Skip to content

Kaplan: Iraq Study Group being implemented

January 23, 2007

The most fascinating book I have read in a long time is Robert Kaplan’s Imperial Grunts.

I wish I had blogged about it when I read it but I just couldn’t put it down.

Kaplan, longtime correspondent for The Atlantic Monthly, has some complimentary things to say about the implementation of the Iraq Study Group:

The report, overseen by former Secretary of State James Baker and former Democratic Congressman Lee Hamilton, warned against a precipitous troop withdrawal from Iraq, and was open-minded regarding a temporary surge of modest scale in Greater Baghdad. President George W. Bush is doing that. The report called for a reinvigoration of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, as part of a regional diplomatic blitz. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice and Defense Secretary Robert Gates have been doing that. The report called for a reconstruction czar for Iraq, as part of a process of infusing the country with more economic aid. President Bush indicated he will do that. The report sought to give the President a swift kick in the rear end—toward a more dynamic policy on Iraq. The Baker-Hamilton report, together with the November election results, have accomplished that.

As for the 79 suggestions the media pokes fun at, many of them are quite sound. For example, Army Lt. Gen. David Petreaus told me months ago that because the Army promotes people for commanding American and not foreign troops, sometimes the least talented people get assigned to train Iraqi forces: therefore, the policy needed to be reversed. The Baker-Hamilton report advises the same thing. Former Counselor to Secretary Rice, Philip Zelikow, told me that the State Department required a more expeditionary mentality, with unaccompanied hardship posts filled first. The Baker-Hamilton report proposes something similar. And on and on it goes.

Do me a favor and read the whole thing. It’s pretty short. For people on the Left and Right who think that Bush has completely ignored the ISG, I think Kaplan makes a good case that he has in fact begun to implement some of the recommendations.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. Timmy C. permalink
    January 23, 2007 4:54 pm

    Congrats on pacification of the living room floor! Victory in our time!…also, is there a link to the whole Kaplan piece I missed in your post?

  2. Tim C permalink
    January 27, 2007 7:22 pm

    Hmmm… I’d say looking over the Kaplan piece that even he would admit that direct negotiations with Iran and Syria are not being done… (He seems to say, we’ll that is OK because noecons are going to negotiate with them later, after we hopefully win in Iraq)…

    So that is a big place where Baker Hamilton when one way and Bush went the opposite way…As the Study group report said:

    “The United States should immediately launch a new diplomatic offensive to build an international consensus for stability in Iraq and the region. This diplomatic effort should include every country that has an interest in avoiding a chaotic Iraq, including all of Iraq’s neighbors.”

    Busgh team response: ah, nope.

    He seems to ignore three other huge planks, that without me commenting on the wisdom of these choices, I’d just point out that the Bush surge/escalation is NOT in keeping with the core Baker Hamilton recommendations both in the letter and in the spirit:

    I. Role of Israel Peace Negotiations:

    “Bush had this idea that Baghdad was going to radically alter the Middle East,” says Henri Barkey, a former State Department specialist on Iraq now at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pa. “For him, the road to Jerusalem goes through Baghdad. Baker is saying you get to Baghdad through Jerusalem…”

    Again from the Report:

    “The United States cannot achieve its goals in the Middle East unless it deals directly with the Arab-Israeli conflict and regional instability. There must be a renewed and sustained commitment by the United States to 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 commitment must include direct talks with, by, and between Israel, Lebanon, Palestinians (those who accept Israel’s right to exist), and Syria.”

    Bush admin response: Uh, nope. Well, nothing that big. We’ll chat a bit more here and there.

    And two other biggies:

    II. Real Penalties on Malaki if he fails to meet our Benchmarks

    The commission wrote:

    During these high-level exchanges, the United States should lay out an agenda for continued support to help Iraq achieve milestones, as well as underscoring the consequences if Iraq does not act. It should be unambiguous that continued U.S. political, military, and economic support for Iraq depends on the Iraqi government’s demonstrating political will and making substantial progress toward the achievement of milestones on national reconciliation, security, and governance.

    Bush admin response: Hmmmmm. No can do. Instead we’ll go with vaugely worded comments with no concrete penalties and then say how we “won’t pull the plug” on them.

    and then of course, this huge one:

    III. Move troops into a primary training mode, and institute a phased withdrawal from Iraq by 2008

    Again to the report:

    RECOMMENDATION 40: The United States should not make an open-ended commitment to keep large numbers of American troops deployed in Iraq….

