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December 07, 2006


What bothers me about the report is that there is no real effort to analyze what the Iraqis want, what would be the conditions for the cessation of violence among the major political players. I just didn't find what I read (I didn't read all of it) of the report to be insightful. Most of it was just a kind of codification of what many had been reporting from a long while. It suggests to me that insight wasn't the point. Rather, the point was trying to comunicate some basic facts, long recognized, to parts of the administration from a source that the administration (not the media, not political opponents) was unlikely to dismiss offhand.

In particular, what I don't understand is the recommendation's both leaning towards increased involvement by regional neighbors while warning of the consequences of foreign influence. This feels two-minded to me. It is unrealistic to expect Syria and Iran to influence Iraq in disinterested ways.

Even though I think it's quite true that we need a comprehensive policy towards the Middle East, I don't find the suggestion particularly helpful. The problems of Lebanon, Afghanistan, and the West Bank are difficult, perhaps even intractable. That we need such a policy is certain. Much less certain is just what that policy is. And even less certain is whether we have the political will or the ability to achieve it. We have a network of precarious alliances. We negotiate with Israel as if Saudi Arabia doesn't exist. We negotiate with Saudi Arabia as if Israel doesn't exist. We have an antagonism with Iran that is as much historical artefact as anything. We have been at times pro-democracy, at times pro-stability, and at times pro-nationalism. We are now pro-modernization of Islamic institutions, but for decades were anti-modernization.

At this point it seems that doing the very best we can does not give us any reliable assurance of achieving any of our goals. More helpful might have been some kind of disaster-scenario planning. How can we react to minimize violence if things become very, very bad? Worse than now? Unfortunately, for the reasons that Hilzoy and others have mentioned, many of the proposals expose us acutely in those grim cases.

Sorry to ramble on so long in a comment.

The fact that Bush's first response was to say he wants to study the report and think about it for weeks says it all. It's a common management technique when faced with an unwanted course of action to stall until it becomes impossible. Since to meet that report's goals we'd pretty much have to start immediately, it won't take long.

he also has to stall and 'study' because, as he's told us, he's The Decider. a Decider can't just implement other people's plans as soon as they hit his inbox - that's for subordinates!

Although there are, (though it would take a lengthy post to enumerate them) numerous significant differences between "1968" and "2006" as far as war decision-making goes; the most glaring one is the difference at the top. However bad his legion of other flaws may have been, Lyndon Johnson was ten times the politcian George W. Bush is and never - at least after the Tet Offensive insulated himself from the realities of the situation on the ground the way Dubya has.

To be honest, for all the time and effort spent on its research, preparation and production, the ISG Report really has an audience of one: the President. For once, it is solely his responsibility. However, unfortunately for the country, I have a sinking feeling we are going to be reaping the bitter effects of electing an empty suit to the Presidency (twice) rather soon.

What bothers me about the report is that there is no real effort to analyze what the Iraqis want, what would be the conditions for the cessation of violence among the major political players.

To be fair, Ara, the mandate of the ISG wasn't to address Iraq's problems, but to address America's Iraq problems. One would hope any study group that worked on the former would include, you know, actual Iraqis.

I just didn't find what I read (I didn't read all of it) of the report to be insightful.

The ISG members, to their credit I guess, note the study doesn't break new ground. It's main usefulness is to gather all the information in one place for Dubya to read.

This probably explains why it's so short.

There are good points in your article. I would like to supplement them with some information:

I am a 2 tour Vietnam Veteran who recently retired after 36 years of working in the Defense Industrial Complex on many of the weapons systems being used by our forces as we speak.

If you are interested in a view of the inside of the Pentagon procurement process from Vietnam to Iraq please check the posting at my blog entitled, “Odyssey of Armements”


The Pentagon is a giant,incredibly complex establishment,budgeted in excess of $500B per year. The Rumsfelds, the Adminisitrations and the Congressmen come and go but the real machinery of policy and procurement keeps grinding away, presenting the politicos who arrive with detail and alternatives slanted to perpetuate itself.

How can any newcomer, be he a President, a Congressman or even the Sec. Def. to be - Mr. Gates- understand such complexity, particulary if heretofore he has not had the clearance to get the full details?

Answer- he can’t. Therefor he accepts the alternatives provided by the career establishment that never goes away and he hopes he makes the right choices. Or he is influenced by a lobbyist or two representing companies in his district or special interest groups.

From a practical standpoint, policy and war decisions are made far below the levels of the talking heads who take the heat or the credit for the results.

This situation is unfortunate but it is ablsolute fact. Take it from one who has been to war and worked in the establishment.

This giant policy making and war machine will eventually come apart and have to be put back together to operate smaller, leaner and on less fuel. But that won’t happen unitil it hits a brick wall at high speed.

We will then have to run a Volkswagon instead of a Caddy and get along somehow. We better start practicing now and get off our high horse. Our golden aura in the world is beginning to dull from arrogance.

