Thursday, December 07, 2006

The Iraq Study Group: TPV analysis, Part I

I have made my way through approximately 2/3 of the Iraq Study Group Report, and I am overflowing with ideas, thoughts, and commentary, which I plan to post intermittently over the next couple of days. I'll begin, however, with what thus far seems to be the most important proposal in the Report.

The ISG, unlike the President, correctly identifies the central problem in Iraq: sectarian Sunni-Shiite violence stemming from the failure of "national reconciliation." (Incidentally, Al Qaeda is relegated to a bit player in the Iraqi drama -- I'll have more to say about this later.) The Report's primary recommendation -- "the new way forward" or the "new approach" -- is that the U.S. should initiate a "New Diplomatic Offensive" to promote reconciliation and stem the violence withing Iraq. Although the details are somewhat murky, the NDO essentially consists of a coalition of key regional players -- more, much more, on this momentarily -- who will provide "regional and international initiatives and steps to assist the Iraqi government in achieving certain security, political and economic milestones."

Now, TPV readers, I ask you to make what I will call Wildly Optimistic Assumption #1: Even though the Bush Administration has shown an incredible hostility toward international diplomacy, and seems uniquely incompetent at forging international consensus, I want you to assume that the US will embrace and pursue the New Diplomatic Offensive. (Leave aside, if you will, whether a diplomatic effort should use military jingoistic terms like "offensive.)

Wait, I'm not finished. I will now ask that you make Wildly Optimistic Assumption #2: We are going to assume, going forward, that the NDO, if properly implemented, will actually work. In reality, of course, we have no idea if the Sunnis and Shiites will respond to external pressure by regional players -- they may want their civil war regardless -- but we will assume, optimistically, that this is not the case, and that if properly implemented, the NDO will significantly reduce the ongoing bloodshed.

Back to the Report: the second critical recommendation, closely related to the first, is that the United States should spearhead an effort to create an Iraqi International Support Group to support the NDO. Despite its name, the IISG is not in fact a coalition of psychologists and faith healers. Instead, I can only describe it as a "Middle Eastern United Nations," consisting of (and here I'll quote the report directly): "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." (p. 49)

Yes, Iraq is so important, its mentioned twice! Typos aside, however, the critical -- and controversial -- proposal buried withing the IISG recommendation is to include Iran (and to a slightly lesser extent Syria), our least favorite countries at the moment. The ISG recognizes that dealing with these countries is "controversial," but adopts the Kissinger-realistic school approach of "engaging adverseries and enemies to try to resolve conflicts . . . consistent with [U.S.] interests." As a result, Iran and Syria should be engaged in diplomatic dialogue "without preconditions."(p. 50)

Right now, let's focus on Iran (more on Syria tomorrow). According to the ISG, Iran is the primary player in the conflict, and one that has the "most leverage" in Iraq. Participation of the neighboring Sunni states in the IISG , such as Saudi Arabia and Turkey, is tied largely into their concerns about Iran's growing influence in the region. Thus, while acknowledging that Iran is a "problematic" state to engage with, the importance of their participation in the IISG seems critical to the success of the New Diplomatic Offensive. This is why the Report emphasizes the need to engage "without preconditions," i.e., without requiring Iran to give up its nuclear program as a condition of participating in the Support Group.

The realists within the ISG know, of course, that this is an anathema to Bush and the neocons. Indeed, Bush has already signalled he's not interested in engaging Iran, thus (implicitly if not explicitly) undercutting a key component -- perhaps the key component -- to the NDO recommendation. Nonetheless, I am going to ask the heroic of TPV readers, and ask that you make Wildly Optimistic Assumption #3: Bush changes his mind. (I know, you just dropped your coffee. I'll wait a moment.) I want you to assume that Bush decides that, just mayber, he doesn't have all the answers, and thus he decides to follow the Report's recommendation and invite Iran into the Support Group without preconditions. Iran's nuclear program is left for a later to day to discuss.

Ok, to recap our asumptions: (1) We believe the New Diplomatic Offensive will work. (2) We expect the Bush Administration will form the Iraqi International Support Group. (3) Iran will be invited to join the IISG without preconditions.

Now, assuming all that, what does the Report tell us will likely happen? "Our limited contacts with Iran's government lead us to believe that its leaders are likely to say they will not participate in diplomatic efforts to support stability in Iraq. They attribute this reluctance to their belief that the United States seeks regime change in Iran. Nevertheless, as one of Iraq's neighbors Iran should be asked to assume its responsibility to participate in the Support Group. An Iranian refusal to do so would demonstrate to Iraq and the rest of the world Iran's rejectionist attitude and approach, which could lead to its isolation." (p. 52)

In other words, even if we make three wildly unrealistic assumptions, it won't matter because Iran won't participate anyway. Because of its refusal, Iran will be further diplomatically isolated, and as a result, will continue to fund Shiite militias and stir the Sunni insurgency -- surprise! Bet you didn't know they were funding both sides! -- because "Iran sees it in its interest to have the United State bogged down in Iraq . . . " (p. 52) And without Iran's participation, of course, the other regional states will have little to no interest in participating in a one-sided diplomatic offensive that asks them to make great sacrifices while requiring nothing of the largest regional power.

Or, to put it succinctly, we're fucked.


Well, didn't take long for WOA #3 to get shot down. President Bush, moments ago:

“If people come to the table to discuss Iraq they need to come understanding their responsibilities to not fund terrorists, to help this young democracy survive, to help with the economics of the country.

“And if people are not committed,” the president added, “if Syria and Iran is not committed to that concept, then they shouldn’t bother to show up.”


Let me talk about engaging Iran.

We have made it clear to the Iranians that there is a possible change in U.S. policy, a policy that's been in place for 27 years. And that is that, if they would like to engage the United States, that they've got to verifiably suspend their enrichment program.

We've made our choice. Iran now has an opportunity to make its choice.

In other words, we aren't going to engage without preconditions. Up yours, Iraq Study Group!


Anonymous Nic said...

Seems receptive...


"I think it was correct to analyse that the problem is political. It's natural to have talks with parties who are using Iraq as a place to settle scores among themselves.

If the Americans reached a common agreement with the Syrians, Iranians and all the other international players with the involvement of the Iraqi government then it should have a positive impact because the bulk of the reasons why Iraq is deteriorating are external."

11:25 AM  
Blogger Johnbai3030 said...

But even if the situation is fucked... we can at least make Iran look bad, right? That seems like a worthy goal to Bushco.

11:28 AM  

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