UPI Editor Emeritus
Washington (UPI) Dec 07, 2006
It was a curious coincidence of history that saw the publication of the eagerly-awaited report of the Iraq Study Group on Dec. 6, the day before the anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. That attack, described by President Franklin Roosevelt as "a day that will live in infamy," was an American defeat that was followed 44 months later by the overwhelming U.S. victory and Japan's surrender.
And now Iraq is looking to be another American defeat, and the real question is whether this has been the opening skirmish in a much longer war. The Iraq War and occupation have now lasted longer than World War II, with no obvious end in sight and with hugely destabilizing spillover effects across the whole Middle East. One of the signal merits of the Iraq Study Group report, led by former Secretary of State James Baker and former chairman of the House International Relations Committee Lee Hamilton, is that it understands this wider perspective.
It is not easy to define what this longer war should be called. We know what it is against: Islamic extremism. We know what it is for; to help modernize and with luck to democratize the Middle East countries, to help them establish sustainable social, economic and political systems with the kind of growth that has seen countries like South Korea and Taiwan become mature industrial and high-tech democracies.
To get to the eventual goal from the wretched position in which the United States currently finds itself in Iraq is a very, very long stretch. But the Iraq Study Group has signaled the essential starting point which is the acknowledgement that current policies have failed, that the United States cannot fix this problem on its own, and that the Iraqis themselves and their neighbors are crucial players and stakeholders.
Put to one side the relatively small numbers of al-Qaida militants and non-Iraqis among the insurgents, and consider two essential truths. The first is that there are now four key groups in the Iraqi political mix; the Kurds, the Sunnis and the two rival factions among the Shiites. The first is the SCIRI, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, led by Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim, whose black turban marks him as a direct descendent of the Prophet Mohammad. During the years of Saddam Hussein's rule, the SCIRI was given sanctuary and support by Iran and one of the main differences between SCIRI and the loose federation of militias who make up Moqtada al-Sadr's so-called Mahdi Army is that Sadr presents himself as an Iraqi nationalist who is suspicious of Iran's ambitions in Iraq and of SCIRI's closeness to Tehran.
That brings us to the second uncomfortable truth. The rivalry between those two dominant forces within the Shiite community is one main reason why the current government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is so ineffective. And the weakness of the Iraqi government underlines the ominous introductory phrase in the ISG report, that progress can only come "if the Iraqi government moves forward with national reconciliation." So far, it has not even been able to impose a truce between the two Shiite factions.
So the ISG's proposal that the United States apply a lot of sticks as well as some carrots to get the Iraqi government to improve its performance looks less than realistic. The report says that "if the Iraqi government does not make substantial progress toward the achievement of the milestones of national reconciliation, security, and governance, the U.S. should reduce its political, military, or economic support for the Iraqi government."
In other words, if the Iraqi government does not do better, U.S. troops will start to leave. The problem is that the Iraqi government, given the ethnic and sectarian divisions and the SCIRI-Sadr rivalries among the Shiites, may not be able to increase its effectiveness since even the police and military units on which it will rely have themselves been thoroughly infiltrated by the militias.
The Group's long-trailed proposal that the United States should "immediately launch a new diplomatic offensive to building an international consensus for stability in Iraq and the region" sounds sensible. But in the current state of relations, anyone who thinks that the governments of Iran and Syria (let alone China and Russia) are going to help extricate the United States from this briar patch has probably been smoking something. A frightfully large group of countries is probably feeling a quiet satisfaction that the world's lone superpower and its all-powerful military have been taken down a peg or two.
If Iran and Syria are to help, the price they are likely to demand will be steep. Syria is likely to demand a free hand in Lebanon; Iran is likely to demand a free hand for its nuclear ambitions. And almost every other country in the region will demand that the United States make a much more determined effort to re-start the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, with the clear understanding that there should be real U.S. financial and political pressure on Israel to make concessions.
The Bush administration will not want to bow to such pressures and may be able to resist them. But it will not long be able to resist the domestic political pressure from a House and Senate controlled by the Democratic Party for the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq to begin. And the ISG report will be a crucial factor in that political confrontation in Washington, for three reasons.
First, the report legitimizes domestic opposition to the war and to the failing occupation. Men of unimpeachable patriotism have said the Iraq mission has gone badly wrong.
Second, the report reflects the political reality that U.S. troops are not going to be staying in Iraq in any great numbers after the next presidential election. So within two years, most of them will have left, and the various factions in and around Iraq now know that. They simply have to wait.
Third, the report is bipartisan, from the veteran Republican James Baker and the highly respected Democrat Lee Hamilton, buttressed by former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor (among others). This is the American Establishment's report, and now that they have declared they have had enough, the Bush administration will find precious little respectable support if the White House seeks to challenge it.
