So now the report from the commission is ready for consumption after an election where the clear signal was an utter dissatisfaction with the present occupation of Iraq. The quick summary on the report is encouraging diplomacy with most of Iraq's neighbors where feasible, and for adding new vigor to the training of Iraqi security forces. All of this with milestones to measure progress along the way placed on an actual calendar (page 80 of the document issued by the ISG).
A unique caveat to the second major point of the commission's finding is that if the security level does not improve, then "the United States should reduce its political, military, or economic support for the Iraqi government." By its very implication, the ISG would have the United States set sail if the Iraqi government doesn't play ball to a new policy as adopted from the report. A dramatic pronouncement indeed. In Recommendation 41:
The United States must make it clear to the Iraqi government that the United States could carry out its plans, including planned redeployments, even if Iraq does not implement its planned changes. America's other security needs and the future of our military cannot be made hostage to the actions or inactions of the Iraqi government.
This certainly does not mesh with the "stay the course" rhetoric of President Bush, that is certain. It would also make clear that the more one drags the process along inside the government of Iraq, the bigger risk they run of having a thoroughly unstable country rather than a somewhat unstable country.
What is somewhat refreshing is to hear a ten-person panel place statements such as this in their report: "There is no action the American military can take that, by itself, can bring about success in Iraq. But there are actions that the U.S. and Iraqi governments, working together, can and should take to increase the probability of avoiding disaster there, and increase the chance of success." This may sadden Senator John McCain somewhat for his support of sending even more troops into Iraq. The premise is that this is a political dilemma that a military, any military, cannot solve by itself. A private can't force one person to love another through the business end of a rifle. One might call this a refreshing bit of reality added to the conversation if it weren't so late in coming due to the Administration's posture on the affair.
There are many, many different options here, but as the ISG states at the end of the executive summary, the recommendations, "should not be separated or carried out in isolation." This states unequivocally that the proprietor of this entanglement not pick and choose the least difficult options to implement. Seventy-nine recommendations and not one of them offers a fig leaf of cover for the debacle that President Bush founded.
Update: Further Thoughts
Upon a more thorough review of the Iraq Study Group's findings, there are some key issues which may create several problems with the implementation of these 79 recommendations (aside from the most obvious obstacle being the President and his officials).
The initial recommendations focus on the "New Diplomatic Offensive" (page 44 of the report / page 62 of the PDF) and the "Iraq International Support Group" (pg. 46 / pg. 64) to be created in order to address regional concerns (the Israel/Palestinian issue, Lebanon and Syria, Iran as examples) and assist in the regional participation of border countries and others at large respectively. The sheer difficulty of pulling this many countries together (an initial count of more than a dozen) to focus on the stability of Iraq with many of the players at odds with others or elements inside Iraq is quite a tall drink of water. Adding the diplomatic contortionist work involved in progressing towards a lasting peace process in Israel and addressing the Sunni-Shiite divide unleashed inside Iraq (while laudable as a goal can be) is an incredibly monstrous hurdle.
RECOMMENDATION 1: The United States, working with the Iraqi government, should launch the comprehensive New Diplomatic Offensive to deal with the problems of Iraq of the region. This new diplomatic offensive should launched before December 31, 2006.
RECOMMENDATION 2: The goals of the diplomatic offensive as it relates to regional players should be to:
i. Support the unity and territorial integrity of Iraq.
ii. Stop destabilizing interventions and actions by Iraq’s neighbors.
iii. Secure Iraq’s borders, including the use of joint patrols with neighboring countries.
iv. Prevent the expansion of the instability and conflict beyond Iraq’s borders.
v. Promote economic assistance, commerce, trade, political support, and, if possible, military assistance for the Iraqi government from non-neighboring Muslim nations.
vi. Energize countries to support national political reconciliation in Iraq.
vii. Validate Iraq’s legitimacy by resuming diplomatic relations, where appropriate, and reestablishing embassies in Baghdad.
viii. Assist Iraq in establishing active working embassies in key capitals in the region (for example, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia).
ix. Help Iraq reach a mutually acceptable agreement on Kirkuk.
x. Assist the Iraqi government in achieving certain security, political, and economic milestones, including better performance on issues such as national reconciliation, equitable distribution of oil revenues, and the dismantling of militias.
