Back to Your Studies
The unbearable shallowness of the Iraq Study Group.
Dec 18, 2006, Vol. 12, No. 14 • By REUEL MARC GERECHT
If the Americans start to withdraw precipitously from Iraq, intelligence collection will likely deteriorate even more quickly than the Iraqi army. Posting a much larger contingent of CIA officers inside the Green Zone to train more Iraqis in the American way of intelligence collection and analysis, which the commission recommends, is unlikely to compensate for the lack of U.S. forces on the ground. Once we are perceived as ineluctable losers in Mesopotamia--and we're not quite there yet--the quality and quantity of American intelligence will plummet.
The report's laundry list of 79 recommendations bespeaks the ISG's disconnectedness from Iraq, where the country's continuing implosion surely allows for only a few American options, all military. When violence is the common denominator of life, and all believe that they or members of their families may die tomorrow, breathless advice about Iraq's judicial system, the need for more economic reconstruction, the country's systemic corruption (welcome to the Middle East), or the Iraqi constitution are surreal distractions.
No error of the Baker-Hamilton Commission is greater than its insistence that there is no military solution to Iraq's instability, that it's the responsibility of Iraqis to solve the country's primary problems, and that America can only play a supporting role. The Iraq Study Group, many Bush administration officials, and Central Command talk incessantly about "national reconciliation" and a "political deal" between the Sunni and Shiite Arabs as the key to stability and peace. In other words, the solution in Iraq is Shiite concessions to Sunnis. For three years, Americans have been trying to convince Sunnis to accept the new Iraq, which will be dominated by Shiite Arabs and Kurds, who represent 80 percent of the population. Put another way, Shiite Arabs, who represent around 65 percent of the population, must give much more power to the minority Sunni Arabs than could be gained by them at the ballot box.
However, America's efforts in this have gone unrequited: No major Sunni Arab organization--especially not the all-critical Muslim Clerics Association--has ever condemned the insurgency or even suggested that foreign holy warriors, responsible for much of the suicide bombing, are beyond the pale. The ugly truth is that many, perhaps most, Iraqi Sunni Arabs are not much distressed by the killing of Iraqi Shia. Although it may still be possible to get the Shiite community to allow Arab Sunnis more checks and balances inside the government (for example, through the creation of an upper legislative house, permitted by Iraq's constitution), unless the United States changes the dynamic on the ground by surging troops (which would also better protect Sunnis against Shiite militias), the Shia are unlikely to compromise. They will not turn away from the militias, who offer the best protection against insurgents and holy warriors.
In short, no "national reconciliation" will be possible unless it is preceded by more physical security for all communities. Greater security for both Sunnis and Shiites will allow more flexibility in the political system. Unfortunately, the Iraq Study Group gets this backwards.
And the "external approaches" of the Baker-Hamilton Commission are substantively even thinner than its discussion of Iraq's internal challenges. The ISG envisions Iran and Syria, which have abetted the radicalization of Iraq, helpfully interfering in the country.
Repeatedly, the ISG asserts that "no country in the region will benefit in the long term from a chaotic Iraq." Really? If the self-interest of Iran and Syria is so clearly in favor of stability, why have they been fostering violence in the country? Syria and Iran have been aiding both Sunnis and Shiites in Iraq. According to U.S. officials, there is a pile of intercept and electronic intelligence clearly showing these two countries have been abetting both sides.
The ISG propounds that Iraq's neighbors "should form a support group to reinforce security and national reconciliation within Iraq." Leaving national reconciliation aside, Tehran has given aid to the militia of Moktada al-Sadr and the Badr corps of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq. Both groups are deeply implicated in death-squad killings. Iran has also aided in the importation of the Lebanese Hezbollah into the Shiite south and helped it set up offices. SCIRI has tried to convince the Iraqi government, and the Americans behind it, that 16,000 members of the Badr Organization who are still resident in Iran--that is, young men who are culturally perhaps much more Iranian than they are Iraqi--should be incorporated into the Iraqi army and the security services. Baker might possibly conceive of this SCIRI deployment as a "support group" "reinforcing security" and "national reconciliation," but it's a good bet that not a single Iraqi Sunni Arab would agree with him. Approaching Iran and Syria on Iraq isn't cunning and clever realpolitik. It's just stark naiveté.
Finally, the call for a renewed Israeli-Palestinian push also makes no sense. Let us ignore for the moment the Palestinian internecine strife, in which none of the contenders believes in a lasting peace with the Israelis. The war between Hamas and Fatah has made both organizations more anti-Zionist, anti-Semitic, and anti-American. How in the world would rancorous Israeli and Palestinian talks have any effect on Iraq or the Sunni-Shiite collision in Mesopotamia?
If the Iraqi Shia are provoked into conquering the entire Sunni triangle, which will send a massive wave of Sunni Arab refugees into Jordan, how will Israeli-Palestinian talks help the Hashemite monarchy survive the radicalization of its politics by Iraqi Sunni supremacists, fundamentalists, and former Baathists? As much as our European allies would love to see renewed Israeli-Palestinian talks, it's difficult to envision a scenario where these talks could be productive. It's difficult to see how the United States could back this enterprise without appearing to be scared and weak, hardly a formula to engender moderation in the other parties to these discussions. Failed talks are not better than no talks at all.
We didn't really need to wait nine months for a report that could have been written eight months ago. We already had Secretary Rumsfeld's and General Abizaid's unsuccessful tactics. We already knew what James Baker thought about Syria, Iran, Israel, and Palestine. For those of us who saw some of the deliberations of the Iraq Study Group, the report is less than the discussions that produced it. Even a Washington establishment hopelessly spooked by Iraq should have done better.
Reuel Marc Gerecht is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and a contributing editor to THE WEEKLY STANDARD. He served on one of the expert working groups of the Baker-Hamilton Commission.