Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Iraq Study Group Report

More later...


Having gone through the ISG report at breakneck speed, I have a few comments on this document and its nature.

First, I would suggest that anyone who reads it, and wishes to understand it's actual purpose should begin with the last page and work forward.

Secondly, there are many people on the right becoming quite exercised (or the left celebratory) about some of the language used in the report or the recommendations being "surrenderist". Or implicitly rebuking Bush. Or the Neocons. Or the military Or Israel. Or whatever.

Well, my advice is to calm down, at least for the moment. Some recommendations are excellent and long overdue, such as establishing interagency "operational jointness" on the Goldwater-Nichols model. Others are merely common sense. Some would appear to be, superficially, gratuitous concessions to our enemies. Or are even patent nonsense at odds with reality. However it doesn't really matter. No particular point in this report is meant to be taken at face value per se but as a collection ( hence the stupendous laundry list -something for everyone). That's not why the ISG was established or why the particular personnel associated with this project were selected with such obvious care.

The ISG was established because the Bush administration has completely paralyzed itself in Iraq and the first objectives in issuing this report are:

a) To open up the widest tactical options for the United States in Iraq and the ME as can be mustered.

b) To restore a consensus at the moral level for an American foreign policy and political elite that is badly divided along partisan lines as well as between subgroupings like " realists", "neocons" and " antiwar critics". This is a formal signalling for a "closing of ranks" at the top in the face of Iraq's effective disintegration into sectarian anarchy.

The specifics of any given recommendation here matter a great deal less than communicating to other parties that a window of diplomatic oportunity with the United States has abruptly opened, a moment of uncertain duration. We will be making choices in Iraq and once America goes down a new path the window is going to slam shut as our new policy acquires a logic of momentum. That is what the ISG is about, not making the government of Iraq an effective partner in fighting al Qaida or stopping infiltration from Syria, neither of which is going to happen.

The former secretary of state, James A. Baker III, is not a strategist or an idealist. Baker is not even a tactician so much as he is a highly gifted, political, fixer. Despite his courtly demeanor and Beltway "gravitas", Baker is the most ruthless bureaucratic infighter of our generation who has left dozens upon dozens of political corpses in the wake of his climb to the top with the Bush family. Baker has lined up the heavyweights of both parties behind the ISG in order to get the U.S. and President Bush out of a jam, not out of Iraq, though the latter will probably occur along the way.

Assessments[ Updated]:
Thomas P.M. Barnett, Robert Kaplan, tdaxp, Ralph Peters, Kobayashi Maru, Bruce Kesler, American Future, Abu Aardvark, Aqoul(raf) , Atlas Shrugged, Captain's Quarters, Dean's World, Kevin Drum, Redneck's Revenge, Small Wars Council, Mountainrunner , Dreaming 5GW, Duck of Minerva, Rightwing Nut House , Don Surber, QandO, The Glittering Eye, Matthew Yglesias, Counterterrorism Blog, Hugh Hewitt
Yes, please: MORE!!!

During the news conference, I found myself saying of Baker: "I love this man!" Literally.

A pretty impressive group; but I think they have doomed their plan to failure.
I'll try to have a rough breakdown up tonight - it is 160 pages ;o)
Another perspective: it is mostly delusional.

What is this "Iraq Gov't" they keep talking about? If they did the Readers Digest "Word Power" exercise each month, they would know what "reification" means.

Also, why do "our" Iraq forces need years of training while the "enemy" Iraq forces get along just fine by watching re-runs of "Combat" (for you youngsters, that was a 1960's TV show). Esp. since "our" guys have such an advantage in hardware (except, of course, for all "our" hardware that "they" now have).

I'll bet it proves to have little impact. Perhaps gets a paragraph when Halberstam or van Creveld write the history of this long exercise in futility.
Mark, you could write something much better than the ISG rpt. Even I could.

In fact, I am going to ... right now. The ISG rpt resulted from -- guessing -- 5 man-years of effort, including staff time.

I'll have the first cut -- a strategic summary -- up in a few days, and the recommendations in a week or 2.

Not 160 pages, but no fluff. Perhaps 6,000 words -- 20 pages.
I think you've got it just right, Mark.

We will need more like you in the coming weeks to keep the conversation focused on the real issue - what we need to do in Iraq - and away from the backbiting and petty political points that have been so prevalent.

I haven't read the report yet...maybe today...

Hi Fabius & Cheryl


I agree- you or I or both or many others could do a better job of making recommendations than did the ISG. However, my gut instinct is that the elite simply want reasonable coverage in order to extricate themselves from entrenched political positions without too much embarrassment; once this is done and the USG is actually moving, the report is going to be thrown out the window, having served its purpose.


Thank you very much. The report is going to look familiar to anyone who followed DoD " transformation", IC " reform" and " public diplomacy" issues. A lot of cut and paste here. Not all of it is bad either and probably will eventually be implemented someday -though inclusion here is just to make the ISG report more substantive.
Great news.

In spite of a number of recommendations which are for appearences, 5, 10, 35, 40, 41, 42, and 43 seem to be the most critical.

After 3.5 painful years of appeasing our enemies, it looks like we will finally stop screwing the Iraqi people.
the fatal flaw is expecting Israel to help us in any way.
In other words, Mark, the ISG report was a 4GW maneuver?

I agree- you or I or both or many others could do a better job of making recommendations than did the ISG.

The problem is this: How many of those policy makers within the U.S. -- heck, within Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Syria... -- are going to be able to go through the report and isolate the good from the bad from the frivolous as neatly as Dan has?

While I agree that the report may have 'broken the ice' for the domestic U.S. scene, I think viewing the ISG report outside the context of everything else is unwise. It will be used, and used in various ways by different interpreters of it, and I very much doubt that your effect b -- or even, a -- is going to occur as neatly and beneficially as you suggest. At the very best, a new and better plan may emerge from the friction after much more wandering in the desert of the ISG report and within Iraq; at worst, the friction (domestic political as well as foreign preemption attempts) will only intensify as a result of it.
Mark, your assessment of what the ISG Report signals, what it IS, rather than the far less important consideration of what it says, is the most sensible thing I have seen about it yet.
Hey Curtis -

Characterizing the ISG report as a 4GW manuver is very interesting. Not inaccurate either, though the intent is benign - to get the political class out of paralysis.

I'm not sure if it will work - the report/commission manuver is a different bird from thirty years ago when only .002 % of the population read it. Everyone went on the NYT spin as gospel -meaning the foreign policy establishment's spin. Now everyone actually can read it -it's already at Barne's & Noble as well as online! Foreign policy cannot actually be conducted under a 24/7 live feed.


Thank you very much. I appreciate the compliment.
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