Iraq Study Group Report

You can find The Iraq Study Group Report here.

It has been called a report by foreign policy realists. It is not. It is a delusional report by people who, whatever they wrote in the classified version of this report, refuse to call our national policy in Iraq utterly bankrupt and itself delusional.

The report begins with an executive summary recommending the United States pursue an external and an internal approach, in that order. The external approach is described this way: “The United States should immediately launch a new diplomatic offensive to build an international consensus for stability in Iraq and the region. This diplomatic effort should include every country that has an interest in avoiding a chaotic Iraq, including all of Iraq’s neighbors. [I.e., Iran and Syria.] Iraq’s neighbors and key states in and outside the region should form a support group to reinforce security and national reconciliation within Iraq, neither of which Iraq can achieve on its own.”

And the internal approach? “The Iraqi government should accelerate assuming responsibility for Iraqi security by increasing the number and quality of Iraqi Army brigades. While this process is under way, and to facilitate it, the United States should significantly increase the number of U.S. military personnel, including combat troops, embedded in and supporting Iraqi Army units. As these actions proceed, U.S. combat forces could begin to move out of Iraq.”

Do what we tell you to, because we’re going to leave the area. (Although we will have US advisers—quite possibly meaning hostages—embedded in Iraqi Army units.)

Perhaps the most delusional sentence in the report is the one that introduces the “Internal Approach” section of the Executive Summary: “The most important questions about Iraq’s future are now the responsibility of Iraqis.” (This is even more delusional than noting that Iran, unmentioned by name, has been “undercutting stability” in Iraq.)

Those questions were always the responsibility of the Iraqis.

To a significant extent, the Iraqis have chosen the chaos their country is sliding into. Regardless of Iranian money, training, and infiltration, regardless of Syria and other countries (like Saudi Arabia) turning a blind eye to troublesome young men going off to Iraq to kill infidels (nice safety valve), regardless of the fact that the reports of initial (and I do stress initial) looting were exaggerated. Regardless of the fact that US and other Coalition troops did not shoot looters. (Which they should have.) “Taking down” Saddam Hussein was always going to be the easy part: the only people who would fight “for” Hussein were those Ba’athists who hurt others very badly (as opposed to just trying to get along to survive). The real question was what 25 million Iraqis were going to do once he was toppled. We got our answer very quickly in places like an-Nasiriyah, where many people (Shia Iraqis, incidentally, and of both sexes and all ages) spontaneously defended their native soil against foreign invaders. We also got our answer in a very different way: Iraqis, ordinary Iraqis, were armed. When I was in Anbar province in the summer of 2004, it was one rifle and three magazines of ammo per adult and, to protect themselves from bandits and insurgents: I heard officers beg Iraqis to defend themselves. We may be the only occupying power in history to openly permit the conquered arms and ammunition, and we have watched as the overwhelming majority of Iraqis consent to allow themselves and their compatriots to be slaughtered.

The most delusional thing about postwar planning for Iraq was the neoconservative assumption that, after decades of totalitarian rule and the destruction of the economy, less by sanctions, than by Saddam Hussein—work, after all, brings people out of their home, families and tribes into the wider society—people who had been brutalized and atomized could act like they knew they could, and did, trust each other.

And we also expected them to want to be like us. We pretended that if we imposed upon them the mechanics of a democracy, such as a Constitution and elections, they would embrace the idea of sharing power: we were liberating them as we liberated Germany and Japan, said people like Condoleezza Rice. Another delusion. We invaded Germany and Japan after bombing their cities to rubble, incinerating them by the tens of thousands, and shoving their armies across continents. We gave all who thought the old Imperial and Nazi orders worth dying for a chance to die for their beliefs, and the Soviets went a good deal further. Germany and Japan were not liberated; they were invaded, defeated, conquered, and occupied after a hell of a lot of people had been killed in the process. We never intended to do that to Iraq.

What we did was liberate Iraq’s monsters from the restraint of Ba’athism and Hussein’s dictatorships. At least during the Hussein years, you knew who they were, where they worked, and pretty much what to do to avoid them. Now they have the run of the streets, and they treat other humans as their noisy play things. Alas, Saddam Hussein may have been the best most Iraqis could do, and they know it.

You don’t have to be a Middle Eastern despot or a jihadi to think, if this is the result of American democratic ideals unhinged from reality, not only no, but hell no.

But these are not the only truths the Iraq Study Group shies away from. It also shies away from certain strategic and military truths.

Oil is a strategic commodity of the highest importance. It is worth fighting for: anyone who doesn’t think oil is worth blood needs to consider how much blood no oil costs, and how quickly, particularly in winter. The world’s oil supplies are finite, and we need to be creating alternatives but that does not mean that Iranian control over much of the world’s known reserves would not be a catastrophe that will bear most heavily upon ordinary people. For Iran is the victor in the Iraq War. And the question, did Iran help bankroll Ahmed Chalabi into encouraging America to do what Iran couldn’t—destroy the Iraqi Army—has never really been asked, much less conclusively answered. Iran is slowly trying to create a regional hegemony in the old Persian Empire: Islam aside, Persia is an ancient and sophisticated civilization and Iran means to be a great power once again.

At the same time, America and Europe cannot tolerate Iran controlling much of the world’s known oil reserves. Arabs and Turks are not interested in being subjected to Persian dominance, raising the possibility of a general war in the Middle East. Yet our Army is wrecked—the people and equipment simply worn out—the Marine Corps isn’t far behind, the Air Force and Navy are shrinking, and the Reserves and National Guard broken. We have financed this war not out of current tax revenues, but by deficit spending, mostly borrowed from China, which increasingly coordinates with…Iran. The result is that we have very limited military, economic, or political leverage in the Middle East, especially with Iran. And negotiating with countries like Syria and Iran does not start with “incentives,” it starts with inflicting real pain on them, the likes of which they have inflicted upon US troops as well as
Iraqi soldiers, police, and civilians.

Now, in the absence of avoiding real, serious pain, why should Iran be interested in helping us? Why should they not rather be interested in seeing if, having defeated the Americans strategically, they cannot also defeat us tactically?

Our involvement in Iraq was worse than a mistake, worse even than a blunder, as Talleyrand would have said. It was a delusion. And now, this supposedly realistic report refuses to confront the awful strategic situation American is now stuck in, in Iraq.

It is going to take a long time to repair the damage our delusional adventure in Iraq has done this nation.

I read the Iraq Study Group Report in the context of finishing the third volume of Forrest Pogue’s biography of George Catlett Marshall. Now, Marshall is an interesting man. He loved very deeply, and was loved very deeply in return by his wives, his friends, the children of his heart (he had none of his body), the Army, the Republic. But Pogue makes it clear that Marshall was not a “nice” man: he was not easy to be around, he was remote, austere, and formal, and he could let a quiet, terrifying rage possess him. But Secretary of War Stimson described him as the strongest man in the country, and Secretary of State Dean Acheson described him as having a lofty and beautiful character. Amongst other things, this means that Marshall permitted himself no delusions: about American strengths or weaknesses, or for that matter, the strategic requirements for, and human and economic costs of, successfully waging war. He did not fool himself about industrial capacity, either. (In our lifetime, we have seen much of our industrial capacity exported, primarily to China and Mexico.) And he didn’t permit anyone else around him to kid themselves about these issues.

It is with great pain that I contemplate Pogue’s portrait of Marshall as a man who was a soldier and statesman of the very finest quality. What were we like, when we had leaders like that, and we deserved each other?


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