LEAVING IRAQ? REFLECTIONS ON THE IRAQ STUDY GROUP RECOMMENDATIONS
"We thus reach our final problem: the adequacy of our leadership groups for dealing with the challenges we are likely to confront....Many of the difficulties of our governmental appartus are, therefore, only symptoms of challenges faced by our entire society among which our sudden emergence as the major power in the free world is perhaps the most important. The qualities of our leadership groups were formed during a century or more of primary concern with domestic development. Politics was considered a necessary evil and the primary function of the state was the exercise of police powers. Neither training nor incentives impelled our leadership groups to think in political or strategic terms. This emphasis was compounded by our empiricism with its cult of the expert and its premium on specialization.
The two professions which are most dominant in the higher levels of Government - industry and the law - can serve as an illustration. The rewards in Industry, particularly large-scale industry, are for administrative competence; they, therefore produce a tendency to deal with conceptual problems by administrative means, by turning them over to a committe of experts. And, the legal profession, trained to deal with a succession of discreet individual cases, produces a penchant for ad hoc decisions and a resistance to he 'hypothetical cases' inherent in long-range planning. Our leadership groups are, therefore better prepared to deal with technical than with conceptual problems, with economic than with political issues. Each problem is dealt with 'on its merits', a procedure which emphasizes the particular at the expense of the general and bogs down planning in a mass of detail. The absence of a conceptual framework makes it difficult for them even to identify our problems or to choose effectively among the plethora of proposals and interpretations produced by our governmental machinery.
This explains many postwar Soviet successes. Whatever the qualities of the Soviet leadership, its training is eminently political and conceptual... Against the Politburo, trained to think in general terms and freed of problems of day-to-day administration, we have pitted leaders overwhelmed with departmental duties and trained to think that the cardinal sin is to trangress on another's field of specialization. To our leaders, policy is a series of discrete problems; to the Soviet leaders it is an aspect of continuing political process. As a result, the contest between us and the Soviet system has had many of the attributes of any contest between a professional and an amateur. Even a mediocre professional will usually defeat an excellent amateur, not because the amateur does not know what to do, but because he cannot react with sufficient speed and consistency. Our leaders have not lacked ability, but they have had to learn while doing and this has imposed too great a handicap."
Henry Alfred Kissinger, Nuclear Weapons and Foreign Policy, 1957.
"This is the week in which a painful truth finally came calling on power in the Oval Office of the White House. The president, though still mouthing his self-reassuring slogans to the public, has on his desk two documents, each telling him in effect that "mission accomplished" has turned into mission bust.
Superficially, the two documents could not be more different. Donald Rumsfeld's memo on the conduct of the military operations in Iraq, submitted just prior to his sudden dismissal, is a very brief and highly personal summary of the various tactical adjustments that might be considered in the light of the setbacks in fighting the Iraqi insurgency. It conveys anxiety but offers no strategic alternative.
The long-awaited Baker-Hamilton Study Group report assessing broader US policy options in Iraq is a lengthy compromise statement reflecting a typical, middle-of-the-road consensus among an elite Washington "focus group", composed of esteemed individuals not handicapped by much historical or geopolitical familiarity with the region's problems.
Arguing for conditional military redeployment from Iraq, it offers sound advice on the desirability of wider diplomatic initiatives to engage Iraq's neighbours in a collective search for regional stability, including the belated need to tackle seriously the lingering Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The real importance of both documents is in what they do not say explicitly but implicitly convey: that the war has been a disaster; that the US must find a way to disengage by handing over the mess it created to the Iraqi leaders that the US itself had elevated to power; and that eventually the US may have to leave while blaming those same leaders for the US failure to cope. That notion is implicit even in some of Mr Rumsfeld's options and it is inherent in the 16-months deadline set by the Baker-Hamilton group for eventual US military disengagement.
Neither document faces squarely two basic and troubling realities: that since in Iraq (except for Kurdistan) real power is not in the hands of the Iraqi politicians resident in the US-protected Green Zone in Baghdad, any political solution must engage the Shia theocracy, with its militias; and that the longer the American occupation continues, the already declining US influence in the Middle East will give way to regional extremism and instability, especially if continuing indecision over the basic strategic choices in Iraq continue to be matched by US unwillingness to address the negative regional consequences of Israel's prolonged and increasingly repressive occupation of the Palestinians.
The combination of the two has already elevated Iran's geopolitical power in the region. Hence the need of the moment is not for tactical tinkering or long consensus reports. Can one imagine Charles de Gaulle in the late 1950s waiting weeks for a long study by French public figures on how to end the Algerian war that was damaging France's national unity and international reputation? Leadership derived from a sense of history requires sometimes the cutting of Gordian knots, not tying oneself up in knots.
The president, and America's political leadership, must recognise that the US role in the world is being gravely undermined by the policies launched more than three years ago. The destructive war in Iraq, the hypocritical indifference to the human dimensions of the stalemate in Israeli-Palestinian relations, the lack of diplomatic initiative in dealing with Iran and the frequent use of Islamophobic rhetoric are setting in motion forces that threaten to push America out of the Middle East, with dire consequences for itself and its friends in Egypt, Israel, Jordan and Saudi Arabia.
