First Thoughts on the Iraq Study Group Report
Forget the Executive Summary which is a collection of platitudes and wish-lists. If the assumptions in the Executive Summary were true – for instance that Iraq’s neighbors see themselves as having a stake in a stable and successful Iraq – the problem would have been solved long ago and our troops would be home.
But …the next section – “Assessment” – is an effective and hard-hitting summary of the situation in Iraq as of now. And it isn’t pretty. Having read Dr. Richard Feynman’s droll narrative of the writing of the Challenger disaster report back in the 1980’s (Dr. Feynman was the Nobel Price-winning physicist from Caltech who identified the Challenger problem as being the brittleness of the rocket seals when they got cold), I assume that the Executive Summary and the Assessment were written by different people.
The police force is a disaster, essentially a Shia militia. The army has extensive absenteeism and uncertain leadership. Operation Together Forward II to secure Baghdad has been a failure. One wonders if the Bush Administration and the Pentagon have been getting reports of this directness from the field and if they have, what has been the basis for their confidence about success in Iraq over the past year?
There is an excellent summary of the political situation, which basically concludes that while there is some lip-service given to national reconciliation, the Kurds and the Shia would prefer autonomous regions while the Sunni are bereft of an economically viable base, and thus desiring a strong central government, but only if they run it, which democratic arithmetic prevents!
Here is the money paragraph on security:
“The security situation cannot improve unless leaders act in support of national reconciliation. Shiite leaders must make the decision to demobilize militias. Sunni Arabs must make the decision to seek their aims through a peaceful political process, not through violent revolt. The Iraqi government and Sunni Arab tribes must aggressively pursue al Qaeda.”
Indeed. And the lion must lie down with the lamb. Well, this is the season for that.
In one of his witty and trenchant observations on the ways of government bureaucracies, Henry Kissinger observed that the Pentagon delivered its opinions with caveats where the caveat was far more important than the opinion. For instance, a Pentagon opinion a la Kissinger might be
“We continue to expect the Korean Peninsula to remain peaceful so long as North Korea is not directed by an isolated Stalinist regime” when the entire problem is that North Korea is directed by an isolated Stalinist regime.
So also with the above paragraph from the ISGR on security. It would indeed be nice if all the conditions listed were to hold – Shiite leaders demobilize militias, Sunnis seek their aims through a peaceful political process, etc. That was, one assumes, what the Bush Administration thought would happen after Saddam was deposed. That presumably was our post-war “plan.” Alas, it has not come to be and shows no sign of doing so now. Getting to that point is the problem in front of us!
Continuing with the Security section in the Assessment chapter:
“Sunni politicians told us that the U.S. military has to take on the militias; Shia politicians told us that the U.S. military has to help them take out the Sunni insurgents and al Qaeda. Each side watches the other. Sunni insurgents will not lay down arms unless the Shia militias are disarmed. Shia militias will not disarm until the Sunni insurgency is destroyed. To put it simply: there are many armed groups within Iraq, and very little will to lay down arms.”
Catch-22. This is the Gordian Knot that has been at the center of the Iraq problem from the beginning – the Shia are tasting power for, as the ISGR says, the first time in 1300 years and they are not going to give it up now. And the Sunnis are not going to retire gracefully from their historic position as the ruling class. Controlling this was the political purpose of Saddam’s terror, however debased it became in practice. Are we willing to be as ruthless as he was is the real question facing us. And that we will likely have to pick a side. Saddam had picked the Sunni side.
The Governance section is so compelling it is worth quoting in full:
“The Iraqi government is not effectively providing its people with basic services: electricity; drinking water, sewage, health care, and education. In many sectors, production is below or hovers around prewar levels. In Baghdad and other unstable areas, the situation is much worse. There are five major reasons for this problem. [emphasis added]
“First, the government sometimes provides services on a sectarian basis. For example, in one Sunni neighborhood of Shi-governed Baghdad, there is less than two hours of electricity each day and trash piles are waist-high. One American official told us that Baghdad is run like a ‘Shia dictatorship’ because Sunnis boycotted provincial elections in 2005, aqnd therefore are not represented in local government.
