Final pass on the ISG Report. Ta-daaah! ;)
III. ISG recommendations.
As noted already, the report makes seventy-nine recommendations, in three broad categories: (1) redeployment of U.S. troops; (2) national reconciliation milestones for the Iraqi government; and (3) a new diplomatic offensive in the Middle East (ME). Every one of these categories, particularly (1) and (3), is highly controversial; strong arguments can be made on multiple sides of each such question.
(1) Redeployment. In the abstract, there are (of course) only three possible deployment strategies: the same number of U.S. troops; more (some more ("surge") or a lot more ("escalation")); or less (down to "withdraw immediately"). The ISG recommends an immediate redeployment of U.S. troops: (a) many to other locations nearby (though "over the horizon") or further removed, with (b) the focus of those U.S. troops remaining in Iraq to be on training Iraqi units rather than independently patrolling Iraq. Here's the logic, and the pros and cons:
Same number of U.S. troops: a disaster. We continue to break our infantry, whilst parading them back and forth in what amounts to a shooting gallery. More troops: a surge is possible, but almost nobody outside John McCain thinks it would be particularly helpful, especially after it didn't help pacify Baghdad when we tried it in recent months. [But, alas, see update below.] An escalation, OTOH -- say, doubling troop strength or more, flooding the place with troops to increase security* -- is simply impossible (we don't have, and can't get, them) and this late in the game probably unwise in any event (a nearly four-year occupation being part of the motivation for Iraq's current chaos). This leaves redeployment and drawdown (the ISG recommendation), and immediate withdrawal.
The reasoning behind immediate withdrawal is understandable, and in many ways compelling. There were no WMD's, the Iraqis don't want us there, the sooner we leave, the better...especially given our casualties, in a war of choice that has proved such an utter disaster. I have no answer for military families who would like their loved ones out of harm's way, particularly after two and three and more tours -- just as I have no answer for those who opposed the war from the first and fail to see why their kids should be drafted to support it. I also realize that the U.S. troops embedded in Iraqi units under the ISG plan will be facing extraordinary dangers, even with force protection units nearby. I don't have a comforting answer on that score, either -- except to note that our exposure would be less then, than it is now.**
I do reject the comparison to the Vietnam era "domino effect" argument: i.e., that since our leaving Vietnam didn't lead to a communist Asia, we can safely leave Iraq without a general ME conflagration. The risk here is far higher, in blood and treasure, and the odds of a resulting unmanageable chaos far higher as well. The ISG report explains this some, and I can expand on it further in comments if anyone wants to argue the point. Similarly, the "creative chaos" argument -- beloved of neocons -- can be made that Iran and the other ME countries should be forced to duke it out over Iraq; that general instability "shakes things up," and will ultimately help us. I find this a staggeringly dangerous gamble, being recommended by people whose prognosticative powers have so far failed to impress.
On balance, I support the ISG's suggestions for redeployment.
Update. I had got this far when news broke, via the Chicago Tribune syndicate, alleging that "the Pentagon" was recommending a surge in troop levels and final push, including direct attack on Moqtada al Sadr and his Mehdi Army militia. This contradicted everything else we'd been hearing for weeks...and was quickly denied out of the Pentagon itself. It's been known for weeks that the Pentagon wanted to "grow" the Army and Marines by increasing forced callups of reserves and the like, but that's a manpower issue, nothing to do with a "surge," much less final combat push, most especially against Sadr. More on this below...but such a strategy as this would (IMO) virtually hand control of Iraq directly to Iran, so let's just hope it's bad reporting. :/
[Later update: rumor has it this is the President's own preference, and he's just waiting until after Christmas to give the military families the bad news. Uh-oh.]
(2) Iraq milestones. The report handles this in some detail. Briefly, the parties have been unable to achieve anything approaching "national reconciliation," as in the compromises necessary to create a single, stable government, and most especially either regularizing (making into a professional army), or disbanding, the various militias. Predictably, the various factions we've created are holding out for the best deal they can get for themselves. The ISG suggests pressuring the parties: assuring them that if they cannot swiftly achieve compromise, we're heading for the door. We don't begin to have space to cover these issues in detail, so let's try it this way: What form should Iraq take for the greatest chance of stability? -- the current elected government, or something else?
Weak and fractious though it is, the current government at least got there through an election, establishing a fragile legitimacy with which we mess at our peril. Still, I agree that pressure should be brought to bear on that government to settle its differences -- always realizing that this is a lot easier said than done.
Were the current Iraqi government (such as it is) decisively to fall, two other major options remain: partition of the country into three autonomous, or semi-autonomous regions; or a coup d'etat and installation of a Saddam-style "strong man" (i.e., dictator).
Part of the problem in achieving national reconciliation, IMO, lies in the entire design of secular Iraq's "new democracy" along religious lines -- its political parties being based not on political philosophy, but on religion and ethnicity...the favored design when you're trying to foment a civil war, btw. If you think the growing (and, as noted before, purposely fomented) ethnic tensions are bad now, they would be unimaginably worse under partition, which means confiscating the homes of countless Iraqis, and creating additional floods of refugees in the region...not to mention the near-certainty that this would prompt outside intervention, by the Saudis and others (to protect the Sunnis), Turks (to handle Kurdistan), and of course Iranians (to take over the Shia regions, and quite possibly the rest of Iraq in the bargain). Most importantly, though, it would mean U.S. support for forced ethnic cleansing of millions of people at gunpoint, of the sort that we prosecuted Milosevic and company as war criminals for in the 1990s. Do we really want to do this? I don't believe so.