So the ill-starred Iraqi venture is drawing to an unsuccessful close. But what comes next? Remember that the importance of the defeat at Pearl Harbor was that it led to eventual victory. Pearl Harbor almost did the U.S. Navy a favor, by destroying obsolete battleships and paving the way for the fleets of aircraft carriers that finally won the war in the Pacific.
But there is precious little sign of a similar new technology that will pluck eventual victory from the jaws of the Iraqi defeat. There is even less sign, even in the Baker-Hamilton report, of the bipartisan political will to continue with the wider campaign to modernize the Middle East, nor of any bold new vision of how the war against Islamic extremism may be best waged.
And the worst news of all is that even as the United States starts to wash its hands of Iraq, the war against the Taliban in Afghanistan has turned sour again. There could be more defeats to come, and the victory of a stable, prosperous and democratic Middle East looks very far off.
earlier related report
The policy proposals appeared in the Iraq Study Group report that former U.S. Secretary of State James Baker III, and the former chairman of the House International Relations Committee Lee Hamilton published in Washington, Wednesday.
They said the United States "will not be able to achieve its goals in the Middle East unless (it)...deals directly with the Arab-Israeli conflict."
It advocated direct talks "With, by, and between Israel, Lebanon, Palestinians (those who accept Israel's right to exist), and Syria."
"The Israelis should return the Golan Heights," they added.
Olmert has indeed invited Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora for peace talks but was rebuffed. At an annual press conference in Tel Aviv, Thursday, he said he had no conditions for meeting Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. But Syria? That is another story.
Its actions, "Especially its subversive activity against the continued stability of the Lebanese regime, its continued support of the extremist Hamas ...do not suggest much chance for negotiations with the Syrians in the near future," Olmert said.
"I don't think the Syrians want war with us. We definitely don't want to fight them. This doesn't mean that the conditions that would allow us to negotiate have ripened," he added.
The issue has come up time and again in recent months. Over the past three years Syrian President Bashar Assad repeatedly called for peace talks. Some Israelis want their government to do so, too. The head of Tel Aviv University's department of Middle Eastern and African History, Professor Eyal Zisser, maintained peace would remove the threat of Syria's missiles. They can reach any point in Israel. It would weaken Hezbollah that receives its arms from Iran and Syria, and lead to a cessation of Syrian support for Palestinian "terrorist organizations" headquartered in Damascus. Hamas and the Islamic Jihad leaders are based in Damascus.
Retired intelligence Brig. Gen. Yossi Ben Ari, now Co-Director of the Strategic Affairs Unit in the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information, said Israel's losses in the summer war in Lebanon would seem negligible compared with the losses would incur in a war with Syria. If there is war, the sides will eventually sit to a negotiating table so why not do so before hostilities erupt, he asked.
Israelis have, for years, considered Syria a hostile, extremist, harsh, combative country. It never budged from its conditions for peace: A total Israelis withdrawal from the Golan Heights to the pre-1967 war lines. That would leave in its hands a strip of land it seized after the 1949 ceasefire agreement along the Sea of Galilee's northeastern shore. That, though small in territory, gave it access to the Sea of Galilee. When Israeli fishermen approached that area they were fired upon.
Several weeks ago Olmert was quoted as flatly opposing a withdrawal from the Golan.
Thursday's comments might be interpreted as a hint of readiness to do so, eventually.
"Two prime ministers, or even more, supported an extensive or even complete withdrawal from the Golan Heights," he said. Olmert cited Ehud Barak, Yitzhak Rabin and, "I think Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu." Netanyahu is now the hard-line leader of the opposition.
According to Knesset Member Avshalom Vilan of the dovish opposition Meretz Party, the list is longer. It includes also then Prime Ministers Shimon Peres and Ariel Sharon. All of them have "more or less" reached a formula for an arrangement that envisaged a withdrawal from the Golan for a full peace agreement, demilitarization, diplomatic relations at embassy level and open relations.
Olmert was clearly aware of this. "The question of what Israel is prepared to offer the Syrians has come up more than once," he said.
"The question that interests me is what would we get from the Syrians when we enter negotiations, if we enter negotiation?" Olmert continued. A senior official later told United Press International, "Everybody knows the price Israel would have to pay but Olmert believes there is no reason to say 'I'll pay the price' when the other side does not say they're willing to compromise."
The Baker-Hamilton recommendations advocated also "Strong support" for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, a national unity government, consolidating the cease-fire and, "Sustainable negotiations leading to a final peace settlement ... (a) two-state solution."
