The ISG Report

I’m still digesting the monumental Iraq Study Group report. At a whopping 160 pages anyone who tells you he or she has read the report either means they’ve read the executive summary, had an advance copy, is a very fast reader, or is lying to you.The media seems to be leaping on the bleak statement of the conditions in Iraq:

Conditions in Iraq are “grave and deteriorating,” with the prospect that a “slide toward chaos” could topple the U.S.-backed government and trigger a regional war unless the United States changes course and seeks a broader diplomatic and political solution involving all of Iraq’s neighbors, according to a bipartisan panel that gave its recommendations to President Bush and Congress today.

In what amounts to the most extensive independent assessment of the nearly four-year-old conflict that has claimed the lives of more than 2,800 Americans and tens of thousands of Iraqis, the Iraq Study Group bluntly warns that “current U.S. policy is not working.” Citing rising violence and the Iraqi government’s failure to advance national reconciliation, the panel paints a grim picture of a nation that Bush has repeatedly vowed to transform into a beacon of freedom and democracy in the Middle East.

Despite a list of 79 recommendations meant to encourage regional diplomacy and lead to a reduction of U.S. forces over the next year, the panel acknowledges that stability in Iraq may be impossible to achieve any time soon.

A few quick preliminary reactions.

The recommendations of the ISG won’t please a lot of people. It won’t please those who want the U. S. to withdraw all troops from Iraq immediately or even soon. And it won’t please those who, undeterred, continue to see victory within their grasp.

But it will please its target audience: politicians in Washington who are looking for cover in fleeing from the folly of their own campaign slogans.

For my money so far the most important paragraph in the executive summary is this one:

The United States cannot achieve its goals in the Middle East unless it deals directly with the Arab-Israeli conflict and regional instability. There must be a renewed and sustained commitment by the United States to a comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace on all fronts: Lebanon, Syria, and President Bush’s June 2002 commitment to a two-state solution for Israel and Palestine. This commitment must include direct talks with, by, and between Israel, Lebanon, Palestinians (those who accept Israel’s right to exist), and Syria.

This is a hat-tip to an MBA rule of thumb: if you can’t solve the problem, enlarge it.

Can regional instability be dealt with without modernization? So far our approach to achieving stability in the region has been reliance on regional powers (“support for oppressive regimes”) and, when that failed, putting large U. S. military bases all over the region (“occupation of Muslim lands”).

I hope that this report gives at least lip service to playing to our strengths (economic development and liberalization) rather than to our weaknesses (winning hearts and minds) for a change.

One more thing: I think a region-wide conference with everything on the table is a fantastic idea…for 2002. That’s what I’d hoped would happen in the aftermath of 9/11 but that was not to be. I’m not as convinced that it’s nearly as good an idea now as it was then. Our hand is not nearly as strong as it was and the Iranians’ hand is significantly stronger.


Another quick observation. The report is oddly opaque to the idea that the present Iraqi government is structurally incapable of increasing security in the country. That the government would be a greater of the militias was implicity in the conditions under which the government came to be. That the government would then reign in the militias that form its support base is far-fetched. That’s the problem with the “we’ll stand down as they stand up” approach. Rather than training an army loyal to the Iraqi government in all likelihood we’re enabling the militias to become more effective.

Another update

James Joyner is liveblogging a conference call with William Perry and Alan Simpson about the report.

Update 3

Marc Schulman of American Future, evidently a fast reader, has produced a fine synopsis of the report.  N. Z. Bear, a whiz at PDF to HTML conversions, has produced a linkable HTML version of the report.

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