Thursday, December 07, 2006

What is a Camel?

The answer to the question in the subject is: a camel is a horse built by a committee. The Iraq Study Group has built its own unsteady steed to ride out of Iraq, featuring all the finest efforts of a committee seeking unanimity – compromises, waffling, wishful thinking, and at times, incoherence.
The Bush administration, through official public liar Tony Snow, has proclaimed that the report is in sync with much of the current Bush thinking. The Democrats have taken a couple of small steps away from it, while at the same time, happily endorsing its blazing criticism of the Bush/Rumsfeld Iraq performance.
The key is the committee’s description of the Iraq situation as “almost hopeless”. In spite of this they have a huge collection of things that can be done to turn things around. They have 79 separate things to be done, and, they say, all have to be done in concert. Make no mistake, the members of this commission were all politicians and political operatives and they all know the first rule – don’t get blamed. If you have to do all of these things for it to work, then just doing some, even most, of the things in it, absolves the ISG of any responsibility for its failure.
Let’s look at some key elements:
Diplomacy – this is a big one for Baker. You have to talk with your enemies. And when the ISG talked with Iran and Syria, they were told that the last thing they wanted was Iraq collapsing into chaos, causing a flood of refugees. A reasonable person might ask: if you’re so afraid of Iraq collapsing into chaos, why aren’t you supporting the Maliki government instead of Al-Sadr’s militia, or preventing arms and terrorists from crossing the Syrian border? The answer is obvious – they enjoy the current level of chaos and aren’t going to do anything to stop it. They will happily negotiate with us and if they can get something from us will pretend to do something, but they have no reason to solve our problems and it’s a fantasy to believe they will
I just watched Sandra Day O’Connor on the Newshour. She pointed out that during WW II we talked to Stalin, even though “he was our enemy”, because he could be helpful Yes, she actually referred to a country losing millions of men to the Germans as “our enemy”. It is this deep understanding of history which clearly qualified her for this position.
The second diplomatic prong is solving the Israeli-Palestinian issue. You see, all the governments in that region told the ISG that this was key. Of course, if you asked them why they aren’t democracies, they would say the same thing. If you asked them why they don’t diversify their economies, they’d blame Israel for that too. It’s talking point number one.
Military Deployment – The group recommends an emphasis on training and supplying the Iraqis – who, based on their research, are just this side of useless. Half the army won’t leave the areas they live in. They get paid in cash (there are no banks), so they take their money and leave for home, to give their family money, then return when they feel like it. The police are only used to fight insurgents, not prevent crime – they aren’t able to stop it and they don’t investigate. In fact, they don’t even have the authority to protect property. That falls to a separate force, under the Interior Ministry, which is run by Al-Sadr himself. He hires members of his own militia and basically the government is paying the Mahdi Militia, which is also fighting it.
But the ISG figures this can be solved and recommends embedding U.S. advisors and support troops in Iraqi Army units. They don’t speak directly to any redeployment of combat forces, but they do say that by the first quarter of 2008, all combat divisions should be out, leaving just the embedded support troops. This may be the stupidest idea they have. It leaves behind personnel who could end up, because of where they are, in the middle of sectarian warfare with no ability to protect themselves. There is a potential for random killing of U.S. soldiers and the very real possibility of them ending up as hostages.
Realism – The ISG described the situation in Iraq as “grave and deteriorating”. Yet here is where the problem with a committee rears its head. It was reported that the one partisan split in the ISG was over a timetable for withdrawal. They ended up with the vague mess they now advocate – getting most troops out by the first quarter of 2008, although that could also change if facts on the ground warrant. They are adamantly opposed to a fixed date for withdrawal, but, and here’s the best part, are equally opposed to an “open-ended” commitment. Well, if there is no end date, by definition, the commitment is open-ended.
This entire report is basically a desperate attempt to win when the chances of doing so are incredibly small. Sometimes, when you draw to an inside straight, you hit it. But you shouldn’t bet your life – or the lives of our soldiers – on it. That is what this report is doing. It is not realistic, and because the likelihood of failure is huge, there is a need to prepare for that. That is why leaving some troops in harm’s way is so dangerous and why not setting an end date for our direct involvement is so disingenuous. This report is a nice dose of reality for those who still believe in the Bush methodology, but it is not a blueprint for anything but more pointless deaths.


Blogger samG said...

You've clearly spent a great deal more time on the ISG report than I have or care to. I have watched Baker, Hamilton, O'Conner, Robb, Bush, Snow et al discuss the report and spin it to their respective likings. Nothing I've heard interests me except for the idea of trying diplomacy.

The idea of 'trying diplomacy' is one I find both obvious and frustrating. In relations between nations, or people for that matter, diplomacy is not something you start and stop. Rather it is something that is, or should be, ongoing and forever. I believe it is von Clausevitz, or someone like that, who said that war is the failure of diplomacy. Had there been no diplomacy, there would have been no resolution of conflicts between Israel and Jordan, Israel and Jordan, Ireland and the north of Ireland, etc, etc. You MUST talk to your enemies and not condition dialogue on prior behavior. We don't ask China, India or Pakistan to give up their nuclear intentions prior to having a dialgue with them. Diplomacy is the effort to find common ground to solve intractable problems and, God knows, thanks to Cheney and his puppet president, Iraq qualifies.

What is also frustrating in what I've heard (not read) about the report is no effort to place the current situation in historical context. Tom Freedman wrote, 4 years ago, that we will know we will be successful in Iraq when there are Iraqis willing to fight and die to defend their country and national government. Given the sordid history of Iraq and its manipulated creation by western powers post WW1, there is no reason to believe that such a willingness exists. It is more than likely that men are taking jobs in the military or police as a source of income and to obtain weaponry which they can then use to defend their tribal interests.

Given the recent history, there is no reason to believe that Iraq won't devolve in to chaos whenever we leave, be that 1 month, 5 months, 2 years or 10 years and unless/until that powderkeg is permitted to explode and then settle, nothing will change. As with most countries in the middle east, unless/until they are permitted to evolve naturally as did the countries of Europe, Asia, South and North America (sadly Africa can not be included), they are probably more secure under some non-democratic royalty or brutal dictator.

In the meantime, not one more American family should have to lose a son or daughter to defend a policy that has virtually no chance of succeeding or to support the egos of the lying fools who got us here.

12:58 PM  
Blogger Barry Rubinowitz said...

First -- regarding "natural boundaries" in that region -- I'm not sure we really want those to evolve there, since no countries are more artificial than Israel and Jordan. The boundaries of South America exist because of the way the colonial powers carved up the continent, not because of a natural ethnic breakdown. The natural boundaries of Iraq would include part of Turkey, to form Kurdistan, and that's not going to fly at all.
As for negotiations, I think I'm going to write a piece about that concept this week. It is very easy to point out the successful negotiations which ended/prevented wars. It is just as easy to find examples where they failed, as WW II illustrates better than anything.
An orderly withdrawal by us would be best for us, and just maybe, best for the Iraqis as well, although that is less certain.

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