Old Approach, New Report
From left to right Lee H. Hamilton, George W. Bush, James A. Baker III
The Iraq Study Group Report- The Way Forward -- A New Approach was an eye opener for the blind. The recommendations it put forward were all based on common sense, something the Bush administration lacks in abundance.
The long-awaited report from the bipartisan Iraq Study Group, co-chaired by former Secretary of State James A. Baker III and former congressman Lee H. Hamilton, said that the focus of U.S. troops in Iraq should shift from combat to training Iraqi soldiers and police, and that all combat brigades not necessary for force protection “could” be withdrawn by early 2008. The operative word here is “could”, the panel openly admits that the current situation is not the best in Iraq. America has found its self knee deep in a civil war that it incited and this report “could” have been the perfect way out. But when the report needed to be at its most authoritative it lacked the guts to draft a withdrawal programme. The members of the Iraq Study Group seemed to skirt around the topic of withdrawal but made up for that glaring omission by taking to task the objectives of the US Army currently.
The panel recommended shifting the focus of the 140,000 U.S. troops in Iraq from combat to training. A process the administration says has already begun. The Iraqi army should take more responsibility for security, but while the process is underway, the United States should embed substantially more U.S. military personnel in Iraqi units for advice and staff assistance, the panel said. Such a mission could involve 10,000 to 20,000 U.S. troops, compared with the 3,000 to 4,000 now involved in training and advisory roles.
But with good intentions come shady handshakes, the committee also proposes significant economic change in Iraq that culminates with their oil industry being privatised. Many allege that the Iraq Study Group (ISG) represents the interests of the US oil industry. James Baker's law firm has interests in debt repayment to Kuwait and other Gulf States. Lawrence Eagleberger (panel member of the study group) has ties to Halliburton and Phillips Petroleum, and is a former head of Kissinger Associates, a corporate consulting firm. Vernon Jordan (panel member of the study group) is a lawyer at Akin Gump which is closely associated with the Bilderberg Group. The expert working groups for the ISG include leaders of Bechtel, PFC Energy, and two representatives of Citigroup, Inc. The common consensus is that as soon as the Iraqi oil industry is privatised American oil companies will swoop in and take it over through the guise of “investment”.
While no one is overly unhappy with those suggestions (one wonders why!) the panel have made some radical suggestions, which may fall on deaf ears in the Bush administration. Their most important suggestion deals with peace and stability in the region acting as the catalyst for a return to normalcy in Iraq. The panel suggested that the United States should launch a new round of Middle East diplomacy, including a renewed effort to solve the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, aimed at building an international consensus for stabilising Iraq. As part of this initiative, they urged the Bush administration to break with its policy of not having high-level talks with Iran and Syria, though members of the commission admitted little hope that the two countries, long-time rivals of the United States, would be interested in joining the effort. But at least a step was taken in the right direction.
Possibly the most controversial part of the report for the Bush administration is the panel's call for a "diplomatic offensive" with a region-wide approach to stabilising Iraq. The report concluded that the major Middle East flashpoints Iraq, the Arab-Israeli conflict, Iran, Lebanon, the need for political reform, Islamic extremism and terrorism -- are all "intricately linked." Recommendation 16, for example, called for Israel to return the agree to peace with Israel, end meddling in Lebanon and Iraq, end aid for Hezbollah, help persuade Hamas to recognise Israel's right to exist and intervene to win the release of captured Israeli soldiers. It called for the new strategy to be launched by the end of December. The first step is to immediately organise an International Support Group bringing together all of Iraq's neighbors, most notably Iran and Syria, as well as all the Persian Gulf states, Egypt, the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council and the European Union.
Golan Heights to Syria, with U.S. security guarantees. In exchange, Syria should agree to peace with Israel, end meddling in Lebanon and Iraq, end aid for Hezbollah, help persuade Hamas to recognise Israel's right to exist and intervene to win the release of captured Israeli soldiers. It called for the new strategy to be launched by the end of December. The first step is to immediately organise an International Support Group bringing together all of Iraq's neighbors, most notably Iran and Syria, as well as all the Persian Gulf states, Egypt, the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council and the European Union.
The report has made 79 suggestions as to what can be done to ease the mess in Iraq, but for some it has all come a little too late. They have taken over nine months to compile the reports and since they started the situation on the ground has changed dramatically. While there was some semblance on control nine months ago, that has all gone out the window with the country in complete disarray. "the US doesn't rule Iraq any more" says Chris Toensing, executive director of the Middle East Research and Information Project in Washington. But their effort should be both lauded and laughed at the same time. They took nine months to realise America was fighting a losing war and in the end they came up with suggestions that every half baked political analyst had already given. One may rightly ask then, how were they successful? The fact that they got the attention of Bush and company (no pun intended) was their greatest victory. Five staunch Republicans on the study group put forward the findings, and that only strengthened its case. But now the real test lies with how Bush deals with the suggestions, what he accepts and what he rejects. With only two more years in office one wonders if he will finally admit that he was wrong, and take steps to correct the situation. The suggestions are out there, now all he needs to do is act on them.
(R) thedailystar.net 2006