What will be the "catastrophic results" if we leave Iraq? Can we live with what ensues? If not, we need to massively increase the number of troops and really occupy the country because the Iraqi government cannot fix their own country. If we can live with the results of witdrawal, let's just do it ASAP! Anything in between is just not going to work, so let's stop kidding ourselves!

Yeah if we leave Iraq you know what will happen! The terrorist are going to be landing on American shores with zodiac rubber boats. Then your wives are going to be in burkas and your children reading the koran 23 hours a day. While all you men are made to be Eunics in the harems where your wives live.

Bob, this comment seems to echo your sentiments.


....so that we are not seen to be negotiating from a position of blatant weakness.

What gestures could we make to keep that from being seen?

How can we even fool ourselves that we aren't negotiating from a position of blatant weakness?

If we want a strong negotiating position we need a draft, and we need high taxes to pay for what we do, and we need a solid national commitment for victory.

We need a lot of 18-year-olds who understand that the world needs them to be in iraq, and that filling that need is worth putting their lives on hold for the duration. They can go to college later.

We need a lot of old people who understand that their medical care isn't really important compared to winning in iraq. They need to understand that their sacrifice, living on dog food and dying early for lack of medical care, is worth it because future generations need us to win in iraq.

We need a whole lot of stockbrokers and insurance salesmen and telemarketers and real estate professionals and such to go do something useful for the war effort. America doesn't have time for them now. They can work in factories or recycling or do logistics or whatever they're good for, for the duration.

We need americans generally to accept a third-world lifestyle until the crisis is over. We use far too much electricity. We heat our buildings far too hot. Wear sweaters, stop eating meat, sacrfifice for the war effort.

We need rich americans to understand that their money must be requisitioned for the war. They can get compensation after the crisis is over and the terrorists have lost.

We need a national commitment that if we continue to lose, we will nuke as much of the world as it takes to turn the war around. Iraq is an existential threat to us and unless we win, we're doomed. Once the whole world understands that we passionately believe this, they'll understand why we have to do whatever it takes to win. No sacrifice too large. If we lose half our population but we win, that's better than losing everybody.

At that point we will have an extremely strong bargaining position. In fact the rest of the world will be scared shitless and they'll pretty much agree to all our terms.

But it isn't enough to talk about it. We have to actually do it. We have to persuade the US public that we'll all die unless we win in iraq, we have to persuade the old people to die and the young people to leave their raves and be soldiers for the duration, we have to persuade the rich to give up their money and the middle class to give up their standard of living. We have to put everybody to work.

Until the voters are convinced to make whatever sacrifice it takes, why would the rest of the world believe we're ready to back up our hollow words?

Quick, somebody make an argument why iraq is worth it.

Posted by: J Thomas at December 7, 2006 12:23 PM | Permalink to this comment

Iraqi officials and analysts aren't impressed with the ISG's recommendations:

They said the report is a recipe, backed by threats and disincentives, that neither addresses nor understands the complex forces that fuel Iraq's woes. They described it as a strategy largely to help U.S. troops return home and resurrect America's frayed influence in the Middle East.

Iraqis also expressed fear that the report's recommendations, if implemented, could weaken an already besieged government in a country teetering on the edge of civil war.

"It is a report to solve American problems, and not to solve Iraq's problems," said Ayad al-Sammarai, an influential Sunni Muslim politician.

I like the way Anthony Cordesman put it in his analysis:

The U.S. effectively sent a bull in to liberate a china shop, and the Study Group now called upon the U.S. to threaten to remove the bull if the shop doesn't fix the china.

To Bush and other Republican politicians the catastrophic result of losing in Iraq is that they will look like losers. Don't underestimate how powerful that motivator is to them. They don't care who dies in Iraq or how many or what the consequences might be in terms of Middle Eastern politics. This war has always been to them more about domestic politics than anything else.
They need a face-saving way out. Either that, or they need to hang on until the Democrats, acting as the grown ups, force a withdrawal, whereupon they will all scream that they could have won if it hadn't been for the defeatocrats.
McCain seems to be assuming that by 08 we will have lost Iraq and the election will be about who to blame. His plan is to blame everybody. He'll go around saying that we could have won if we had listened to his advice back in 06.
The problem is that neither party can live with the catastrophic effects on our politics of taking action. The Republicans don't want to lose and the Democrats don't want to be blamed. McCain's plan is probably the smartest one in terms of avoiding domestic catastrophe since his plan lets him occupy an imaginary high ground where his position is not tested by reality.
As far as I can tell not many American political leaders, certainly no Republicans, are thinking about the catastrophe in the Middle East.

Nooooooooo! The Democrats lost the Iraq War :(

Arg. Of course the WaPo article is linked in the original post. Pwnage by the 'zoy.

yeah, what SomeOtherDude quoted.

i'll believe Iraq is a "must win" war when those who keep saying "must win" start doing more than simply using the war as a way to pummel their fellow citizens. yes, Bush, i'm talking about you.

"What will be the "catastrophic results" if we leave Iraq?" ...and what do the Iraqis want?

