Please visit the new home of Majikthise at

« Why is Schumer touching Rangel's face? | Main | Voting is open for the 2006 Weblog Awards »

December 08, 2006

False hope and the Iraq Study Group

Spencer Ackerman has an excellent analysis of the sober wishywashiness of the Iraq Study Group:

The trouble is that the Iraq Study Group is ultimately providing false hope for an extended war. Its assessment is appropriately bleak. For example, "Key Shia and Kurdish leaders," the commission finds, "have little commitment to national reconciliation." Now, given that these leaders comprise the Iraqi government, one might think that would lead to the conclusion that Iraq is doomed to an intensifying sectarian conflict, and unless one believes it is in the United States' interest to pick a side in someone else's civil war, that means it's time to go home. Instead, the commission, despite its own better judgment in its report, is gearing up for what Hamilton called "one last chance at making Iraq work." It's hard to see what's responsible about this.

Essentially, the ISG recommends that the US continue the same strategy that we've been pursuing since the beginning of the occupation: Training Iraqi security forces. The report issues the seemingly bold suggestion that by 2008, Iraqi troops should replace US combat troops, and that US troops should shift to providing force protection for Americans training Iraqis. In other words this blue ribbon commission is demanding that our failed strategy start working better, and fast.

"No open-ended commitments" say the wise folks at the ISG, but what is this plan, if not open-ended?

Furthermore, re-branding American troops as "force protection" won't take them out of combat when they are targets and the entire country is a potential battlefield.

Training the Iraqi military sounds like a good idea, but it's not an end it itself. Armed services are tools of states. There's no point in training a military if there's no stable government to command it. (Cynics may be hoping the Iraqi army will eventually take over the entire country, but that's not the official line.)

So far, none of the Iraqi factions are committed to the US-backed government. As Spencer notes, each side thinks it has more to gain through civil war than through cooperation.

I hope Spencer is right that the ISG will shift the debate from whether we should get out of Iraq to how we should go about it.


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference False hope and the Iraq Study Group:


The US should leave immdiately.

The Iraqis had a functioning society before the US invasion. They're one of the most educated people in the world. They don't need a US presence; being occupied is stopping their society from functioning.

This is an account of how Americans are treating Iraqis by American translator Kayla Williams:

I’m familiar with the cages. I know about the interrogations. I know we are playing loud rock music day and night to irritate the prisoners. Anything to keep them awake. I know we make prisoners participate in chants of "I love Bush" or "I love America." Anything to piss them off. When the interrogator and one or two other HUMINT [human intelligence] guys coach me on my role for these interrogations, it is not what I expect. Once we get down to the cage area...I am told what they will want me to do. "We are going to bring these guys in. One at a time. Remove their clothes. Strip them naked. Then we will remove the guy’s blindfold. And then we want you to say things to humiliate them. Whatever you want. Things to embarrass them. Whatever you can say to humiliate them."


The prisoner enters the room with a blindfold on and his hands tied behind his back. Things happen like they said they would. They remove his clothes. They position him so he is facing me. When they remove the blindfold, I am the first person he sees.
The civilian interpreter and the interrogator (who also speaks Arabic) mock the prisoner. Mock his manhood. Mock his sexual prowess. Ridicule the size of his genitals. Point to me. Remind him that he is being humiliated in the presence of this blond American female.


I am prompted to participate. To mock this naked and crying man.
What do I say? What can I say?
"Do you think you can please a woman with that thing?" I ask, gesturing.
I have no aptitude for this work. I prove almost immediately that I am no good at this.
I tell him that he had better tell us what we want to know, or we won’t stop. But I am almost feeling pity.


Soldiers flick lit cigarette butts at the prisoner.
It’s one thing to make fun of someone and attempt to humiliate him. With words. That’s one thing. But flicking cigarettes at somebody—like burning him—that’s illegal.
It’s a violation of the Geneva Conventions.
They smack the prisoner across the face.
These actions definitely cross the line.


When it’s over after one more prisoner and a couple of hours, I tell the interrogator that I do not want to do this again.
Then I tell him that what we are doing to the prisoners in these cages is a violation of the Geneva Conventions...I tell him it’s illegal to burn prisoners—or smack them.
He does not appear surprised or bothered by what I say.
"Yes," he says. "But you have to know that these people are criminals. This is the only way to deal with them. You know these people only respect strength, power. Under Saddam it was so much worse for them. They’ll never listen to us unless we play rough. Besides, the terrorists don’t follow the Geneva Conventions—so why should we?"

A lot of the evaluation of the ISG depends on how you interpret the statement "We shoudl be mostly about by march 2008". Ideally, it means "get the Iraqis as ready as we can get them by 2008, because that's when we are leaving" but more likely it means "We will leave when the Iraqis are ready, and we predict that will be in 2008."

