The Iraq Study Group–a body chaired by longtime Bush family friend James A Baker–released its much talked about recommendations for United States policy in Iraq. While the group’s potential findings were the subject of considerable media attention over the last few months, the final report made only minor calls for change in the United States’ Iraq policy. The 142-page report detailed 79 recommendations for Iraq policy that contain provisions suggesting how the United States should confer with Iraq’s neighbors, how United States troops should be utilized, folding the Iraqi police and border security agencies into the Iraqi Ministry of Defense, and calling for the United States to make some effort to address the Palestine-Israel conflict. However, while the report’s numerous recommendations would make some changes to Iraq policy, much of the report provides justifications for an ongoing occupation and tends to focus more on building a “bipartisan” support for the occupation than on coming up with fresh policy in Iraq. Perhaps the only exception is in calling for the United States to enter into diplomacy with countries previously identified as being part of an “Axis of Evil” by the Bush administration. In the report’s opening letter from its two co-chairs, James A. Baker and Lee H. Hamilton, the authors describe how the United States citizenry has become “dissatisfied” with “the state of our political debate regarding Iraq,” and offer the report as “a better way forward” to “give Iraq an opportunity for a better future, combat terrorism, stabilize a critical region of the world, and protect America’s credibility, interests, and values.”
The report begins by giving a fairly obvious description of the situation in Iraq, calling the situation in Iraq “grave and deteriorating” and describing the Iraqi government as being on the brink of collapse. The report cites the fact that 1.6 million Iraqis have been displaced internally and that 1.8 million have left the country due to “sectarian violence,” while also explaining how the United States military is under significant strain due to a longer than expected war. The report explains that the United States government “still does not understand very well either the insurgency in Iraq or the role of militias” and explains that the United States’ intelligence gathering apparatus is in considerable need of improvement. According to the report, Congress has appropriated almost $2 billion this year to protect troops against improvised explosive devices, but has made no comparable investment in “trying to understand the people who fabricate, plant, and explode those devices.” This is not terribly surprising, especially given that the United States embassy only has 33 out of 1,000 employees with Arabic language skills, and of those 33, only 6 are at the “level of fluency.” The report also explains that in attempting to downplay violence in the country, the United States has underreported insurgent attacks to conform to policy goals. The report does make brief mention of the fact that reconstruction has not been managed well and calls for additional money to be used on “high impact” projects to win the support of Iraqis, in addition to calling for the United States to hold meetings with all sectarian entities with the exception of al-Qaeda in Iraq.
While the report rejected the simple Bush administration logic of “stay the course” and asserts that there is no military action that the United States can take to “bring about success in Iraq,” it failed to call for a fundamentally different policy and advocates for the continued occupation of Iraq with a shift in military tactics and increased foreign diplomacy. The report declares that there is “too much at stake” for an immediate United States withdrawal and instead recommended shifting United States troop deployments towards training and advising Iraqi forces while maintaining “rapid response” units to combat “terrorism” in the country. Under the plan, United States forces would be embedded in Iraqi units while weapons would be provided to Iraqis through the Foreign Military Sales program. The report calls for all US combat units in Iraq not necessary for force protection to be removed from Iraq by 2008. Moreover, once the United States goes through with the recommendations in the report for removing combat brigades, it would “maintain a considerable military presence in the region, with our still significant force in Iraq and with our powerful air, ground, and naval deployments in Kuwait, Bahrain, and Qatar, as well as an increased presence in Afghanistan,” suggesting that the United States is still planning for a long-term military presence in the country. The report also makes no mention of closing recently constructed military bases in Iraq.
This is no real surprise, given that the report is written both as a justification for the ongoing occupation of Iraq and the continuation of United States imperialism. The report repeatedly refers to the interests of the United States as being the penultimate concern in Iraq and the greater Middle East. This imperial arrogance is further seen in its failing to take seriously the demands of Iraqis calling for the United States to leave the country immediately as well as the report’s lack of focus on the terrible costs paid by Iraqi civilians for United States policy. While quick to point out “sectarian violence” as a source of instability and civilian casualties (“sectarian violence causes the largest number of civilian casualties”), there is no mention of the estimated 600,000 civilian casualties from the United States invasion and occupation, nor is the occupation put into the context of being a 16-year war on Iraq through both military and economic means. Widely circulated numbers estimate that 500,000 Iraqi children died prematurely due to the devastation of economic sanctions imposed by the United States in the 1990s while as many as 300,000 Iraqis were killed in the Gulf War.
Longtime proponents of United States imperialism, compiled the report itself, including James A. Baker, a former Secretary of State in the administration of George H.W. Bush and a Senior Counsel with the Carlye Group, a well-connected group of former government officials that has invested heavily in military contractors and has an economic stake in maintaining an imperialist foreign policy. Among those consulted by the report, a considerable number were former government officials including Henry Kissinger, Colin Powell, Bill Clinton, Douglas Feith, and others who were either involved in varying capacities in military actions against Iraq or in previous imperialist military endeavors such as Vietnam. There were also several military officials consulted along with multiple representatives from the RAND Corporation, a think-tank firmly entrenched in the military industrial complex. Journalists, including neoconservative thinker William Kristol and Thomas Friedman, who support the war and played a role in misleading the public about the reasons for the war were interviewed. Consultants also came from large US corporations including Bechtel, CitiGroup, and PFC Energy, in addition to a small number coming from groups that advocated in favor of military action before the war, including the American Enterprise Institute. Moreover, the report only consulted with 39 Iraqis out of a total 171 individuals interviewed, showing once again that the report was written from a perspective uncritical of United States imperialism and supporting the notion that the United States–rather than the Iraqi people–knows what is best for Iraq.