Politics & Policy

Assessing the Assessment

U.S. military officers on the ISG report.

Major Scott T. Davis, a U.S. Army adviser to the Iraqi army, tells National Review Online, he agrees with the spirit of Karl’s question.

“Right, wrong, or indifferent, when congressmen are on their supposed fact-finding missions, they’re not finding out what’s really going on,” says Davis, who six weeks ago was imbedded with an Iraqi tank battalion. “You’ve got to get outside the Green Zone, and I don’t mean just a helicopter ride out to a Super FOB [forward operating base]. You’ve got to get on the ground to make an accurate assessment.”

Chris Berman, a former Navy SEAL who oversees Granite Global (a Kuwait-based company that builds armored vehicles currently running up-and-down Iraqi highways), tells NRO, “We’ve had input from politicians, even Hollywood celebs and rock stars regarding Iraq. But have we actually stopped to ask for the input of those Americans who are actually serving on the ground or those who are supporting those on the ground? No, and these are the people who are working with and around the Iraqi people everyday. Nobody seems to have been listening to them.”

Perhaps now they are.

“The good thing about the ISG is that they’ve taken the gloves off and peeled back several layers of the onion to see what’s there,” says Davis. “What I also like is that in the hearings, the group has not gone the way of the political rhetoric that has been thrown around by politicians and the media.”

Davis, who contends the invasion of Iraq in 2003 was a necessary risk, is cautiously optimistic about the changes to our approach in Iraq proffered by the ISG study.

“Already the media is making these sweeping assertions that these recommendations are the changes that need to be implemented,” he says. “Well, hold the phone: It’s like a mission order. This is a plan that might work, but it might not. The problem has so many aspects and avenues of approach it’s hard to attack it. One of the things I found to be critically important for the ISG to make its assessment was its ability to analyze the situation with Iran and Syria. Iranian weapons have in fact been used against me and my troops, so I know firsthand the Iranians have had a hand in Iraq.”

Like other officers, Davis believes that dialogue with other nations in the region — as the study also recommends — is important. But how effective that dialogue may be is anyone’s guess. Iran, for instance, can’t be trusted to honor any promises made. It is supporting global terrorism, calling for the annihilation of Israel, penly defying the United Nations, seeking to acquire nuclear weapons, cutting deals for missile technology (and who knows what else) with newly nuclear North Korea.

In the short term, however, if Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad were to somehow come to a hands-off agreement regarding Iranian involvement in Iraq (or persuading the Shiia militias in Iraq to lay down their arms), it could certainly be measured in terms of the actions of the Shiia militias. And even short-time cooperation between the various factions in Iraq might be capitalized on for the long-term by the Iraqi government and security forces.

Col. Jeff Bearor (U.S. Marine Corps, ret.) says the ISG report is certainly a plan, but not necessarily for victory.

“The ISG report is a way to give the Iraqi government a little more time to get their act together,” Bearor, a former operations officer with the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center and later chief of staff of the Marine Corps Training and Education Command, tells NRO. “Then we can withdraw, say that we tried, and leave the Iraqis to succeed or fail. Chances of Iraqi success on their own, in the absence of a concerted effort backed by sufficient U.S. ground combat power to defeat the insurgency before the Iraqis take over, is problematic.”

Not all soldiers and sailors march in lock-step with one another in their approaches to the Iraq War or the findings of the ISG. For instance, Rear Admiral Hal Bernsen (U.S. Navy, ret.) says the recommendations are sound, substantive, and a legitimate means of mitigating what has become a real mess.

“We’re not talking about a military operation,” Bernsen, a former Naval aviator and former commander of the U.S. Middle East Force (today, the U.S. Fifth Fleet), tells NRO. “This is a political situation. So these folks [members of the ISG] may have gone to Iraq one time [as ABC’s Jonathan Karl suggested], but they also spoke to approximately 200 people, about 15 or 20 of whom I know personally. And I can tell you they are as ‘expert’ on Iraq as anyone could be. And commanders on the ground were certainly interviewed by the ISG.”

He adds, “The report is honest, straightforward, and easy to read without spin.”

Retired U.S. Army Lt. General John Bruce Blount, former chief of staff of Allied Forces Southern Europe, tells NRO, the ISG is “well balanced,” and the report is “a very good synopsis” of the problems we are facing in Iraq.

“The president needs to have someone now who can string this thing all together and sequence it, and I hope [newly confirmed Defense Secretary] Bob Gates can do that,” Blount says. “Sequencing — what do we do, when and how — is what’s important right now. Sequencing doesn’t mean you have to have a deadline for withdrawal.”

It does mean there is work to do. But there are home-front problems, which go to the heart of the Iraq War problems — and to a greater degree, Global War on Terror problems.

“It’s unfortunate that when our military is finally meeting terrorists head on, many Americans want us to pull back,” Major Neil F. Murphy, a Marine officer who served in Iraq and is currently based in the Western Pacific, tells NRO. “Iraq is a front on the War on Terror. Terrorists will meet us in our country or there regardless of what course we take. For years, the military has sustained continued attacks from terrorists. U.S. citizens were largely apathetic about it until 9/11. Now, they are forgetting again.”

Col. Bearor agrees.

“The Jihadis, Al Qaeda, Iran, Syria and others are at war with America and the West no less than the Soviet Union was at war with us for 50 years,” he says. “The military is carrying nearly the entire load in Iraq. The rest of the U.S. government is not at war. Much of America hasn’t caught on yet, and the ISG report does nothing to help make this clear for Americans.”

Then there is a friend of mine, a field-grade Army infantry officer who just returned from Iraq (and will ship back in 2007) who told me Wednesday evening, “to meet the goals of the president, to establish a survivable democracy will require three times the number of troops we have now, and we’re going to have to go in and kill off all the militias. We basically have to invade that country all over again.”

A former U.S. Marine infantry leader, W. Thomas Smith Jr. writes about military issues and has covered conflict in the Balkans and on the West Bank. He is the author of five books, and his articles appear in a variety of publications.

A former U.S. Marine infantry leader, W. Thomas Smith Jr. writes about military issues. He has covered war in the Balkans, on the West Bank, in Iraq, and in Lebanon. ...


The Latest