America needs a strategic change of course, and it has to be undertaken on a broad front. It must accept the fact that real leadership in Iraq should be based on a coalition of the Shia clergy commanding the loyalty of Shia militias and of the autonomous Kurds and that the sooner a date is set for US departure, the sooner the authentic Iraqi leaders will be able to enlist Iraq's neighbours in a wider regional effort to promote a more stable Iraq. It must also engage its allies in a joint definition of the basic parameters of an Israeli-Palestinian settlement, for the two parties to the conflict will never do so on their own. Last but not least, the US must be ready to pursue multilateral and bilateral talks with Iran, including regional security issues. In brief, the immediate dilemma is Iraq but the larger stake is the future of the Middle East". Zbigniew Brzezinski, "There is more at stake for American than Iraq" 5 December 2006 in www.ft.com.
Carping about the personalities comprising the Iraq Study Group `a la Brzezinski aside, what are the basic strengths and weaknesses of the report? And, what does it tell us about where the Americans are in dealing with the Iraqi imbroglio? First, the report, and the commission behind it, was established for a specific political purpose in mind: to wit, to pro-offer the Bush regime, a possible 'golden bridge' to begin the process of leaving or at least to begin to leave Iraq. No doubt 'with honor', of course. But, leave Iraq, none the less. Or at least to begin the process. In essence the commission, most of whose ten members were individuals whose prior porfolios in public life were predominately concerned with domestic American politics, aimed to 'solve' the Iraq problem on American terms for an American domestic audience. The sine qua non of which is that they dealt with the Iraq problem as a domestic American problem. Pur et simple. One may complain `a la Brzezinski of such a set of priorities. But, as Kissinger's observations of almost fifty years prior show, one should not have great expectations when discussing the American leadership structure, of the quality of statesmanship that is directing the ship of state. One has to deal with what is available. In this context, Mr. James A. Baker III, is by far the most penetrating and agile of minds, that the American body politic offers up at this time. So, what has maestro Baker come up with, and, will Mr. Bush take advantage of it? The Iraq Study Group recommendations are a potpouri of commonsensical ideas (talking with Syria and Persia, building up the Iraqi army, attempting to pressure the Maliki government to cut down on sectarian violence, especially by Shiite militias), courageous (pursuing the Arab-Israeli track as primary means of tackling the instability in the region), and, less than worthwhile (sending 20,000 embedded American advisors in the futile hope that they will be able to reform and build-up the Iraq Army and police). It is the last group of recommendations which has drawn the most criticism, much of it, accurate enough, such as Anthony Cordesman's remarks that:
"Simply calling for a weak and divided Iraqi government to act in the face of all of the forces tearing Iraq apart is almost feckless: It is a “triumph of hope over experience.” Efforts to exhort Iraqis into reconciliation are scarcely new; this has been a core political effort of the Bush Administration since before the elections, and one dates back to at least the summer of 2005.
The only new twist is to call for the U.S. to use threats and disincentives to pressure the Iraqi government to act decisively. Saying that, the “United States must make it clear to the Iraqi government that the United states could carry out its plans, including planned redeployments, even if the Iraqi government did not implement their planned changes” borders on being irresponsible. It comes far too close to having the U.S. threaten to take its ball and go home if the Iraqi children do not play the game our way....
More importantly, it ignores the fact that the Iraqi government is weak as much because of U.S. action as Iraq's inherent problems. The U.S. destroyed the secular core of the country by disbanding the Ba'ath. The U.S. created a constitutional process long before Iraq was ready, and created an intensely divisive document with more than 50 key areas of “clarification” including federation, control of oil resources and money, control of security, the role of religion, the nature of the legal system, etc. The U.S. created an electoral system that almost forced Iraqis to vote to be Sunnis, Shi'ites, and Kurds and divided the nation on sectarian and ethnic lines. 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," See: "The Baker-Hamilton Study Group Report: The Elephant gives birth to a mouse". in www.csis.org
These criticism are quite pertinent and I will not gainsay them in the least. Also, as I have indicated on this onling journal, arguments for pourparler vis-`a-vis Persia & Syria, while commmonsensical in its own terms, cannot by the very nature of the internalist aspects of the insurgency and sectarian violence in Iraq, be remedied by merely talking to either power. Particularly since in the case of Persia, it would appear that in any real negotiations over Iraq, that concessions on its nuclear programme, will be a sine qua non of any attempt at a real modus vivendi with that power. Hence, while talks are all well and good, they are not, by any means a salvation for the USA. Indeed, the only 'salvation' possible for the Anglo-American powers is for an organized, and determined withdrawal of American forces to the periphery of Iraq, id est, the desert fastness of Anbar province, Basra and the three Kurdish provinces. By so doing, the USA and its allies will be able to resume its freedom of action, both in Iraq as a whole, and, in the Near East, indeed in the world in general. While not abandoning Iraq to itself, and at the same time, by withdrawing to the sidelines and retaining some degree of neutrality over the internal conflicts in Iraq, the USA will demonstrate both to the warring parties and to the Near East regions as a whole, that the conflict in Iraq is not the doing (in its current form) of the USA and its allies. And, that if any of said parties wishes to obtain American assistance, they will need to appeal to, and assist the USA in its goals, both in Iraq and in the region as a whole. Will it work? Perhaps not, but, at any rate, the above proposal cannot in any case, be any worse than what is taking place at the moment. Insofar as Monsieur Baker et. al., have by their report, made something along the above lines, more plausible, than both gentlemen and their colleagues deserve our collective 'merci beaucoup!' Let us just hope that Mr. Bush, will recognize this fact, and, act accordingly.