As for the strong man option, the question is, whose? An attempt to restore Saddam's Sunni folks, who at least know how to run the place, without Saddam? -- with the predictable uprising by frustrated Shia? Or the neocons' so-called "80% Solution,"*** said to be favored by VP Cheney, in which the Shia (read: Iran) take all control, and the Sunni insurgents are out of luck? -- though of course still armed to the teeth, and with Saudi and other help on the way...?
The one original strong man option I've heard comes from our buddy John Brady Kiesling -- written in Spring 2004, hence possibly no longer useful, but intriguing. He argues, here:
that "In the end a fractured Iraq can be held together only by a man wrapped, like George Washington or Ho Chi Minh, in the legitimacy that derives from successful armed struggle. We should note the ease with which a scruffy young cleric united Sunnis and Shiites against the US presence. A victorious Secretary Rumsfeld could not impose Ahmad Chalabi. However, a retreating US military can designate Iraq's liberator. We must select the competent Iraqi patriot to whom we yield ground while bleeding his competitors.[...]"
That is, if we're going to be driven out of Iraq anyway, we can at least pick -- with or without a covert agreement with him behind the scenes -- which of Iraq's unifying strong men ends up the winner, who the "George Washington" of a new Iraq will be. This is one power we really could have, by the simple expedient of cutting up his opposition, whilst leaving him and his supporters alone. I suspect Kiesling had Sadr himself in mind, as a genuine nationalist, independent of Iran, with the proper anti-American credentials to pull it off. I also suspect it is fear of just this option which makes some want so badly to kill Sadr and break up his militia -- though it's certainly understandable why Sunnis would, today, find it impossible to unite behind him, nationalist or no, in the wake of recent attacks.
I have no idea whether the report's benchmark recommendations will work, and am unqualified to judge them in any case. They certainly sound worth a try, considering the other options.
Finally, and briefly, the section of the report most likely to kill it dead:
(3) A new diplomatic initiative for the ME as a whole.
I have felt for years now that the obvious termination of the ME "peace process" -- however defensible, and however brilliantly engineered -- is actually doing Israel a great deal more harm than good. I don't suppose there's much point in debating this here, not only because we're not going to settle Israel-Palestine (or Israel-Arab, or U.S.-ME) issues in this thread, but because so much of the most furious action on this topic these days is covert, and as a supporter of both the U.S. and Israel I'd just as soon stay away from same, particularly the items that are having some trouble remaining covert because they're getting pretty danged obvious to anyone paying attention.
I'll just jump to my vote: I think a grand regional effort is a terrific idea, in hopes of lessening region-wide tensions as we try to stabilize the place. I might note too that both Iran and al Qaeda are perfectly frantic not to see such a diplomatic push happen, as it would tend to directly undermine their power, and appeal, respectively. That said, I well realize the dangers (including, as always, of raised expectations), and thoroughly respect those who disagree. 'Nuff said! :)
IV. What the Current Administration will Do.
...other than borrow the report's title, "The Way Forward," as it already has, for whatever it decides to do? The President's announcement of his decision has been pushed back from "before Christmas" to "sometime in the new year," so it'll be a while yet before we formally know. Logically, he can: (1) Adopt ISG, or something very like it. This is, alas, looking increasingly unlikely. (2) Largely reject ISG, possibly while claiming to enact "much" of it ("fully 40 of the 79 recommendations!" or somesuch). To be thorough, though, in such extraordinary times there is one last question, beyond the President's own intentions:
V. If All Else Fails...?
As the bipartisan ISG is at pains to make clear, the United States is in a deepening crisis. Will those who have traditionally governed America allow the President to act as he chooses, or intervene to cause a change of course? If they leave this up to the administration, the outcome looks uncertain in the extreme. If they don't, it is predictable that either President and Vice President will change course after all, under pressure; or that one or both will be forced, on a bipartisan basis, to leave office.****
93 93/93 -- AJ
* I.e., to something like the troop strength we would have needed for a successful occupation, four years ago. Too late now.
** I do, btw, completely support Gen. Jay Garner's suggestion that we should be providing Iraqi units with brand-new U.S. equipment, not secondhand Cold War Eastern European stuff. (a) Builds unit cohesion with the U.S.; (b) Should units prove disloyal, replacement parts can be withheld, quickly rendering the stuff less than useful.
*** Btw, I finally located an attempt (by Joshua Marshall) to explain the (IMO naive, if not utterly loopy) neocon theory that the Shia could be our buddies, absent an actual partnership with Iran. If you're curious, it's here:
**** Easier to manage than you might think, not least because one has (persistent rumor says both have) serious health issues. Beyond that, a suddenly-uncovered scandal involving the VP isn't hard to imagine, and we just had an impeachment a few years back. Were the VP to leave office first (as Spiro T. Agnew did in 1973), the President would appoint a replacement needing confirmation by the Senate; if (far less likely) both men left at once, the sitting Speaker of the House assumes the job. (Confession: an unworthy part of me would rather enjoy seeing the look on Sen. Clinton's face at the swearing-in of President Nancy Pelosi, as the 44th, and first female, President of the United States. And talk about people the GOP would like to run against in '08...! ;) )