Today at 11:00 a.m., the Iraq Study Group is scheduled to release its much anticipated report with recommendations about what to do about Iraq.
The Washington Post today describes the lastest semi-official leaks that the report will call for the US to "threaten to reduce military and economic support" to pressure the Iraqis to meet certain benchmarks and recommend the removal of US "combat" forces (but not US troops serving as trainers) by early 2008. We don't know whether the President will follow it's recommendations. But we can at least hope that it will finally legitimize the long missing national debate about how to extract the country from what many, including former President Jimmy Carter, regard as perhaps the worst strategic foreign policy blunder in our history.
During the Connecticut Senate campaign, when asked about his Iraq position, the Democratic candidate Ned Lamont often said that "we didn't get into the Iraq mess by asking too many questions; we got there because we didn't ask enough questions." I think Ned Lamont was right and that the same insight should apply as we look at the ISG recommendations about what to do next.
So I want to start asking those questions here and invite our commenters to weigh in. What questions should the ISG report answer? And how does the ISG report help us understand what needs to be done and why?
I suspect we already know what some of the contending parties want:
Senators McCain/Lieberman/Graham and their fellow neocons want to "win," presumably because they can't or don't want to accept responsibility for having foolishly urged us to initiate this disaster. And because it is now the official view of our almost confirmed Secretary of Defense that we are not winning, these folks want to keep pouring more troops into Iraq based on the as yet unproven and highly questionable assumption that if we just put enough US troops into Baghdad, we will win, assuming we had more troops to send. Never mind that our Viet Nam experience strongly suggests that a half million US troops, supported by a draft and increased taxes, plus a million more trained ARVNs, was not enough to "win" there.
Senator Levin, Representative Murtha and many Democrats want to start planning to get out, to "redeploy" (or as some call it, "pull back") US forces to somewhere else. The apparent hope, logical but also unproven, is that this will encourage the Iraqis to do whatever they are not doing now that would improve things, but without it further endangering US troops or "losing." And so far, the same official view that says we're not winning also holds that we are not losing either. Those who hold this view may or may not have a good idea about what would happen next, but apparently the assumption is that conditions would not become any worse than they would eventually become even if we had stayed. And I assume there are at least some in Congress who simply want us out, regardless.
In the meantime, our military leaders are already creating a de facto policy by moving forward with plans to (1) "surge" additional troops (from somewhere) into Baghdad to control the chaos and avert a possible collapse of what we call the national government, (2) expand and accelerate the "training" of Iraqi forces by embedding a lot more of our troops with their troops, and (3) endeavoring to meet Prime Minister al-Maliki's claim that the Iraqis can assume control of their armed forces and security by next June – a mere Friedman Unit from now — even though some of our current and retired generals have already stated that this goal seems unrealistic.
Still, many seem to agree that the Iraqis must make some political adjustments: (1) the newly empowered Shia must give up to the Sunnis some of the power the invasion took from the Sunnis and gave to the Shia; (2) the parties need to agree on a fair way to divide Iraq's oil wealth; (3) the sectarian militias must be disbanded and/or purged from the national security forces, or become loyal to those forces instead of their sectarian leaders; (4) they all need to stop killing each other; and (5) somehow, Iraq's neighbors need to help bring this about, or at least not interfere in ways that would undermine the solution. As Ambassador Joe Wilson commented recently on these pages:
The utility of engaging Iraq’s neighbors and indeed all the backers of the various insurgent groups is to bring additional pressure to bear on the insurgents to channel their differences into political negotiations and to provide guarantors to any compromises that they might be called upon to make. As Dennis well knows, one of the roles of the US over the years has been to be the guarantor that any compromises made in the Arab Israeli peace process would not be the beginning of the end for the state of Israel. Iraqi factions may not be able to find the necessary compromises without outside pressure and guarantees.
So here are just a few of the questions I'd like the ISG report, and the ensuing national debate, to answer. And I hope our excellent commenters will add their own below.
1. What stategic vision of US interests in the Middle East should we use to evaluate the ISG recommendations and our continuing presence there?
2. Does the ISG assume or advocate a substantial and indefinite US military presence in Iraq, and if so, what is its purpose?
3. As long as US combat forces remain in Iraq, exactly whom are they fighting, and how do our troops distinguish them from those we are supporting? How is that defintion of the "enemy" consistent with our goals for Iraq? How is that definition consistent with our broader strategic vision and policy goals for Israel and the Middle East?
4. What reason is there to expect that following the ISG recommendations would actually lead to a substantial reduction in sectarian killings and an end to military hostilities?
5. Explain how following the ISG recommendations will serve to repair the tattered image of the United States and allow it to regain the respect it has lost from invading and occupying Iraq?
6. When are our troops coming home?