More On The ISG Report

Richard Fernandez of the great Belmont Club blog has an interesting analysis of the Iraqi Study Group report. I won’t have time to read it (it’s finals time, and my attention is on Torts, Contracts, and Civil Procedure for the next two and a half weeks), but from what I’ve been able to skim through, his analysis is spot on.

He makes a very important point:

The normal approach to a difficult problem would be to bound or simplify it. But the ISG recommendations try the exact opposite: it adds complexity to the already complex situation.

There are two obvious problems with this approach. First is that Iraqi diplomatic success becomes dependent on the contingent. How can the ISG group have any reasonable expectation of promising the Iraqi International Support Group a lasting Israeli-Palestinian peace? Waiting to spend a check that’s been in the mail for decades is testimony to optimism, perhaps more optimism than Iraq has been allowed. Second, and of more concern, is that a regional forum runs the risk of regionalizing the national conflicts in Iraq. Each party, Turkey, the Gulf States, Iran and Syria, will seek to maximize its interests within the new framework the ISG wants to establish. And since each won’t get it all in the nature of things, they’ll do what they always do: intimidate and scheme, but on a regional scale. What the Iraqi International Support Group will unquestionably do is legitimize regional interests in Iraqi internal affairs.

The Israeli-Palestinian problem is a diplomatically intractable problem. The only solution is for one side or the other to win so convincingly that there’s no question as to who is the loser. That isn’t going to happen: the Israelis won’t, the Palestinians can’t. Making success on Iraq contingent upon that conflict is like trying to argue that you’ll clean the kitchen when you get a pony. It’s not a realistic precondition to success, and the ISG comes off as incredibly naïve in that regard.

We’re not going to find a negotiated settlement to the Israeli-Palestinian crisis. Iran and Syria have no interest in talking. The Arab League isn’t going to bail us out. Instead of taking a strong position, the ISG would have us grasp at straws — please, anyone, get us out of this mess! The real world doesn’t work that way, and while it isn’t surprising that a group of lawyers and bureaucrats would come up with such solutions, the Middle East is the domain of butchers and fanatics, and has been for thousands of years. The argument that we can sit at a table with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and “dialogue” our way out of this situation is a position that can only be held with someone who possesses a fundamental lack of knowledge about the region. The fact that the ISG has never been on the ground in Iraq in a truly useful way makes them completely oblivious to the realities of the situation.

Ultimately, no one’s going to save us. The Iraqis and the coalition are going to have to solve this mess through our own actions, not wasteful diplomatic overtures to our enemies. Either we have the resolve of a Churchill or the naïve weakness of a Chamberlain. Baker and the rest of the ISG have shown themselves to be largely on the side of the latter.

Had the ISG wanted to come up with realistic solutions, they should have asked Iraqis to write the report. They’re the ones who have to live in Iraq, and they are the ones who know the region best. They’re far more in tune with the realities of Iraq and the region than a bunch of Washington insiders.

The ISG is pure Washington — a nice summary of the problem containing no solutions designed by committee to come to a blithe “consensus” that solves nothing. It’s another example of how Washington values process above outcomes. It’s suggestions are completely untenable, and the reality is that the ISG will shed quite a bit of heat, but very little light in the days ahead.

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