December 9, 2006

December 9, 2006 | Commentary on Political Thought

Between Iraq and a hard spot

WASHINGTON - After reading the published report of the Iraq Study Group, picking the title for a critique of the independent bi-partisan assessment commissioned by the Congress proved a no-brainer. I call it the "good, bad and the ugly."

The report had a lot of sound suggestions. It had some pretty questionable recommendations. And the ugly reality is that even if all the good ideas are faithfully implemented, there is a real question whether the Iraqis will still be able to avoid a full-scale civil war and a horrifying humanitarian crisis.

The best thing about the report is its clear-eyed, sober assessment of conditions on the ground and the heavy lifting that has to be done to make things better. The report also acknowledges that there is no long-term U.S. military solution to the problems. Only Iraqis can secure the future of Iraq - and that will be a tough task.

The ISG made clear that the United States can best help by assisting in standing-up the Iraqi security forces and pressing the government to be better at addressing the issues that have prevented a national reconciliation of the major ethnic and political factions in the country and are fueling a downward-spiraling cycle of Sunni-Shia violence.

While the group's prescription is generally correct, it will fail unless the Iraqi government tackles all these tasks with equal vigor. Security won't improve without progress on the political front. Political progress will be meaningless if the government doesn't have a military that can protect the people. Without brave, forceful, fair and inclusive leadership from the Iraqis, the ISG solution just won't work.

In addition, the Bush administration can't just rubber-stamp the report.

Some of the proposals it outlines - such as reforming the police - would be very difficult. Some proposals might actually work against U.S. interests. And the ISG's diplomatic recommendations are particularly problematic. The group wants the United States to engage Iran and Syria. Both countries are lead by very bad people. There is nothing wrong with talking to your enemies - the United States conducted negotiations with the Soviet Union throughout the Cold War, after all - but we should be modest in our expectations that these countries will do anything to help the United States or the Iraqis. On the contrary, both could well use public diplomacy as an opportunity to make more mischief.

The ugly truth of the report is that regardless of what options the United States picks, Iraq will not turn into a land of milk and honey overnight. There is no silver-bullet solution to the problems in Iraq, and things will look bad for a longtime - even if the leaders in Iraq make the right choices.

Nevertheless, the ISG report offers an opportunity to put partisan bickering behind us and for the administration and its critics to leave politics at the water's edge. There are still reasonable measures that can be taken to help the Iraqis take responsibility for their future so they can avert large-scale civil war and a greater regional crisis.

As the report rightly notes, there are few good options.

Cutting and running would certainly precipitate a disaster. Having the U.S. military completely take over isn't a reasonable option either. American forces will leave Iraq sooner or later - how they leave, however, is important.

In the end, however, the most important influence on the course of events if Iraq will not be a report drafted in Washington, but the decisions of leaders on the ground in Iraq. They have to put their people first ahead of factions, personnel power and radical ideology.

James Carafano is Senior Research Fellow for National Security and Homeland Security at The Heritage Foundation and author of the new book "G.I. Ingenuity."

About the Author

James Jay Carafano, Ph.D. Vice President for the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for National Security and Foreign Policy, and the E. W. Richardson Fellow

First appeared in the Washington Examiner