December 06, 2006
The esteemed panel of veteran beltway leaders headed up by James Baker and Lee Hamilton known as the Iraq Study Group (ISG) submitted their much-anticipated findings to the public and The President today. The bi-partisan ISG report offers a sober assessment of the situation in Iraq and offers some possible solutions to the problems facing the country, insisting that the solutions if adopted should be implemented in a wholesale, rather than piece meal, manner. The Washington Post is reporting that the President, “...offered no immediate endorsement or rejection of any of its recommendations.” The President praised and thanked the panel of statesmen for their contribution to the discussion and pledged that their findings would be taken very seriously by his administration.
I don’t believe that it takes a group of elder statemen to come to the conclusion that, “The situation in Iraq is deteriorating” and that “What we are currently doing is not working”. However, some of their attempts at offering solutions are at least interesting and appreciated, if not fairly unrealistic.
Principally among the unrealistic yet interesting recommendations is that we launch a new round of diplomacy aimed at Syria and Iran in an effort to encourage them to essentially help us achieve success in Iraq. Part of this effort, at least when dealing with Syria, recommends that we cajole Israel into ceding the strategic Golan Heights to Syria in return for their cooperation rather than contravention in Iraq and also that they stop supporting Hezbollah’s efforts to disrupt the fledgling democracy of Lebanon. Obviously recommendations like this are appreciated, but ultimately they are unrealistic. Syria most likely does not value the Golan Heights over their own desire to meddle in the affairs of the countries around them. The price for obtaining the cooperation of our sworn enemies surely is too high to make that avenue practicable.
The report is available to download in PDF form here. While serious efforts to seek solutions in Iraq should always be welcomed, many of the recommendations, especially in the diplomatic realm, do not strike me as particularly plausible. I am inclined to defer to the one man Iraq study group, in the form of geo political maestro Charles Krauthammer, on this matter as to what to do now moving forward. He too has a sober assessment of the situation declaring among other things, that the al Maliki government has thus far proven to be a failure and should be replaced if they are unable to drastically alter the manner in which they operate. The crux of Krauthammer’s suggestions comes in the form of a proposed ultimatum that be issued to the al Maliki government. In his latest column, written several days before today’s public disclosure the ISG report, Krauthammer says, “The United States should be giving Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki a clear ultimatum: If he does not come up with a political solution in two months or cede power to a new coalition that will, the United States will abandon the Green Zone; retire to its bases; move much of its personnel to Kurdistan, where we are welcome and safe; and let the civil war take its course. Let the current Green Zone-protected Iraqi politicians who take their cue from Moqtada al-Sadr face the insurgency alone. That might concentrate their minds on either making a generous offer to the Sunnis or stepping aside for a coalition that would.”
I endorse this proposal as a possible workable solution to the situation. While it will be essentially a defeat for the Bush Administration if it is forced to admit that a unity government may ultimately not be plausible in Iraq, at this point it’s pretty clear that we have done all that we can to help the Iraqis help themselves. Freedom once found, is by nature unpredictable. The Iraqi people were given their freedom when we removed the butcher of Baghdad; it is now up to them to determine what to do with that freedom. Unfortunately for us all, the majority of Iraqis seem to want to devolve into sectarian strife, terrorizing their own population in the form of suicide bombers and mortar attacks perpetrated by Sunnis by day and Shiite police uniformed death squads raiding Sunni neighborhoods by night.
If an ultimatum is given to the al Maliki government and they comply, by either making concessions to the Sunnis or stepping down to let a government in that will, then the hopes of a unity government will not be lost. The other, and arguably less optimal side, of the ultimatum coin entails that we strategically withdraw from the green zone and move to our bases in northern Iraq where we are appreciated. This will still allow us to retain a strategic presence in the region, which ultimately is one of the primary reasons that we are in the country in the first place. With a presence in northern Iraq, Afghanistan, and Lebanon along with friendly governments in Pakistan and India, we will have enough to maintain a presence that Krauthammer calls, “…the geographic parentheses around the principal threat to Western interests in the region, the Syria-Iran axis.”