In today’s Wall Street Journal, Reuel Marc Gerecht has a great editorial (subscription) on the problems facing the new Secretary of Defense — and all of us — in Iraq. Among other things, it’s time to begin massively diminishing the expectations for Baker’s Iraq Study Group, which looks likely to confirm the dilemma we face in Iraq without resolving it:
As will soon be apparent, the Iraq Survey Group [sic*] of which Mr. Gates is a member and to which I’m an adviser, has not discovered any way for the U.S. to exit Iraq — except under catastrophic conditions. Its recommendations will probably be the least helpful of all the blue-ribbon commissions in Washington since World War II because it cannot escape from an unavoidable reality: We either declare defeat and withdraw completely tout de suite, or we surge troops into Baghdad and fight. The ISG will surely try to find some middle ground between these positions, which, of course, doesn’t exist.
If one works through the different scenarios, they all return quickly to a Rumsfeldian position that the U.S. needs to do more in Iraq with less — a position that has been proven flatly wrong since the spring of 2003. This is why Washington has not been able to draw down even though the president, his defense secretary and his generals have dearly wanted to do so. Any meaningful reduction of U.S. forces is very likely to collapse the Iraqi Army into Shiite and Sunni militias and bring on massive carnage, the likes of which the Middle East has not seen since the Iran-Iraq War. If Mr. Gates signs off on the ISG’s recommendations, which will probably be completed before he assumes office, he will be party to a doomed strategy — and everyone in Washington and abroad will recognize it as a failure as soon as they start to work through it — before he even sets foot in the Pentagon. It may not be easy for Mr. Gates to recover from this initial flop.
However, when the ISG bombs, the Bush administration may finally get serious about correcting its mistakes in Iraq.
Daniel Henninger nearby makes another interesting point. Baker’s Iraq Study Group is weighted away from “neocons” and towards “realists” from the Bush I administration — the same people who betrayed Iraq’s Shiites in 1991 by coldy standing on the sidelines while Saddam slaughtered them. It seems odd that this group of people (whom I generally admire) thinks maybe we should abandon them again.
[* An ironically Freudian slip — He means the Iraq Study Group — The Iraq Survey Group was the one that figured out that there are no WMD in Iraq]