Olmert is ready for that, though not necessarily for the details. "I don't think even Jim Baker could compete with me in my efforts to start negotiations with the Palestinians," he declared.
Citing U.S., European Union, Russian and United Nations demands he said that if the Palestinians will have a government that renounces terror, recognizes Israel, honors past agreements with it as well as the internationally devised roadmap for peace, "I shall cooperate with it even if it will include Hamas members."
earlier related report
The 10-member bipartisan Iraq Study Group, headed by former GOP Secretary of State James Baker and former Democratic Congressman Lee Hamilton, also said that statistics complied by the U.S. military deliberately under-counted violence in Iraq.
"The standard for recording attacks acts as a filter to keep events out of reports and databases," found the group's report, adding that murders of Iraqis were often not counted as acts of violence by the U.S. military if the perpetrators could not be identified. "For example, on one day in July 2006 there were 93 attacks or significant acts of violence reported. Yet a careful review of the reports for that single day brought to light 1,100 acts of violence."
"Good policy is difficult to make when information is systematically collected in a way that minimizes its discrepancy with policy goals," concludes the report.
Calling the report's conclusions "troubling," Rep. Silvestre Reyes, D-Texas, who will chair the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence in the 110th Congress next year, said "One of my first actions ... will be to convene a series of comprehensive hearings" on the issue.
His Senate counterpart, Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., noted that the report "also correctly points to the shortcomings in human intelligence, language skills, and analytical resources," promising he would be "looking closely at the recommendations to determine if there is any way for Congress to assist the Intelligence Community in correcting these deficiencies."
One Rockefeller aide added that while U.S. agencies had a pretty good grip on what he called "The macro-level ... the political dynamics of the insurgency," he said intelligence was much weaker "at the tactical level, in figuring out who the cell leaders are, how they communicate and coordinate, how they relate to each other" and to other local leaders.
One particular weakness the report identified was in human intelligence, where it quoted "A senior commander" in Iraq as saying that human intelligence "has improved from 10 percent to 30 percent."
As intelligence analyst was quoted as saying that lack of language and cultural skills meant, "We rely too much on others to bring information to us, and too often don't understand what is reported back because we do not understand the context of what we are told."
"Clearly," the report goes on, "U.S. intelligence agencies can and must do better."
The report also states the knowledge U.S. intelligence has about "the organization, leadership, financing, and operations of militias, as well as their relationship to government security forces, also falls far short of what policy makers need to know."
But some agencies began pushing back against the report's findings Wednesday.
"We were told that there are fewer than 10 analysts on the job at the Defense Intelligence Agency who have more than two years' experience in analyzing the insurgency," the report's authors write.
"That statement is not accurate," said DIA Spokesman Don Black. "We have many, many more analysts with that experience or greater ... working the insurgency problem set."
Black added "I don't want to argue with the report. We are reviewing it."
Paul Hughes, a senior study group staffer, told United Press International that the figure had come from one of the people interviewed as part of the group's inquiry -- all of whom had been promised anonymity. He said the figure had not been checked with the agency, but the group stood behind the report.
The group concluded that U.S. agencies "must have a better personnel system to keep analytic expertise focused on the insurgency. They are not doing enough to map the insurgency, dissect it, and understand it on a national and provincial level."
Despite having allocated almost $2 billion this year to develop technology and other countermeasures to protect troops in Iraq against deadly road-side bombs, the administration has made no effort "to invest comparable resources in trying to understand the people who fabricate, plant, and explode those devices."
The study group recommends that the Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte and incoming Secretary of Defense Robert Gates should "devote significantly greater analytic resources to the task of understanding the threats and sources of violence in Iraq," and "institute immediate changes in the collection of data about violence ... to provide a more accurate picture of events on the ground."
It also recommends that the CIA should increase its personnel in Iraq to train their Iraqi counterparts, and should partner with Iraqi officials to set up a "counter-terrorism intelligence center for the all-source fusion of information on the various sources of terrorism within Iraq."
"This center would analyze data concerning the individuals, organizations, networks, and support groups involved in terrorism within Iraq. It would also facilitate intelligence-led police and military actions against them."
Hughes said the center might be modeled on the United States' multi-agency National Counter-Terrorism Center.
A CIA official authorized to speak to the media would say only that the agency was reviewing its finding and recommendations.
Iraq: The first techonology war of the 21st century
Time To Leave Iraq
Washington (UPI) Dec 06, 2006
More than two thousand years ago, a Spartan king resisted pressure to go to war saying, "I am less afraid of the enemy's strategy than I am of the mistakes we will make." Today, no one in the Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group would question the Spartan King's wisdom. It is painfully obvious that in Iraq, American power defeated itself.
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