ISG Lost Opportunity

“A committee can make a decision that is dumber than any of its members.” — David Coblitz

Committee: a group of men who individually can do nothing but as a group decide that nothing can be done” — Fred Allen.

Before a work is published in a respected journal it is usually vetted for correctness and originality by either an editor or other experts. One famous dismissal of a poor manuscript, attributed to Samuel Johnson, was, “Your manuscript is both good and original. But the part that is good is not original, and the part that is original is not good.” This assessment can aptly be applied to the recently released report by the Iraq Study Group (ISG), headed by former Secretary of State James Baker and former Representative Lee Hamilton, who served on the House Intelligence Committee.

After nine months of study, the group issued 79 recommendations for dealing with rising level of insurgency violence in Iraq. Most of these recommendations are either obvious, relatively minor, or already being partially implemented. For example, recommendation 23 reads, “The President should restate that the United States does not seek to control Iraq’s oil.”

There is certainly no harm in re-iterating this statement, but the United States has not sought to exploit Iraqi oil since the liberation of Iraq and surely this action speaks more persuasively than repeated statements by the President. Did it really take an august panel to come up with this recommendation? Frankly, if the US wanted Iraqi oil it would have been far easier and less expensive to allow international sanctions atrophy and simply purchase the oil. Moreover, if this question remains a key sticking point, the ISG should urge that the Left-wing in the United States cease continually suggesting that the goal of the liberation of Iraq was really seizure of the oil resources.

Recommendation 36 reads in part, “The United States should encourage dialogue between sectarian communities…” Gee, what an imaginative idea. Why had no one thought of that before? There may be no harm in the re-statement of the obvious, but one might have expected greater insight from a presumably thorough re-examination of the Iraq situation.

The recommendations that are not mundane, prosaic, or simple extensions of current efforts in Iraq represent such a fundamental misunderstanding of the Middle East that they are, to steal the words of Wolfgang Pauli, “not even wrong.” The ISG recommends that the United States, “actively engage Iran and Syria in its diplomatic dialogue, without preconditions.”

Iran and Syria are the problems. Without the continual support by Iraq and Syria of internal Iraq insurgent groups Iraq, would be a far less violent place. The only thing the US could offer in exchange for less Syrian and Iranian involvement in Iraq would be to sell out a fledging democracy in Lebanon to Syria and to allow the Iranians to pursue nuclear weapons without international protest.

This foolish recommendation is a direct outgrowth of a fundamentally incorrect assumption on the part of the ISG that both countries have an “interest in avoiding chaos in Iraq.” Precisely, the opposite is true. A free, democratic, and stable Iraq represents an implicit repudiation of Syria and Iran and, hence, a threat. Chaos is what these countries are trying to sow.

The ISG has done a disservice to the President, and to Congress and to the American people. They could have offered new and effective ideas. Instead, their recommendations are either obvious extensions of current policies or poorly-disguised recipes graceful retreat.

Perhaps, it is too much to expect any committee to provide recommendations for victory. Frederick the Great counseled “Audacity, audacity — always audacity,” and audacity is not typically a committee commodity. Is it possible to even name a war won on the counsels of a committee? One could tell that the report would represent plan for retreat when the co-authors explained in their introduction that they sought “a responsible conclusion” for the Iraq and not victory.

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