The Iraq Study Group Flunks

"The situation in Iraq is grave and deteriorating....  The United States should immediately launch a new diplomatic offensive to build an international consensus for stability in Iraq and the region. [sacrificing Israel to entice our Muslim enemies into bailing us out] . . . The primary mission of U.S. forces in Iraq should evolve to one of supporting the Iraqi army, which would take over primary responsibility for combat operations."
There it is, the Iraq Study Group (ISG) report in a nutshell. Definitive proof that the cream of our establishment has exiled itself from planet earth and it has no apparent intention of coming home. If the ISG set out to secure a humiliating American defeat it couldn't have come up with more destructive recommendations.

The political class, Republicans and Democrats alike, insists on taking the ISG report seriously. Our leaders are struggling to formulate some new policy for Iraq. But they can't succeed because they refuse to understand what has gone wrong with the old one.

There is nothing complex about the problems in Iraq. Those problems are entirely transparent to anyone with a firm grasp on reality. Unfortunately almost nobody in our political class has a grasp on reality, let alone a firm one, and very few Americans seem to notice. Most of us, after all, get our meat wrapped in plastic on Styrofoam trays. We are adept at blinding ourselves to unpleasantness and reality is relentlessly unpleasant.

Supporting the Iraqi Army

The ISG report is all about facilitating our retreat from Iraq. That is what changing our focus from combat to training would be intended to accomplish. But retreat on any terms would be defeat and we can't afford defeat.

The unpleasant reality in Iraq is that the price of victory will be both horrifying bloodshed and a commitment to be the dominant power in Iraq for decades to come. To win you must fight, and then you must hold on to your gains. The entire political establishment is desperate to avoid facing this reality.

President Bush is as guilty of confusion here as either the ISG or the softest-headed congressional Democrat. He is, in fact, the principal author of the "cut and run" strategy. From the beginning of the war in Iraq he has said that we will stay there only as long as it takes to "do the job." His undefended (and indefensible) assumption is that if we just set up a decent government in Iraq we can turn tail. The new government will then take over the task of suppressing the bad guys in Iraq which will help us move toward victory in the broader "war on terror."

The truth is that any government we set up in Iraq will be useful to us only so long as we are there to keep it under close supervision. The instant we leave, any government we leave behind will divide up among the various factions and join in a general bloodletting. With the sole exception of the Kurds, each faction has foreign sponsors and those sponsors are our enemies. When the killing finally stops, Iraq, or at least large parts of what used to be Iraq, will be securely under the influence of one or more of our enemies and the effort to win our Arab and Persian War will be crippled.

Iraq will remain in our sphere of influence as long as our troops are the dominant force within its borders and no longer. It is predominantly Arab and overwhelmingly Muslim. It isn't friendly ground. Our conquest of Iraq was a major strategic victory in the Arab and Persian War. Unless we've gone stark raving mad we won't abandon that victory.

Talking about how to organize our departure is almost as destructive as leaving would be. As long as we keep talking about removing ourselves from the picture in Iraq the local politicians will spend all their energies preparing for the full-blown civil war that will follow our departure.

We can't build Iraqi security forces if the Iraqis see those forces as assets to be secured for use in the coming civil war. We can't terminate troublemakers like Moqtada al Sadr if the powers that be are planning to rely on him for support when we depart. We can't even keep the Shiite dominated Iraqi government from gravitating toward Iran, which will remain in the region long after we go home.

If we want Iraqi partners to help us install and maintain a useful government in Baghdad we have to offer them something more than a one night stand. If we aren't committed to them they won't be committed to us and we won't be able to move forward together.

We are stuck in Iraq and we have to face that fact before we can have any hope of improving the situation there. Increasing our focus on training Iraqis and decreasing our focus on combat operations would be moving in exactly the wrong direction.

The recipe for victory in Iraq is simple. Establish that we are in charge there by killing a great many more people. This may take more troops. It might just take a shift in emphasis from politics to fighting. Try hard to ensure that the dead are enemies bearing arms, but remember that trying too hard to avoid collateral damage will only guarantee futility and frustration. Stop worrying about hearts and minds. As the old saying goes: "when you have them by the balls, their hearts and minds will follow." Get a good grip and hang on.

Make it clear by word and deed that we anticipate remaining in Iraq until the jihad burns out and the oil runs dry and that, in the mean time, there are strict limits on Iraqi sovereignty.

