ISG: ideas for a strategic blunder?

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ISG: ideas for a strategic blunder?

11 Dicembre 2006

The Iraqi Study Group (ISG) has issued its recommendations on the main points the US administration needs to address in tackling the chaos of present-day IRAQ.
Bipartisanship and realism have been the underlying themes of the ISG report which aims at assessing the military, political and economic situation of Iraq and providing some hints for a change of strategy.
The substance of the report does not differ from the public and private discussions on the matter: it merely certifies them.

The deterioration of  Iraq’s internal security , according to many military experts, due to the lack of an adequate number of troops on the ground, the inability of the local government to bring concrete improvements to the Iraqi people and the consequent state of anarchy that see violence coming from both external and internal forces including rogue criminals are, for many commentators, the tragic consequences of US policies that are unable to change the course of events, at least for the moment.
Many Democrats in Washington D.C however believe that it is not politically viable anymore to “stay the course”, position that still has President Bush’s backing, and therefore they suggest a “benchmarked phased withdrawal”, in effect an exit strategy. 

The not so subtle idea that one gets reading the report is that the United States is pondering on the possibility  to place the whole responsibility for running the country on the back of the weak and not yet up-to-the-task Iraqi Government. Those who propose this option argue their point by affirming that the reason why the Iraqi government is so inefficient is due to the still large military presence of the US  and therefore Americans ought to leave the country sooner rather than later.
Moreover that would mean turning on its head the entire Bush policy in the region, an intriguing political opportunity for Democrats who have increasingly gathered momentum in the American public opinion and have recently taken back control of both House and Senate last November thanks, as many commentators have suggested, to their criticism towards the handling of the war so far (even though most Democrats voted in favour of the Iraq war in 2003).

However the inherent risk in this argument is that the political bickering in Washington D.C that evidently has not stopped even in this allegedly new bipartisan climate, may well hurry the US not only out  of Iraq but it might also reduce dramatically  America’s influence in the entire region.
That is not an option any realist  thinker could easily even take into consideration.
A new diplomatic effort by the Bush Administration to engage in meaningful discussions with Iraq’s neighbours, including Syria and Iran, as suggested by the ISG,  should be welcomed.
But why should the Iranians or the Syrians be forthcoming when they learn from American media that all they need to do to get the USA out of Iraq is to wait?

Is an Iraq divided by sectarian lines, as suggested by Senator Biden, a viable solution for the interests of the United States when it is highly possible that this arrangement would enhance Iran’s position in the Gulf?
President Bush in his last two years in office is in  the very uncomfortable position of deciding on whether he has to sacrifice all or part of  his ambitious goal of transforming the Middle East by pushing for some more representative governments in  the place of present autocracies in order to save the traditional interests of the United States  in the region. Interestingly to do this he needs to keep a very close eye not only on what goes on in Mesopotamia and its surroundings but also in the dark corridors of Washington D.C.
Colin Powell’s Pottery Barn dictum on the Iraq war is unfortunately still appropriate: once you break it you own it; Democrats or Republicans alike.