietnam; and (2) the media and politics alone can keep us from winning a war in which we win every battle.

    Lesson #2 is still with us. But at least we aren’t in Vietnam.

  • Doug Mataconis

    For many reasons, I don’t think that the Vietnam are at all applicable to Iraq.

    First of all, as I tried to communicate in my post, the problem in Iraq isn’t that we lost a war….it’s that we’ve completely screwed up an occupation to the point where we’ve allowed an insurgency completely independent of the government we went in to depose to gain control of significant parts of the country.

    The second, related, problem is that it is exceedlingly clear that nobody in command had any plan for how to carry out the occupation of a conquered Iraq.

    And that has been the problem we’ve been trying to deal with for 3 1/2 years now.

  • Adam Selene

    The two points that I think are clear, and should have been lessons learned in Vietnam are:

    1. You must know what victory looks like. Neither in Vietnam nor Iraq did we ever define victory.

    2. In ANY war, the key is to remember that war is political, first and foremost. Military power is an extension of politics. The US forgot that in both Vietnam and Iraq. Just look at my war against Terra to understand what I mean.

  • Frogman

    We have become a weak nation that is going to reap exactly what it continues to cultivate; appeasement and PC (political cowardness). Life as we fat, dumb and happy spoiled Americans know it is going to change drastically and when it does, the simple minded issues the lame stream media drools over and dwells on will become so meaningless. The Woodstock Generation has taken the nation and the criminals control the keys to the kingdom. They gave us a republic and we couldn’t keep it. Enough said.

  • Joe Picc

    Here here, Frogman.

    And for all of those who try to draw some kind of moral equivalence between “us” and “them”, I say this…

    What would happen if every other nation on the planet destroyed its arms and denounced violence? The answer: Peace. We are not imperialists. We want to instill freedom and peace (albeit based on our view of the world), not conquer.

    What would happen if we destroyed our arms and denounced violence? All I can say is you better learn new languages and figure out which god you will be praying to.

    If you can’t see the difference you are blissfully ignorant.

  • D. J.

    Welcome back to Reality, Liberty Papers! It may not be pretty, but it’s home.

  • http://deleted Josh

    Put the Kurds in charge. They know whats going on and how to run a government. They can ease tensions between the Shi’a and Suni. They are the only faction that is not fighting.