A quick assessment of the Iraq Study Group Report

Briefly, I watched some of Lee Hamilton and Jim Baker’s presentation of the Iraq Study Group report, read the executive summary (available here), and skimmed the report itself (available here). In no particular order:

ABC News asked why the Baker Commission should be taken more seriously than the report from the military commanders. Hamilton responded by saying this group was comprised of “civil servants”, has “considerable experience in the Middle East”, and perhaps more telling, “experience in how government works.” Baker added another important aspect, this group is the only “bipartisan group”.

Report calls for a 5 year re-equip of the US Armed Forces.

“Iraq needs to show its own citizens — and the citizens of the United States and other countries — that it deserves continued support. Reiterated statements that the Iraq government and army must step up and that the Iraq Government “should make clear its willingness” to continue along this path, a series of assumptions that it can in light of the chaos with two years to fall into smaller pieces. The out for this group and the government, in full acknowledgement of how DC works, is repeated throughout: “If the Iraqi government does not [insert statement here that assumes it can].”

Acknowledges “sources of violence”. “Violence is increasing in scope, complexity, and lethality. There are multiple sources of violence in Iraq: the Sunni Arab insurgency, al Qaeda and affiliated jihadist groups, Shiite militias and death squads, and organized criminality.” … “Al Qaeda is responsible for a small portion of the violence in Iraq…”

Coalition in Iraq according. “Approximately 141,000 U.S. military personnel are serving in Iraq, together with approximately 16,500 military personnel from twenty-seven coalition partners, the largest contingent being 7,200 from the United Kingdom.” Completely ignored is the large number of private security contractors operating in Iraq on behalf of USG and its contractors. Further, the report only barely addresses the “contractors” or militia-type units that comprise the multiple security services of the various ministries — this does not include the Iraqi Army or Police but akin to the police of the Veterans Administration, etc. — that total more than the total US forces.

Reconstruction has blown it. “Several senior military officers commented to us that the Commander’s Emergency Response Program, which funds quick-impact projects such as the clearing of sewage and the restoration of basic services, is vital. The U.S. Agency for International Development, in contrast, is focused on long-term economic development and capacity building, but funds have not been committed to support these efforts into the future.” … “Substantial reconstruction funds have also been provided to contractors, and the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction
has documented numerous instances of waste and abuse…in addition, the use of
Iraqi contractors has enabled the employment of more Iraqis in reconstruction projects.” Employing Iraqi’s and giving them jobs will help get keep the people from fighting a war of desperation.

Questioning the commitment of our coalition and our ability to persuade. “the Gulf States, including Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, hold large amounts of Iraqi debt that
they have not forgiven.” Meanwhile contracts and dollars are funnelled through these kingdoms.

This is more than a military problem. This has never been a military problem. It has always been a political and public diplomacy problem. The military is just a tool as of the politicians for a political result. While some continue to argue outgoing Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld won the war, the war is and was more than “major combat operations”. It has always, and not just today with so-called Fourth Generation Warfare, included winning the peace. Solution scenarios based on force levels begins from the wrong point. End results should be identified and means to achieve those analyzed. Diplomatic engagement with our former coalition partners, as in the rest of Europe, including NATO or an EU military intervention (largely if not completely a NATO force under Berlin Plus, but still, it’s symbolic), is largely if not completely ignored, save brief mentions in recommendations 6 & 7). Perhaps this is because of the President’s pride, perhaps it is because the Baker-Hamilton Commission “knows how government works”, but it eliminates a potential resource. We’ve broken it, we’re paying for it, and we are taking a beating because of it. 

Perhaps I missed it, but some comments, particularly of training Iraqis, hinted at what is being recommended now is long overdue.

Regional solution. It is comforting to see mention of other regional issues, such as specific negotiating points, nice way to show your hand but SecState wasn’t apparently going anywhere with these. More importantly, the warning that Afghanistan has fallen off the radar.

Just some brief and not very deep comments on the report. It is a little better than I expected, but the spotlight for me is on the out the report repeats: Iraqi willingness. Why should the Iraqis suddenly put their lives on the line for something we’ve taken over three years to ignore? The report does very little in its recommendations to fix the broken elements of reconstruction, the damaging aspects of our presence, the images we create with the large embassy (which the report mentions in the paragraph after our troops numbers oddly enough), and other elements that contribute to fueling insurgent and criminal behavior.

Still, it’s better than nothing. I don’t plan on seeing much from the White House’s own internal assessment but I do hope to see something from General Peter Pace’s group. Although the Pace group is likely to be short sighted as he seeks to defend his men and has, through Abizaid, already begun to step further back into CYA. Besides, it’s not his problem. What is his mission? Baker was asked about the change of mission in the press conference presenting the report. His answer? His group keeps with the times (perhaps in reference to the first question of the day from Robin Wright asking if this commission was still relevant considering the amount of time it took to compile) and the goal has changed, lowering expectations. There is a saying in consulting: under-promise and over-deliver. I have confidence that we’ll unfortunately see an under-promise and an under-delivery and I don’t know why the Iraqis, and our enemies propaganda machines, won’t expect the same based on this report.

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Posted in War