For those of us who moniter rightwing media, I can tell you that that rightwingers absolutely HATE, and I mean HATE, what we used to call "The Baker Report" (and as a meme and frame we should get back to it, because it's really more truthful) but what in now refered to as the "ISG Report." Hugh Hewitt (rightwing nut extrordinaire) is tearing his hair out, and admitted on air that he is "depressed." Now, if you ask me, that's always a good sign.

Well, this is a bit like a terminal cancer patient going to crystal healing sessions, and drinking mushroom tea. Nobody in Washington is apparently ready to face the fact that there's nothing we can do.

Oh, they're fully aware there's nothing we can do. The point of all this kabuki is to allow the muckety mucks to say "we did everything we could" when the shit really hits the fan.

Cass -

Keith Ellison is the Congressman-elect representing Minneapolis, MN.

He writes:

"I am calling for an immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq. I opposed the war before it began; I was against this war once it started and I am the only candidate calling for an immediate withdrawal of troops."

A month from now, we'll have at least one person in Washington who wants immediate withdrawal.

It doesn't matter, in any case. We're all held hostage now to the fears and delusions of one neurotic man-child, and James Baker is nearly as helpless over this as the rest of us.

Its true, Eric, there are a few, and all honor to them. But to the media and the Powers That Be, Mr Ellison and others like him are still upstarts and hippies.

In the big picture, does it even matter if we leave or stay? Imagine the utilitarian calculation: if we stay, another 500,000 people will die over a ten year occupation; if we leave 500,000 people will die in a bloodbath that lasts a few years. Either way, a heap of corpses. Sure, in the latter case, none of the bodies are ours, but in the big picture, that shouldn't matter.

Remember republicans bashed Clinton for the 1999 Kosovo War. A war that is still going on today. Stupid George Bush Jr. the other day said Iraq is the first war of the 21st centurty. He's a damn liar! Afghanistan started before Iraq. Kosovo is still considered a War. Kosovo is the first war of the 21st centurty. Bush is so full of lies it's sickening. Not to mention republicans complained that we spend 2 billion a year on Kosovo. They called 10 billion spent on the Yugoslavian Wars "expensive". They said Kosovo is going to be like vietnam. I read an article by some republicans complaining that 2 soldiers died in Kosovo and the media diden't pick it up. Comparing Clinton's lies to Bush's lies is like comparing an elephant to a chevy engine! Republicans and anyone who compares Clinton's lies to Bush's lies in a lunatic! The economy isn't so great either. Having a quantity of jobs doesen't mean the quality of jobs is great. Republicans love slave labor.

Well, this is a bit like a terminal cancer patient going to crystal healing sessions, and drinking mushroom tea. Nobody in Washington is apparently ready to face the fact that there's nothing we can do.

Posted by: Cass


True--and Sven, I can see what you're saying, but I think you should define "they." I don't know what George W. Bush "knows."

This is one reason why we counseled against Iraq in the first place. "Easily in, but not easily out, as the lobster said in the lobster pot," to quote CS Lewis. We knew that they'd have to extricate themselves eventually, but that that would be extremely difficult, and impossible without losing us a lot of face.

"Training the Iraqi military sounds like a good idea, but it's not an end it itself."
in fact, neither is it a means to anything desirable. that the "training" of the iraqi military is one of the primary strategic recommendations in the ISG is unthinkable. it has been clear for some time now that the iraqi military is composed more of sectarian fighters who want some weapons training than of nationalist iraqis who want to fight for their "freedom". in the iraqi police force, sunnis have been vetted, and it's essentially a shi'ite death squad.
(also, if the american military is having no luck stopping these armed militias, how exactly is the poorly equipped and poorly trained iraqi military supposed to do it.)
any "solution" to the crisis in iraq which involves the iraqi military or the iraqi police is a non-starter. that "solution" is dead on arrival. it has literally no chance of success. the ISG report is a failure, primarily because it fails to address (among other things) exactly this impossibility.

Good point, Utica. At this point, we seem to be producing a better class of death squad.

I'd say even Bush understands the Most Obvious Fact in the World. The only matter to be resolved is: Who will take the first bite of the big shit sandwich?

We may soon have to face this fact: With the midterm elections over, and George Bush already a lame duck, the Iraq war is no longer an urgent problem to anyone on the Hill who matters. The Democrats are in no hurry to end things because it will benefit them if Iraq is still a mess in '08; just as they did this fall, they'll bitch about the war without explicitly promising to end it at any particular time. George Bush has already run his last campaign and he's not about to voluntarily fuck up his legacy with a premature surrender or a humiliating concession to Syria or Iran. At least publicly, John McCain is going to head into '08 siding with those in the military who believe the problem is a lack of troops.

For the Iraq disaster to end, someone among these actors is going to have to make a difficult decision -- admit defeat, invite a bloody civil war, lose face before a pair of rogue terror-supporting states -- and it's obvious that none of them is ever going to do that, not until there's absolutely no choice.

I don't think Bush or his remaining followers understand what's going on. American invincibility is for them a matter of religious faith, and they'll never allow themselves to believe anything but liberal treachery could bring them down.

The comments to this entry are closed.