Some of its conclusions, such as the need for a phased withdrawal and for shifting the mission of U.S. forces, have been reported over the past few days. Much of the report, though, emphasizes diplomatic options. Advisers said they pushed for dialogue with Iraq's immediate neighbors, Iran and Syria, as a major path toward improving the situation, despite a belief that Bush would reject the recommendation outright because of those countries' ties to terrorism.
Baker, who as secretary of state spent much time working to bring peace to the Middle East after the Persian Gulf War, made a personal point of including the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the report and "laying out the importance of why it needs to be dealt with and a strategy to deal with it," said a source familiar with the report. Baker has been close to the Saudi royal family and his ideas may provoke opposition from Israel and its allies.
As I said tongue-in-cheek the other day, the Iraq war might be the key to solving all of our other problems in the Middle East. The problem of course is that issues like the Palestinian-Israeli conflict pale in comparison to incredible catastrophe that would be Iraq disintigrating. Also, attempting a diplomatic solution with our enemies (who also have much to lose or gain in Iraq) seems like such an obviously good idea that I honestly could not believe for a moment the incongruity of President Bush would rejecting such an approach. But then I returned to reality. Apparently the Study Group members could not avoid facing reality as deftly as our President has either:
"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 panel's two chairmen, former Secretary of State James A. Baker III and former Democratic Congressman Lee Hamilton, wrote in a joint letter accompanying the 142 page report. "There is no magic formula to solve the problems of Iraq."
"If current trends continue, the potential consequences are severe," with sectarian clashes spreading, Al Qaeda claiming at least a propaganda victory, and U.S. stature in the world diminished, the report found. Given the stakes, and the responsibility the U.S. holds for invading in the spring of 2003, "the United States has special obligations," and needed to "address as best it can Iraq's many problems."
For his part, President Bush offered to take the Group's recommendations "very seriously."
The report also recommends threatening to punish the Iraqi government with economic and military sanctions if it fails to prepare it's forces to take more responsibility for the security of the country. This is important, but again, it's impossible to say that this would even work. The hard line militias-like the Mahdi Army-that currently exercise the most control over the national government are not all that concerned about the threat of withdrawal. If we left, they would only be that much freer to repress the Sunnis (at the same time, they would face the insurgents alone, something that may not concern them but should.) They may fear being cut off from American funds, but probably not to the extent that they'd be willing to let slip their influence and control over the government and security forces.
However, Mark Moyar argues in an op-ed in today's Washington Post that "Iraqization" is the way to go:
In moving to swiftly transfer security responsibilities to the Iraqi government, the Bush administration appears to be heeding lessons learned during America's closest historical precedent, the Vietnam War. In Vietnam, the United States found that indigenous troops were inherently better suited to local security tasks than Americans. Because they spoke the language, had relatives and friends in their operational areas and belonged to the same ethnic groups, they were better able to get information from civilians. They knew where the enemy was likely to hide, and could identify him by noticing subtle distinctions that escaped American troops.
He's right at least about native troops being in much better position to battle the insurgents. But I'm afraid Moyer himself is not heeding the "lessons learned" in Vietnam:
Critics of Vietnamization point to the ultimate defeat of South Vietnam. But in fact the South Vietnamese largely pacified their country by 1971, and defeated a massive conventional North Vietnamese invasion in 1972 without the help of U.S. ground forces. They ultimately lost because the United States withdrew support while the North Vietnamese enjoyed enough superpower support to mount an even larger offensive in 1975.
And in merely two sentences, Moyar (author a new book called "Vietnam: A Triumph Forsaken") re-writes the history of the Vietnam War. The reason South Vietnam was largely "pacified" by 1971 is because North Vietnam had allowed the NLF to be utterly destroyed, because they didn't need them anymore and didn't really mind the South Vietnamese eliminating people who would rival them for power once they won. Moyer says South Vietnam defeated the 1972 invasion "without the help of U.S. ground forces", a critical caveat. Massive U.S. airpower aided South Vietnam in pushing back the North Vietnamese forces for the most part, but then Moyer conveniently leaves out that just the year before, the ARVN had been utterly defeated in an effort to carry out offensive operations against North Vietnamese forces in Laos. In other words, Vietnamization only worked when the U.S. bankrolled the South Vietnamese forces and provided almost unlimited air power, and even then it only worked defensively. The "ultimate" reason the South Vietnamese lost is because the government was a puppet of the United States; withdrawing support was only the proximate cause of it's collapse.
So Moyar has failed to learn the lessons of Vietnam, which wouldn't be applicable to Iraq in any case. The South Vietnamese government was a repressive and unpopular client state, but the government of Iraq is dominated by the sect that makes up the largest proportion of Iraqi society, and has been for the most part commandeered to their interests. Turning over security operations to Iraqi security forces that are dominated by the Shiite is like turning over the henhouse to the fox. Actually it would be more accurate to say it's like turning it over to your lazy dog who happens to be friends with the fox. The Shiite hard-liners have no interest in security forces that are strong and not loyal to (or at least undermined by) them, and that combined with the fact the largely Shiite soldiers feel no real loyalty for the national governmetn (something we did see in Vietnam, though for different reasons) the result is supposedly highly trained Iraqi Army forces coming apart at the seams when they face the insurgents. This is the result after three solid years of training and guidance by our forces. If we're counting on bolstering Iraqi forces so we can get out of the country, then we're in for a long and ultimately futile wait.
UPDATE: Over at the Boston Globe, Jeff Jacoby's response to the report is worse than useless. Here's how it starts off:
As things stand now, however, negotiating with Iran and Syria over the future of Iraq is about as promising a strategy for preventing more bloodshed as negotiating with Adolf Hitler over the future of Czechoslovakia was in 1938.
Here we go:
But with totalitarian regimes like those in Iran and Syria, the effect of such "conversations" is usually negative. It buys time and legitimacy for the totalitarians, while deepening their conviction that the West has no stomach for a fight. No one was more pleased with Chamberlain's diplomacy than Hitler, for it proved that Germany was in the saddle, riding the democracies -- that the momentum was with Berlin, while London and Paris were flailing. The Baker panel's recommendations will bring similar satisfaction to Tehran and Damascus.
Oh boy. If I had a dime for everytime some right-wing blogger, pundit or "hawk" cited to the example of Chamberlain and Czechoslovakia, I could fund the war in Iraq myself. Let's get one things straight: this not a good historical example for why we should not negotiate with countries that are hostile to our interests today. I know it's difficult for those who look to history for "lessons" on what we should do in Iraq, but the circumstances at that time were vastly different. Chamberlain's decision didn't make sense at the time because Hitler was bent on getting as much of Europe as he could without force, and then taking the rest by force. He simply wasn't going to stop, but more importantly, he didn't have to. Nazi Germany was stronger than the other European states, and he negotiated from that position of strength. Iran and Syria are not the same. They are weaker than us overall, far, far weaker than Nazi Germany ever was, but possess some amount of leverage as a result of their proximity to a conflict that we would like to put an end to. More importantly, Syria and Iran also have something to lose if things get out of hand in Iraq, and so they are willing to listen to us, to negotiate with us, provided they get what they want. They also have reason to be afraid of economic sanctions, and ultimately, of our military might, however weaker it may be than it once was.
To advocate this argument, one must ignore every crucial and critical difference between the situation then and the situation now, ignore the evidence of what Syria and Iran want, ignore present conditions in the Middle East, and conflate the threat of radical Islam and it's relatively weak state sponsors with the threat of Nazy Germany, which initiatied a war that killed more than a hundred million people.
I have an idea: if a pundit can't write an article about Iraq without once referring to Nazi Germany, Hitler, or without using the words "tyranny" or "totalitarianism", then they have nothing to contribute to the debate about what to do in Iraq, and they should immediately stop writing and head to their local library where the WWII history section is probably quite thorough and complete.