Dispatch January 2007

Was the Iraq Study Group Report Really a Flop?

For a document that was supposedly "dead-on-arrival," it's certainly having a strong influence

For a document that was supposedly "dead-on-arrival," according to its most passionate critics, the Iraq Study Group report is having a strong covert afterlife. For the very purpose of such a report is to have its ideas stolen by policymakers, who will nevertheless deny its influence.

Also see:

A Turning Point
The Iraq Study Group may be remembered as the Walter Cronkite of this war. By James Fallows

Blind to Choice
Bing West, a Marine officer in Vietnam and a former assistant secretary of defense, comments on the military's reaction to the Iraq Study Group Report.

The Iraq Study Group
A reaction. By Robert D. Kaplan

Will the Administration Listen?
A historical look at why the Iraq Study Group's report may end up as yet another casualty of war.

Debating Iraq
A collection of articles and dispatches by Atlantic authors.

The report, overseen by former Secretary of State James Baker and former Democratic Congressman Lee Hamilton, warned against a precipitous troop withdrawal from Iraq, and was open-minded regarding a temporary surge of modest scale in Greater Baghdad. President George W. Bush is doing that. The report called for a reinvigoration of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, as part of a regional diplomatic blitz. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice and Defense Secretary Robert Gates have been doing that. The report called for a reconstruction czar for Iraq, as part of a process of infusing the country with more economic aid. President Bush indicated he will do that. The report sought to give the President a swift kick in the rear end—toward a more dynamic policy on Iraq. The Baker-Hamilton report, together with the November election results, have accomplished that.

As for the 79 suggestions the media pokes fun at, many of them are quite sound. For example, Army Lt. Gen. David Petreaus told me months ago that because the Army promotes people for commanding American and not foreign troops, sometimes the least talented people get assigned to train Iraqi forces: therefore, the policy needed to be reversed. The Baker-Hamilton report advises the same thing. Former Counselor to Secretary Rice, Philip Zelikow, told me that the State Department required a more expeditionary mentality, with unaccompanied hardship posts filled first. The Baker-Hamilton report proposes something similar. And on and on it goes.

Ah yes, what about the report's advice to open a dialogue with Iran and Syria? Hasn't the President repudiated that fundamental principle, and, therefore, the thrust of the report? No. Keep in mind that neoconservatives themselves have not repudiated such talks in the abstract: rather, they have stated that if the United States were to markedly improve its strategic position in the Middle East, and thus be able to talk to Syria and Iran from a position of strength, dialogue with Iraq's neighbors might at some juncture be justified. That is exactly what the Administration seems to be doing: the troop plus-up in Greater Baghdad, coupled with a more powerful naval and air presence in the Persian Gulf, is designed to prepare a more favorable context for eventual negotiations. Secretary of Defense Gates has indicated as much.

Presented by

Robert D. Kaplan, a national correspondent for The Atlantic, is the Class of 1960 Distinguished Visiting Professor in National Security at the United States Naval Academy.

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