“Second, security is lacking: insurgents target key infrastructure. For instance, electricity transmission towers are downed by explosives, and then sniper attacks prevent repairs from being made.
“Third, corruption is rampant. One senior Iraqi official estimated that official corruption costs Iraq $5 – 7 billion per year. Notable steps have been taken: Iraq has a functioning audit board and inspectors general in the ministries, and senior leaders including the Prime Minister have identified rooting out corruption as a national priority. But too many political leaders still pursue their personal, sectarian, or party interests. There are still no examples of senior officials who have been brought before a court of law and convicted on corruption charges.
“Fourth, capacity is inadequate. Most of Iraq’s technocratic class was pushed out of government as part of de-Baathification. Other skilled Iraqis have fled the country as violence has risen. Too often, Iraq’s elected representatives treat the ministries as political spoils. Many ministries can do little more than pay salaries, spending as little as 10 – 15 percent of their capital budget. They lack technical expertise and suffer from corruption, inefficiency, a banking system that does not permit the transfer of moneys, extensive red tape put in place in part to deter corruption, and a Ministry of Finance reluctant to disburse funds.
“Fifth, the judiciary is weak. Much has been done to establish an Iraqi judiciary, including a supreme court, and Iraq has some dedicated judges. But criminal investigations are conducted by magistrates, and they are too few and inadequately trained to perform this function. Intimidation of the Iraqi judiciary has been ruthless. As one senior U.S. official said to us, ‘We can protect judges, but not their families, their extended families, their friends.’ Many Iraqis feel that crime not only is unpunished, it is rewarded.” [emphasis added]
Whew! This has the ring of truth. And with all due respect to James Baker, a reader of the ISGR to this point does not see the Israel-Palestinian problem as at the center of the Iraq problem; it is a distraction. The challenge to the Bush Administration is that given this description of the situation in Iraq – and this description has the ring of truth – how do we craft a strategy for victory, a word that appears in the ISGR, not as our own objective, but only in regard to the objectives of our enemies.
Pressing on into the briar patch, still in the Assessment chapter, one finds this extraordinary paragraph:
“The coordination of assistance programs by the Defense Department, State Department, United States Agency for International Development, and other agencies has been ineffective [italics added]. There are no clear lines establishing who is in charge of reconstruction.”
Reflect on that last sentence for a second, again assuming it is true and it has the ring of truth. What has been going on with the Iraq War effort? We have our troops making the ultimate sacrifice of both life and limb, and… what else? I have been a fan and supporter of Donald Rumsfeld, but if the Rumsfeldian manner has any meaning, it is one of “kicking a** and taking names.”
But that does not seem to have been or be being done! Forget Israel. The lesson of the ISGR is that one problem of this war is that it has been incredibly undermanaged. Only the president can rectify this totally unacceptable situation. It is very hard to understand what he can possibly be waiting for.
Very likely, this problem reflects an institutional failure on the part of the U.S. government. If we go to war, we have the Pentagon to plan it. But there is no equivalent institution to the Pentagon for planning and controlling the political and civilian strategy of running another country. In other countries in earlier times, this would have been the responsibility Colonial Office, or in the Roman Empire, of a proconsul. But since we see ourselves as not an imperial power, as not running other countries, as we effectively are in Iraq, we have forgotten to develop the institution necessary to this function.
If we have flattened a country militarily as we did Germany and Japan in World War II, and we have extraordinary leadership, as we did, then a military figure can fill this civilian political function, as MacArthur did in Japan and as Eisenhower and then Clay did in Germany.
That is not the situation in Iraq, where the military leadership has a strictly military charter. The State Department is an organization for managing the international status quo and is in no respect, by attitude, competence or intent, the organization to run another country. The casualness and lateness, no disgrace to them, with which the two figures who were temporary proconsuls for us – Garner and Bremer – were chosen says all we need to know about the unseriousness, the essential amateurishness with which we approached this function. And we are paying the price now. Only the President can repair this shrieking void in our capabilities.
Greg Richards is an occasional contributor to American Thinker.