Building an International Consensus for Stability

The idea that there is a latent consensus for stability in the Middle East that will come to full flower in response to the right "diplomatic offensive" is preposterous. Syria and Iran pine for a stable, democratic Iraq the way farmers pine for drought and investors pine for a stock market crash.

Both countries are actively at war with us. They are killing our soldiers for the purpose of frustrating our Iraqi project. They are supporting terrorist organizations that want to kill Americans and will do so whenever they can manage it. Nations don't go to war when they believe their differences can be adjusted by mutual agreement. Once the fighting starts the parties don't have much to discuss until one side is beaten and sues for peace. No matter how you dress it up, asking Syria and Iran to help us retreat from Iraq would be capitulation.

The ISG report recommends a particularly cowardly and dishonorable surrender. It says that "the New Diplomatic Offensive" can only succeed if we move to resolve the Arab/Israeli conflict. It suggests we do this by convening yet another conference to negotiate "a final peace settlement . . . which would address borders, settlements, Jerusalem, the right of return, and the end of the conflict."

To translate from the arcane language of diplomacy, this means that we should persuade Israel to commit national suicide by disposing of all it's geographic buffers and opening its borders to a flood of hostile Arab immigrants. The upshot of any comprehensive "peace" deal Arabs would accept is perfectly predictable. Israel would cease to exist and millions of Jews would be murdered.

For sixty years the Muslim world has demonstrated over and over again that it does not and will not accept Israel's existence. Arabs will only accept a negotiated settlement if it advances their goal of destroying Israel and completing Hitler's final solution. James Baker and his cohorts know this; every sentient being on the planet knows it.

Talk of convening a peace conference to discuss a "Palestinian" right of return serves only one purpose. It tempts our Arab enemies to help us, at least in the short term, in exchange for the suggestion that we will aid and abet a second Holocaust. Baker and company would have been right at home in the Cliveden set.

Nobody connected with the ISG had the wit to see that if we serve Israel up to the Muslims as an appetizer we are sure to be the main course. Think about that next time you are tempted to feel any confidence in our political class.

We need to convince Iran and Syria to stop interfering in Iraq, but diplomacy has no chance of doing the job. On the contrary, suggesting that we should talk to them as part of the cure for our troubles in Iraq is like prescribing a large dose of Draino for an upset stomach. Syria and Iran are fighting us in Iraq because they believe we are too foolish and naive to fight back effectively. Along come the dotards of the ISG to demonstrate that we are even more foolish and naive than they could previously have imagined.

The only thing that might constrain Syria and Iran is fear of American power. The mullahs in Tehran and the eye doctor in Damascus need to see some tangible evidence that we are willing to crush them if they make themselves too inconvenient. If we reward them for killing our soldiers with a "New Diplomatic Offensive" they will only be inspired to kill more.

How could a bipartisan panel of elder statesmen suggest something as moronic (and oxymoronic) as a "diplomatic offensive" to cover our retreat from Iraq? Even making due allowance for senility, it boggles the mind.

James Baker and his over the hill gang are disconnected from reality as only VIP's can be. There is an international guild of self-important blowhards with members in every country. The members have a great deal in common with one another even though their countries do not. They are chauffeured about in similar vehicles and go to the same tailors in London. Naturally they tend to believe that the solution to any dispute between nations lies in getting the right self-important blowhards together to talk things out over a good meal.

This isn't a new phenomenon. Richard I struck up an improbable friendship with Saladin during the third Crusade. At one point he tried to resolve the dispute between Christendom and Islam by agreeing to marry his widowed sister Joanna to Saladin's brother Saphadin and set them up as joint monarchs of Jerusalem with guaranteed access to the holy sites for Christian pilgrims.

Apparently it never occurred to Richard that the gap between his people and Saladin's was much too wide to be bridged by a simple dynastic marriage. Saladin seemed to him like a decent guy and he thought they could do business. Joanna knew better. She flatly refused to marry outside her faith and the Church supported her. Richard had to sail for home with a brief truce instead of a grand bargain.

Richard was too self-important to grasp the limits of his own power to arrange things. The ISG has all the self-importance without any of the lion's heart.

We don't really need much from our leaders right now. They would be capable of dealing with our present situation if only they could recognize a war when they see one, distinguish enemies from friends and understand that you win a war by killing enemies.

This isn't a lot to ask, but it is vastly more than our political class seems capable of delivering.

J. Peter Mulhern is a frequent contributor to American Thinker.