Time to Act: Iraq Study Group Offers Way Forward

The Center for American Progress today calls on the president to adopt the recommendations put forth by the Iraq Study Group.

The ISG report, which very closely replicates the plan that the Center for American Progress first released in September 2005 called “Strategic Redeployment,” offers a new, pragmatic approach to the war in Iraq and worsening crises across the Middle East—one that even its authors concede may not stave off defeat, but that still presents realistic options in the face of a deteriorating set of circumstances.

Importantly, the ISG report critically assesses the problems on the ground in Iraq and around the Middle East and Afghanistan and then offers credible alternatives to the president’s failed “stay the course” strategy. Specifically, the ISG report:

  • Recognizes the worsening situation on the ground. The new analysis reflects refreshing public candor from incoming Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and the private musings of his outgoing predecessor, Donald Rumsfeld. The report acknowledges that the U.S. is not winning in Iraq. Acknowledging that the current course has failed and that the situation on the ground in Iraq is worsening is the first step towards a new strategy for Iraq.
  • Establishes a timetable for the redeployment of U.S. forces out of Iraq. The report says that “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.” The report also calls on General Casey to complete the training and equipping of Iraqi forces by the first quarter of 2008.
  • Provides benchmarks for the Iraqi government that are not tied to the U.S. troop presence. The report makes clear that U.S. forces should redeploy whether or not the Iraqi government meets the stated benchmarks. As the report argues, “America’s other security needs and the future of our military cannot be made hostage to the actions or inactions of the Iraqi government.”
  • Calls for the U.S. to engage Iraq’s neighbors to build an international consensus for stability in Iraq and the region. Importantly, the report emphasizes constructively engaging Iran and Syria, since they have tremendous ability to affect the situation on the ground, and recognizes that renewed efforts to broker peace between the Palestinians and Israel are necessary.

All these recommendations make perfect sense. But the ISG report does skirt one critical element of the situation on the ground in Iraq—the nation-building motivations of Iraqi security forces. The ISG’s recommendation that the U.S. change its mission from combat to training misses this essential point: The problem with the 300,000 Iraqi security forces is not just training, but also the will to act as a national unifying force amid growing chaos and civil war.

Leaving U.S. troops “only in units embedded with Iraqi forces,” as recommended in the report, will do little to improve the effectiveness of the Iraqi security forces if the Iraqi military itself doesn’t rise to the occasion. The ISG report wisely suggests that U.S. forces redeploy whether or not Iraqi government institutions and its military are self-sufficient, but it doesn’t say what the U.S. should do with its remaining forces in the country if the “Iraqitization” of the war fails.

Not setting a date for a complete withdrawal of all of our military forces from the country will leave the Iraqi government and military believing they can continue to count on U.S. military power to support them come what may. That will only embolden Iraq’s various political factions and insurgencies to continue their internecine arguing and fighting. We simply cannot leave our brave soldiers in harm’s way if progress is not made pacifying the country over the next 18 months.

Read our longstanding set of recommendations on Iraq in:

Listen to the CAP Press Call Responding to the Report:

View video of our experts discussing the Baker-Hamilton Report on SeeProgress:

Contact our Iraq experts Lawrence Korb, Brian Katulis, and Joe Cirincione for additional information and comments.

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