December 6, 2006 | National Review Online

Preliminary Thoughts

The Iraq Study Group’s approach seems consistent with what we’ve heard it would be: negotiate with Iran and Syria, pressure Israel for concessions in the hope that our enemies will be appeased and become malleable, and make Iraq principally responsible for dealing with threats within its borders, including the continuing presence of al Qaeda.

The report is very unrealistic in many particulars, but entirely reasonable in others.  Here are some preliminary thoughts.

Iraq, the ISG finds, is incapable of achieving “national reconciliation … on its own.”  This observation, though seemingly obvious, suggests a rudimentary question:  In what sense, then, is Iraq a nation?  What makes a people a “nation” is its citizens’ view of themselves as a single body politic with a common destiny.  If outside parties have to force unity, how hopeful should we be that Iraq has a future as Iraq?

According to the ISG, the way forward for the U.S. is not to fight Iran and Syria.  It is to negotiate with them. (Side-note: Although ISG executive summary does not portray Iran’s actions in Iraq as acts of war against the United States, it does acknowledge that Iran is responsible for “the flow of arms and training to Iraq,” which, as noted below, the ISG hopes Iraq will “stem.”)  Iran and Syria, the ISG suggests, could be persuaded to help us in Iraq because, notwithstanding that they have assiduously destabilized the situation for three years running, they are profoundly interested in having a stable Iraq.  “No country in the region,” the ISG believes, “will benefit in the long term from a chaotic Iraq.”  Even if we assume for argument’s sake that this is so, the actions of Iran and Syria certainly demonstrate that they believe they will benefit in the long term from an Iraq that is chaotic for at least a while.

The ISG says:  “Iran should stem the flow of arms and training to Iraq, respect Iraq's sovereignty and territorial integrity, and use its influence over Iraqi Shia groups to encourage national reconciliation….  Syria should control its border with Iraq to stem the flow of funding, insurgents and terrorists in and out of Iraq.”  The ISG does not appear to proffer what concessions it believes the United States should make in order to get Iran and Syria to take these helpful actions.

Implicitly, though, it seems the concessions the ISG has in mind should be made by … Israel.  Despite the fact that our primary enemy in the region, radical Islam, is animated by an ideology (which does not appear to be addressed by the ISG) that provides reasons aplenty, having nothing to do with the Israeli/Palestinian dispute, for opposing the United States, the ISG takes this opportunity to declare:  “The United States cannot achieve its goals in the Middle East unless it deals directly with the Arab-Israeli conflict and regional instability.”

Thus, we are told, the U.S. must push for “a comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace on all fronts: Lebanon, Syria and President Bush’s June 2002 commitment to a two-state solution for Israel and Palestine.”  This can only be done by negotiating with Syria, Lebanon, and those Palestinians who accept Israel’s right to exist.

The ISG does not appear to mention that it is dubious Syria accepts Israel’s right to exist, nor that a defining purpose of the Hezbollah faction dominating today’s Lebanon is to destroy Israel.

Neither does the ISG explain how the Palestinians, having by a thin margin chosen Hamas (dedicated to Israel’s destruction) over Fatah (similarly, albeit less obviously, dedicated, and with a long history of trying to bring about Israel’s destruction), have done anything either to merit their own state or to inspire confidence that such a state would co-exist peacefully with Israel.  Just that there must be a two-state solution.  Palestinian terrorism (vigorously supported by Iran and Syria, among others) and its ideological causes do not appear to be addressed.

The ISG does not tell us what concessions Israel should be prepared to make to its mortal enemies.  It is, for example, an inescapable fact that, in any negotiations, Palestinians will insist (as they always have) on a “right of return” that would, in effect, destroy Israel.  It is also unavoidable to note that the Palestinians have an extensive history of promising to crack down on terrorism and then not doing so — such that beginning a new round of negotiations with them would necessarily forgive (which is to say, reward) this most crucial of abdications (which is to say, methodical tactics).

In connection with Iran, the ISG also recommends that its “nuclear programs should continue to be dealt with by the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany.”  In connection with those negotiations, the United States, of course, agreed to offer Iran regional security assurances, access to capital markets, direct investment, high-technology, civil aviation assistance, energy assistance, telecommunications assistance, agricultural assistance, and other “carrots” — with no apparent requirement that terror facilitation be ended and with any conceivable “sticks” at the whim of Russia and China.  We now know that Iran responded to this overture by backing Hezbollah’s war against Israel, and that Russia and China have no interest in punishing Iran for its nuclear development.  Having taken the measure of the five-plus-one coalition, Iran has naturally continued building its nukes, in addition to other provocations.  The ISG does not explain what it is about these negotiations that lead it to believe they should continue.

“The primary mission of U.S. forces in Iraq” should not be to defeat al Qaeda.  Rather, it “should evolve to [the mission] of supporting the Iraqi army, which would take over primary responsibility for combat operations.”  The ISG envisions that the terror network will continue to operate in Iraq while Americans hand over primary responsibility to the Iraqi army.  The report states:  “A vital mission of those rapid reaction and special operations forces [in which U.S. troops would embed with Iraqi units] would be to undertake strikes against al-Qaida in Iraq.”  Essentially, it would be the task of the Iraqis to defeat al Qaeda, with the U.S. in a subordinate, support role.

On a helpful note, the ISG urges that “the United States should provide additional political, economic and military support for Afghanistan, including resources that might become available as combat forces are moved out of Iraq.”  The situation in Afghanistan is worsening, with the jihadists resurgent.  The ISG is quite right to suggest that it needs our sustained attention and redoubled efforts.

Pretty depressing stuff.

Andrew C. McCarthy is a senior fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.