1) An al-Qaeda failed state in Anbar. America can bomb it as it pleases, but Israel wasn't really able to defang the West Bank, and terrorists will attack out of Anbar in all directions, especially to the East, but maybe destabilizing Jordan and getting payoffs from SA.

2) Unsuccessful oilarchies around Basra and Kirkuk. Unsuccessful because they really don't want to share revenues with Baghdad, and can't defend themselves from either Sunnis from Anbar or Sadrists.

3)A free-fire zone in & around Baghdad, indefinitely. I think the Sadrists can get along with the Kurds, the Kurds need a semblance of a state in order to keep Turkey etc away, but I think Hakim thinks Iran and/or America can/will protect him. Hakim is wrong. Sistani/Sadr (and Saddam) understand Iraq, "democracy" was important because 10-15 million poor Iraqis determine whatever stability is possible. I don't know that Sadr could create a stable dictatorship. I doubt it.

4)"It" is not about us. Even 9/11 wasn't really about us. Just as it is really not about Israel/Palestine. Various incompetent ambitious players/factions in the ME use us as a means of establishing political/religious legitimacy and control of revenues. Withdraw or stay the course, I/P settlement or none, Golan Heights, whatever, this will take a long time to change.

Just as abortion/gay marriage/Janet Jackson's nipple/Greater War on whoever feel like sincere issures but are simultaneously the field of proxy American tribal wars (because we really don't want a civil war), various ME factions will attack us for domestic credibility. Containment and defense will only work when you believe Americans are ready for withdrawal and peace, and turning a cheek. We haven't lost enough yet.

5)War is always domestic politics by other means.

6)How pessimistic am I? "You call for peace, peace. There is no peace." Isaiah said something like that 3000 years ago.

This speaks volumes about the quality of the ISG report as a "plan" for the future (linked in the post):

Jack Keane, the retired acting Army chief of staff who served on the group’s panel of military advisers, described that goal [increased training proposal to allow troop withdrawals] as entirely impractical. “Based on where we are now we can’t get there,” General Keane said in an interview, adding that the report’s conclusions say more about “the absence of political will in Washington than the harsh realities in Iraq.”[Ouch!]

....The group’s final military recommendations were not discussed with the retired officers who serve on the group’s Military Senior Adviser Panel before publication, several of those officers said.

Yes -- a report that has more to do with politics than reality.

Its all about saving face for those who refuse to admit how wrong this policy was.

So it's true! If we leave Iraq the terrorist will show up on American shores in rubber zodiac boats! Making our women wear burkas, kids read the koran 23 hours a day and making the men eunics!

That something is unbelievably dumb does not in the least mean that George W. Bush "can't" do it.

Sadly, it seems many pundits naively still believe, despite overwhelming evidence, that the Bush administration will do anything because it should do it.

Thanks for another great post. I also hadn't read that Russ Baker article on Herskowitz' account of Bush. Astounding.

as i said above, Bush is not going to let someone else be the Decider:

    White House advisers say Bush won't react in detail to the ISG report for several weeks, while he assesses it and awaits various internal government reports on the situation from his own advisers. Bush tells aides he doesn't want to "outsource" his role as commander in chief. Some Bush allies say this is a way to buy some time as the president tries to decide how to deal with rising pressure to alter his strategy in Iraq and hopes the critical media focus on the Iraq war will soften.

"Some Bush allies say this is a way to buy some time as the president tries to decide how to deal with rising pressure to alter his strategy in Iraq and hopes the critical media focus on the Iraq war will soften."

First of all, calling a botched occupation a "war" is a shibboleth among shibboleths. The war was over when the Decider called "mission accomplished". I can't stress that often enough or strongly enough. Like the vaunted "war" on terror, it's really the only paper cover the Preznit has for being a "war president" and presuming to trump all manner of Constitutional checks and balances. The "bothched occupation president" just doesn't sound as glorious. Repeat after me, history fans, CONGRESS HAS NOT DECLARED WAR SINCE 1941.

Pursuant to the above in caps, media focus has yet to get critical until every article written by every responsible journalist refers to our current mess in terms of "the so-called war on terror", "the botched occupation of Iraq", and "the self-proclaimed "war president"". It's no good debating the qualities of a "steak" when what you have on your plate is a cowplop.
Now. Let's start dealing with the cowplop in the cold light of what we've actually been swallowing since 9/11. That's what I call "critical" focus.

Jacob Hesterly is right. There is no war. There is a failed occupation, now nearly 4 years old. If it had not failed, the occupation would have ended in 2003. To repeat:

The occupation has failed, is failing and is a failure.

A successful post-war occupation would have quickly produced a functioning government and society capable of rebuilding damaged infrastructure and getting on with the business of being a sovereign nation and people.

If the occupation were not a failure, there now would be no U.S. occupation. It would have been over in 2003 or early 2004.

This is why occupation has failed, is failing and is a failure.

The cardinal proof of failure is that the occupation still exists and nobody today can predict how or when it might ever end.

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