Having read the national bestselling paperback The Iraq Study Group Report, I am not so convinced by much of what I am reading about it from writers on the left. Many progressives have interpreted the document’s real message as a call for “Stay the Course Lite” or as a not-so-cloaked argument for privatizing Iraq’s massive petroleum reserves. (Of course the centrality of oil in all of this should never be in doubt, but the situation in Iraq has spun out of control in ways that go far beyond privatization schemes. And of course the ISGR is predicated on salvaging US imperial power, redeploying it and rebuilding. Pointing out such things is like “discovering” that the sun again came up in the east.)
Nor are the pundits of the gray center getting it: They seem bogged down in the report’s seventy-nine suggestions. Shift US troops to advisory roles? Will Iran come to the table in good faith?
In a strange inverted fashion, I am most compelled by the readings that have emerged from the far right. They understand the document for what it is: an abject admission of total failure. Rush Limbaugh summed it up best when he mocked the document as “The Iraq Surrender Group Report.”
Limbaugh is totally correct. That’s what it is: a plan for defeat with honor. To put the report in very simple terms, its message is: The United States got its ass kicked, time to go. Or, if you prefer a direct quote: “The ability of the United States to shape outcomes is diminishing. Time is running out.” And later they ponder how to “avert catastrophe.”
All of the report’s suggestions flow from that basic understanding. And though it is written in polite, obfuscating Beltway vernacular, the report offers up a devastating critique of the Bush Administration’s Middle East foreign policy. Most provocative, it correctly links Iraq’s meltdown to a solution in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; these days that sort of suggestion is downright subversive. The right-wingers hate this report so passionately because they actually understand what it is saying.
The report criticizes Bush on a number of key topics. It notes the lack of Arabic speakers in the Green Zone and the lack of any contextual understanding of the insurgency: For more than two years, the Pentagon has had very few analysts who have been working on knowing the enemy. It mentions that the civilian leadership has badly alienated the military leadership.
The report does the basic service of laying out a who’s who of key Iraqi leaders. It discusses the vexing problem of federalism, sectarianism and partition–and rightly bucks the Galbraithian proposal that if you just cut the mess up into three parts, it’ll quiet down. (In the end Ambassador Peter Galbraith may see the future correctly, but the process of partitioning Iraq would be apocalyptically violent and is not something to wish for.)
On the issue of reconstruction, the report notes that “serious questions remain about the capacity of the U.S. and Iraqi governments.” Think about the first part of that for a moment. It goes on to add: “The coordination of assistance programs by the Defense Department, State Department, United States Agency for International Development, and other agencies has been ineffective. There are no clear lines establishing who is in charge of reconstruction.” The $21 billion already spent is presented as a total waste; the report describes the still appalling lack of basic services.