Thursday, February 1, 2007

The Bush Administration versus the Iraq Study Group

Republican Politics, American Style

Published on February 8th 2007 in Metro Eireann
By Charles Laffiteau

The Bush administration has done its best to push the Iraq Study Group’s (ISG) report off the front pages of America’s newspapers and into the background, largely because it was extremely critical of the administration’s strategies and tactics in both Iraq and the entire Middle East region. While James Baker succeeded in toning down the final report and watering down the panel’s recommendations, to make it more palatable for the President to swallow, it was nonetheless a slap in the face for the Bush administration. After all, this bipartisan panel was made up of equal numbers of respected Republican and Democratic party elders with many years of experience in the US Government’s executive, judicial and legislative branches.

The ISG members were reportedly “shocked’ and “dismayed” by what they witnessed when they went to visit Iraq and by the Bush administration’s insistence that they had the situation there under control. The ISG concluded that what the Bush administration was saying did not jive with their own independent investigation, by calling the situation in Iraq “grave and deteriorating”.

Following the release of the final ISG report, President Bush finally admitted, for the first time, that the situation in Iraq was bad and that a “new approach” was needed to deal with the worsening sectarian violence there.

But President Bush, while also promising to take the report seriously, made a point of saying he would not accept all of the ISG recommendations.

President Bush went on to say he was waiting for three other studies he had commissioned, (from the National Security Council, the Pentagon and the State Department) before deciding on the particulars of his “new approach” to prosecuting the war in Iraq.

What the President didn’t say, was that he was also waiting for the “alter” ISG report titled Choosing Victory: A Plan for Success in Iraq from neoconservative Frederick Kagan’s so-called “Real Iraq Study Group”. This report said the things President Bush wanted to hear and his “new” strategies reflect these recommendations as opposed to the ones made by the ISG last month.

While President Bush did finally replace Defence Secretary Rumsfeld with a lifelong Republican member of the ISG, William Gates, as part of his “new approach” to the Iraq war, he has thus far refused to make any diplomatic moves to engage Syria and Iran or proposed any major initiative to change the dynamics in the Middle East by attempting to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict.

The President has also avoided any discussions regarding a phased withdrawal of American troops, much less a timetable for doing so. While these are some of the more significant recommendations of the ISG that the President is ignoring, they are by no means the only ones.

To the dismay of most Democrats and quite a few Republicans, President Bush has decided that more troops and more money for reconstruction efforts is the prescription for stabilizing the situation in Iraq. Instead of focusing on training Iraqi forces to take over their country’s security so American troops can begin a gradual withdrawal, American soldiers will now focus on protecting the Iraqi population from sectarian violence and insurgent attacks.

In addition, the President is also proposing to double the money being spent to employ native Iraqis in reconstruction efforts. Had we done this back in 2003 or 2004, we might have succeeded in quelling the violence and giving Iraqi citizens economic incentives to work on rebuilding their neighbourhoods instead of taking up arms fighting for sectarian control of them. Doing so at this stage strikes me as either “throwing good money after bad” or “too little, too late.”

While I am extremely skeptical about Bush’s “new approach” to the war in Iraq, I truly hope that it will be successful.

If this “new approach” fails to stabilize the situation in Iraq, then the President won’t get another chance to throw more troops and money at the problem. Should this “new” strategy fail to show promise by this summer, I anticipate Democrats and some Republicans will attempt to force a withdrawal of American forces by refusing to approve the necessary funding for their presence. This would mean that, instead of the US cleaning up the mess we made of Iraq, the citizens of Iraq would be left to fight it out in a civil war which would result in hundreds of thousands of civilian casualties.

As for preventing this situation from being repeated again in the future, maybe future presidents would be a bit more circumspect about going to war if they had to consider some other issues as.

Firstly, Congress should mandate that if the US decides to engages in a war, the President would also have to implement a supplemental draft, such that young American men from all walks of life and economic strata would be at risk of dying in such conflicts, not just the poorly paid armed forces “volunteers." Congress should also mandate that a decision to go to war should also involve a supplemental tax increase to pay for the costs of the war for as long as it lasts.

By implementing these rules of engagement, such that all of the American people had to bear the costs of such wars in both human and financial terms, then I think that the administration would be subjected to much more critical scrutiny by the media, voters and their representatives.

I have a sense that closer scrutiny of the Bush administration’s claims of “weapons of mass destruction” by the media and Congress might well have prevented the invasion of Iraq from ever happening in the first place.

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