    The primary mission of U.S. forces in Iraq should evolve to one of supporting the Iraqi army, which would take over primary responsibility for combat operations. By the first quarter of 2008, subject to unexpected developments in the security situation on the ground, all combat brigades not necessary for force protection could be out of Iraq.

    Bush admin response: hell no.

    See Newsweek which talked about the Bush admin describing which parts of the reports bush was going along with:

    “I interrupted him and said that while we made 79 recommendations, three were the heart and soul of the report,” Panetta told NEWSWEEK, citing the drawdown of U.S. troops by next year, the need to penalize the Iraqi government if benchmarks were not met and the call for diplomacy with Iran and Syria. Hadley’s response—the three were not part of the Bush plan.”

    Lastly Baker and team where quite clear that their recommendations where holistic and dependent on each other, you couldn’t treat them “like a fruit salad” where you just pick what you like and ignore other key parts.

    Which is what I see that Bush did. He ignored in fact, ALL of the parts that were the “heart and soul” of the thing…


  3. January 27, 2007 11:25 pm

    I didn’t mean to imply that all the 79 recommendations were being implemented. That would be obviously insane to suggest. I think Kaplan makes a good case that some of them are in fact being implemented in some fashion. I was under the impression, form both the left and the right, that the whole thing had gone out the window. I don’t think that’s true. The pentagon also had its own report. Both of these things and more have gone into whatever is happening now.

    As for the “heart and soul” items: it is an absurd notion that Iran and Syria have a stake in a stable Iraq. Iran is in fact encouraging much of the bloodshed. It doesn’t surprise me that you take the ISG’s ovbservations as gospel, or that you think you can divine the attitude in which it was recieved, but I think Bush has actually listened to it’s recommendations at least a bit. That’s all I was going for.

    There’s a tendency by you and certain other commentors to always present the war and Bush’s leadership in it as some black-and white issue- not a typical mode of thinking for you. All I’m trying to do here is point out it’s little more nuanced than that.

  4. Tim C permalink
    January 29, 2007 8:06 am


    “It doesn’t surprise me that you take the ISG’s ovbservations as gospel, or that you think you can divine the attitude in which it was recieved…”

    When did I say I view the study group’s observations as gospel?

    And I wasn’t trying to devine the attitude of it’s reception, just in a cutsy way describing the actual public actions and statements of the Bush admin’s reactions to the “heart and soul” of the report.

    And I was trying to point out that factually Kaplan concentrated only on one item (negotiation with Syria and Iran) as the central divergence between the Pres and the Study group, which was not the case. There was divergence on each of the main pillars of the report.

    I grant that he listened to the study group “a bit.” But as the group itself said, it was a “take it or leave it” scenario, with it’s recommendations mean to work in concert with each other you can’t just take parts and say you’ve implemented it.

    Then Kaplan draws a false conclusion: “For the moment, he has co-opted enough of its recommendations for those in Congress who praised the report, and now denounce the President’s surge, to be labeled hypocrites.”

  5. January 29, 2007 9:27 am

    You say you don’t take the ISG recommendations as gospel, yet you do insist on a “take it or leave it” approach. That means if Bush doesn’t do it all, he’s forced to take the “leave it” approach. I think that’s an unreasonable expectation. It seems to me he has indeed implemented some of the ideas in a reasonable, wel-considered fashion. Is the input of the Pentagon report of no consequence? Is the opinion of Gen. Petraeus, who was so handily confirmed, of no consequence? The ISG is not the only voice to be listened to. If you think it is, and that every single idea they had needs to be embraced completely, then I don’t think “gospel” is a completely unfair term.

    You also ignored some facts I presented here, nameley that A) the ISG does contemplate supporting

    “We could, however, support a short term redeployment or surge of American combat forces to stabilize Baghdad, or to speed up the training and equipping mission, if the U.S. commander in Iraq determines that such steps would be effective.

    and B) that Silvestre Reyes, House Intel Chairmain, said in december that he would support the increase of “20,000 to 30,000 (troops) —for the specific purpose of making sure those militias are dismantled, working in concert with the Iraqi military.”

    Yet now it’s no deal. That’s eiter hypocrisy or changing your mind for no reason other than public opinion.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: