Thursday, December 07, 2006

First impressions about the Iraq Study Group's report

I haven't read the report yet, but my impressions from the media's reporting about it is that isn't such a piece of bad news for President Bush as you might have been led to believe. The main recommendations of the report seem to be that the United States should reduce its troop committment to Iraq to a rump force that would be devoted to training the Iraqi military forces; that the United States should open negotiations with Iran and Syria and the other regional powers over the future of Iraq; and that a final settlement to the Arab-Israeli conflict should be negotiated in these talks as well.

My first impression is that Democrats are heralding this report primarily because it opens diplomatic relations, of a sort, between the United States and Iran. This has been a standing Democratic goal since the Clinton Administration, but it doesn't look quite as wimpy when you have the claim of stabilizing Iraq to use as a cover story.

A more comprehensive judgement is that, in chess parlance, this is what is called "exchanging queens". The report basically suggests trading a United States military force large enough to topple a dictator in exchange for Iran's terror network and it's Palestinian allies. This is a testament to the fact that the Washington political culture realizes that enough United States troops stationed in the Middle East to be a threat to Iran can make a useful bargaining counter. This also gives the ISG report a rather limited shelf-life. Despite Jonah Goldberg's suggestion that keeping troops in Iraq until 2008 is now the "mainstream" view, I woudn't make any bets that Democrats are going to wait until anywheres near 2008 (or even next week) to start pushing for a faster withdrawal than the ISG report recommends.

For the time being the ISG report is basically the United States telling Iran "Let's make a mutual draw-down of forces in the Middle East." Compared to the United States' pre-2003 message to Iraq, namely "Please don't hurt us.", the ISG report thus makes a certain amount of sense. Unfortunately, it's the kind of sense that the exactly analagous report from 1967 or so would have made to the Hubert Humphreys of the world. The report also underscores a silver lining to the Bush Administration's conduct of operations in Iraq: Iran has not been able to produce a Middle Eastern "Tet offensive" against American forces.

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