RECOMMENDATION 3: As a complement to the diplomatic offensive, and in addition to the Support Group discussed below, the United States and the Iraqi government should support the holding of a conference or meeting in Baghdad of the Organization of the Islamic Conference or the Arab League both to assist the Iraqi government in promoting national reconciliation in Iraq.
RECOMMENDATION 4: As an instrument of the New Diplomatic Offensive, an Iraq International Support Group should be organized immediately following the launch of the New Diplomatic Offensive.
RECOMMENDATION 5: The Support Group should consist of Iraq and all the states bordering Iraq, including Iran and Syria; the key regional states, including Egypt and the Gulf States; the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council; the European Union; and, of course, Iraq itself. Other countries—for instance, Germany, Japan and South Korea—that might be willing to contribute to resolving political, diplomatic, and security problems affecting Iraq could also become members.
RECOMMENDATION 6: The New Diplomatic Offensive and the work of the Support Group should be carried out with urgency, and should be conducted by and organized at the level of foreign minister or above. The Secretary of State, if not the President, should lead the U.S. effort. That effort should be both bilateral and multilateral, as circumstances require.
RECOMMENDATION 7: The Support Group should call on the participation of the office of the United Nations Secretary-General in its work. The United Nations Secretary-General should designate a Special Envoy as his representative.
RECOMMENDATION 8: The Support Group, as part of the New Diplomatic Offensive, should develop specific approaches to neighboring countries that take into account the interests, perspectives, and potential contributions as suggested above.
Recommendations 1 through 8 lay the international groundwork. The main thrust is to build a coalition of those with real stakes in the outcome of Iraq which should have been contemplated at the outset yet never came to fruition. The report notes that each country has its own purview to tend to, and states:
Left to their own devices, these [border] governments will tend to reinforce ethnic, sectarian, and political divisions within Iraqi society. But if the Support Group takes a systematic and active approach toward considering the concerns of each country, we believe that each can be encouraged to play a positive role in Iraq and the region.It would appear that this coalition will look right on paper, but may yield results not to anyone's particular liking.
The report moves forward to express the sentiment that while it may be unpleasant to some within the United States, some strides must be taken in order to bring Syria and Iran to the table where Iraq is concerned. This is absolutely a step in the right direction. Recommendations 9 through 12 concern how Iran and Syria may be brought in and how the United States ought to handle dicey international relations outside of Iraq.
Recommendations 13 to 17 try and push forward a two-state solution to the Israeli / Palestinian conflict and several demands on Syria to resist the temptation to interfere in Lebanon. These feel somewhat out of place with the general findings of the group, but the impetus is to try to add further calm in Middle East. The likelihood of Syria to convince Hamas to acknowledge Israel's right to exist has a slim chance of coming true in the near-term, if ever.
RECOMMENDATION 18: It is critical for the United States to provide additional political, economic, and military support for Afghanistan, including resources that might become available as combat forces are moved from Iraq.
This is obviously outside of Iraq, but Afghanistan has the distinct look of a pre-2001 invasion country. If ever a redeployment of forces were possible within a year or two from Iraq, it should be to shore up the government in the capital of Kabul as well as the larger countryside.
Many of the commentaries so far of the report discuss the following recommendations on internal improvements made by the Iraqi government itself. Recommendation 21 is going to be cited more often than most as it states fairly clearly that without internal improvements, the United States would be under less and less obligation to sustain its current troop level and political support. It does not say however what would replace this support; it is probably seen as a threat or an incentive to move Iraqi leaders forward.
RECOMMENDATION 19: The President and the leadership of his national security team should remain in close and frequent contact with the Iraqi leadership. These contacts must convey a clear message: there must be action by the Iraqi government to make substantial progress toward the achievement of milestones. In public diplomacy, the President should convey as much detail as possible about the substance of these exchanges in order to keep the American people, the Iraqi people, and the countries in the region well informed.
RECOMMENDATION 20: If the Iraqi government demonstrates political will and makes substantial progress toward the achievement of milestones on national reconciliation, security, and governance, the United States should make clear its willingness to continue training, assistance, and support for Iraq’s security forces, and to continue political, military, and economic support for the Iraqi government. As Iraq becomes more capable of governing, defending, and sustaining itself, the U.S. military and civilian presence in Iraq can be reduced.
