"The situation in Iraq is grave and deteriorating..."
With those words the Iraq Study Group beings its report. What follows is a reality gut-check of sober judgment on what current policy has wrought in the Middle-East.
The report's first plea is for some kind of trans-national diplomacy with the countries surrounding Iraq, most notably Iran and Syria. This recommendation flies in the face of long-standing policy (we haven't spoken to Iran in 30 years), but the panel views recognizing Iran and Syria preferable to continuing the failed Bush / Cheney "plan" in Iraq.
The report then recommends U.S. troops move into a role supportive of Iraqi security forces, while Iraq itself increases its commitment to raising and training such forces. "By 2008, subject to unexpected developments in the security situation on the ground, all combat brigades not necessary for force protection could be out of Iraq," the report reads.
The report further urges ceasing the open-ended commitment Bush has given the Iraqis. Instead we should put pressure on Iraq to fulfill its commitment to Democracy. "If the Iraqi government does not make substantial progress toward achievement of milestones or national reconciliation, security, and governance, the United States should reduce its political, military, or economic support for the Iraqi government."
The report formally recognizes a few facts.
1. Iraq is now a heaven for terrorists.
2. Violence is increasing
3. Iraq is in a civil war
4. 1.6 million Iraqis are displaced within the country
5. 1.8 million have left the country
6. The U.S. military is spread too thin. A troop increase is not an option.
7. Current U.S. policy is not working
8. Afghanistan is dissolving
9. A new approach must be taken immediately
10. A "stay the course" policy is unacceptable
All-in-all the panel set forward 79 recommendations, most of which are summarized by increased diplomacy, increased support for the training of Iraqi forces and the rebuilding of Iraqi infrastructure, and increased pressure on the Iraqi government to perform. That's 79 steps that all need to be taken with a sense of urgency. Sobering.
Some of the most glaring recommendations, in my opinion, come at the end. One calls for the Bush administration to stop routing the war through emergency funds, which circumvent the normal budget process. This leads to a lack of accountability, and no budget reductions. Of course this is exactly how Bush and Cheney have wanted it--they get the war rhetoric without asking the government or taxpayers to sacrifice.
Another recommendation: increased culture and language training for those to be deployed to Iraq. Out of the 1,000 people working at the U.S. embassy in Iraq only 33 speak Arabic. Hmm, imagine that? Thankfully, the panel was nice enough to include a map attached to the report so they could point where Iraq was, and what the names of its neighbors are.
Finally, our intelligence community is not properly analyzing the insurgency in Iraq. In-case you forgot the insurgency is 99% of the problem. But what do I know? Also, these agencies typically report lower violence levels than what is currently happening. That's probably what the boss wants to hear, but it doesn't help get more troop armor into the field.
I find it disheartening that intelligence failures, which led to the war four years ago, are again addressed in a review designed to help us get out of that same war.
Some will read the 79 recommendations and be heartened. Specifically the report's statement that it agrees with the goal of U.S. policy in Iraq--a free Iraq that can govern and protect itself. The problem, of course, is that there's a mile between the beginning and end of that sentence.
I find it very hard to read the report without reverting to anger at the foolish hubris that got us into this mess to begin with. The report's 160 pages read like a laundry list of failures replete with "no duh" statements like the U.S. should invest in more cultural awareness, and that Iraq does not exist in a vacuum. Perhaps that is the crux of the entire problem? A war in the Middle East led by a Commander n' Chief who could scarcely comprehend there were two major factions in Islam.
If the obvious must be reiterated in a report of this importance, I'm sure you'll allow my skepticism about our President's ability to implement it. And if diplomacy is the best route out of this mess, excuse me while I begin to shiver. Ours is a president who has the unique talent of smirking and slouching while speaking to you as if you were a foolish child. He practically begs you to smack him with a frying pan. That said, hopefully our diplomacy with the region will do better than our "efforts" with Israel and Palestine.
The panel, correctly, sees the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as an exacerbating tension in the region. The panel cites U.N. 242 as a panacea to the situation. The idea is nice. But peace probably wont occur as long as Israel continues to build settlements in the occupied territories (in violation of U.N. 242), which erodes Palestinian confidence in any peace process, which augments a group like Hamas. The U.S. quickly cut off Palestinian financial aid after Hamas was elected, which further erodes any peace process.
Well, we'll see. We're like that annoying kid at Christmas, digging through underwear drawers and messing everything up. The places we shouldn't be we are. The place where maybe we should be we've largely ignored. I very much look forward to the next panel for the next disaster. Thank you for assembling.