Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Iraq Study Group Releases Report...Will Bush Listen?

After 9 months of deliberation the Iraq Study Group finally released its report today. You can view the full text here.

The report's makes 2 fundamental recommendations: Change the primary mission of U.S. forces in Iraq to allow combat forces to leave the country responsibly and, adopt a new regional diplomatic approach. The keyword in the former recommendation is "responsibly."

A quick withdrawal from Iraq would almost certainly result in an all-out civil war that could destabilize the entire region. Instead the report suggests that combat troop remain in Iraq until early 2008 after which only a smaller force responsible for training, rapid-response operations and advising would remain. According to a New York Times article printed yesterday, US troops in Iraq have already began shifting to advisory roles. Unfortunately, as incidents such as this demonstrate, it could take a while before the Iraqi army will be ready to secure their country without the combat support of US troops. Whether approximately two years will be enough time is questionable; however, there is no question that if there is any chance for the US to withdraw combat forces responsibly in this time-frame, Iraq's neighbors must be included.

As Baker, one of the chairmen of the Group explained in today's press conference:
"Both Iran and Syria have a lot of influence... Iran has the single greatest influence in Iraq today. You can't solve these problems without talking to them. You cannot look at Iraq and treat it as separate in the region... For 40 years, we talked to the USSR when they wanted to wipe us from the face of the earth."
These countries are inextricably tied to the conflict in Iraq, and as such any meaningful peace in Iraq will need to involve them. Unfortunately, Bush has repeatedly rejected calls to engaged Syria and Iran, and as long as Cheney and Rove have his ear, this will likely continue to be the case. There may be some hope, however, with the nomination of Robert Gates to the position of Defense Secretary: Gates has long been a proponent of engaging Iran in a dialog. There is of course the possibility that Gates may change his position on the matter as soon as he takes office, after all Cheney also supported talks with Iran before he came to office. I'll give Gates the benefit of the doubt here considering his admission yesterday that the US, contrary to what Bush has said in the past, is in fact losing the war in Iraq- but only time will tell. Either way there is still no telling as to whether Bush would even listen to Gates should he recommend regional diplomacy.

Though Bush originally embraced the Iraq Study Group, as it became clear that the group's recommendations would diverge from White House policy, Bush been downplaying the significance of this report. The report has now become simply one of many others:
"It's very hard for me to, you know, prejudice one report over another," Bush said in an interview Monday with Fox News Channel. "They're all important."
Except this one was drafted by a bipartisan group over the course of nine months and enjoys the support of much of Congress.

Just last week, Bush told PM Maliki that "this business [referring to leaks from ISG report] about graceful exit just simply has no realism to it." It has been reported that Bush is in favor of embedding US troops with the Iraqi army, however, as the report makes clear, the recommendations are offered as a comprehensive approach- one cannot simply pick and choose which ones to apply if one hopes to be successful in Iraq. Then there is the other study group which Bush commissioned in mid-November which is almost certain to recommend Bush stay the course in terms of Iraq policy. This group is due to release the report fairly soon as well, though I haven't heard much since the group's inception. So all in all it seems unlikely that Bush will enact the recommendations of the Iraq Study Group, not willingly anyway.

More on this later.

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