RECOMMENDATION 21: If the Iraqi government does not make substantial progress toward the achievement of milestones on national reconciliation, security, and governance, the United States should reduce its political, military, or economic support for the Iraqi government.
RECOMMENDATION 22: The President should state that the United States does not seek permanent military bases in Iraq. If the Iraqi government were to request a temporary base or bases, then the U.S. government could consider that request as it would in the case of any other government.
RECOMMENDATION 23: The President should restate that the United States does not seek to control Iraq’s oil.
Is it a timetable or isn't it a timetable? At this stage within America, there is probably a small minority that would not be in favor of a set timetable. Citizens here (and certainly there in Iraq) do not wish an indefinite tenure for U.S. Marines and Army troops on the ground in Baghdad or Mosul or Nineveh.
NATIONAL RECONCILIATIONRecommendations 24 and 25 just reiterate that the milestones are a start.
By the end of 2006–early 2007:
- Approval of the Provincial Election Law and setting an election date
- Approval of the Petroleum Law
- Approval of the De-Baathification Law
- Approval of the Militia Law
By March 2007:
- A referendum on constitutional amendments (if it is necessary)
By May 2007:
- Completion of Militia Law implementation
- Approval of amnesty agreement
- Completion of reconciliation efforts
By June 2007:
- Provincial elections
SECURITY (pending joint U.S.-Iraqi review)
By the end of 2006:
- Iraqi increase of 2007 security spending over 2006 levels
By April 2007:
- Iraqi control of the Army
By September 2007:
- Iraqi control of provinces
By December 2007:
- Iraqi security self-reliance (with U.S. support)
By the end of 2006:
- The Central Bank of Iraq will raise interest rates to 20 percent and appreciate the Iraqi dinar by 10 percent to combat accelerating inflation.
- Iraq will continue increasing domestic prices for refined petroleum products and sell imported fuel at market prices.
Recommendations 26 through 33 are suggestions for the internal affairs of Iraq. They run the gamut from reviewing and amending their constitution (a sore point for the Sunni population at the time of its adoption), to holding the lid on the "powder keg" of Kirkuk, to amnesty proposals and minority rights. All of these proposals will be at the whim or the will of Iraqi leaders in Parliament, but they are all linked to restraining the civil war tendencies already apparent within the borders of Iraq.
RECOMMENDATION 34: The question of the future U.S. force presence must be on the table for discussion as the national reconciliation dialogue takes place. Its inclusion will increase the likelihood of participation by insurgents and militia leaders, and thereby increase the possibilities for success.
This has been repeated by the Administration that there are no long-term plans on the oil or the country as a military base of operations for the U.S. A reiteration on this claim can bring no harm.
RECOMMENDATION 35: The United States must make active efforts to engage all parties in Iraq, with the exception of al Qaeda. The United States must find a way to talk to Grand Ayatollah Sistani, Moqtada al-Sadr, and militia and insurgent leaders.These are rational and reasonable expectations for all sides. Again, the likelihood of all of these camps coming together to stop the retribution killings that have run unabated for months on end shows little signs of occurring. Amnesty may not even be a popular path within Iraq, but it may provide cover for those who have performed the violence to date to not continue further still for fear of comeuppance.
RECOMMENDATION 36: The United States should encourage dialogue between sectarian communities, as outlined in the New Diplomatic Offensive above. It should press religious leaders inside and outside Iraq to speak out on behalf of peace and reconciliation.
RECOMMENDATION 37: Iraqi amnesty proposals must not be undercut in Washington by either the executive or the legislative branch.
RECOMMENDATION 38: The United States should support the presence of neutral international experts as advisors to the Iraqi government on the processes of disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration.These are common sense recommendations though there are no details regarding the depth or duration of financial and technical support to be provided.
RECOMMENDATION 39: The United States should provide financial and technical support and establish a single office in Iraq to coordinate assistance to the Iraqi government and its expert advisors to aid a program to disarm, demobilize, and reintegrate militia members.
More to come on the next forty recommendations.