Iraq Study Group to Call for Phased Withdrawal
by Jonathan Singer, Wed Nov 29, 2006 at 06:39:23 PM EST
David E. Sanger and David S. Cloud have the big scoop in tomorrow's issue of The New York Times: leaked details of the forthcoming report from the Iraq Study Group, also known as the Baker Commission.
The bipartisan Iraq Study Group reached a consensus on Wednesday on a final report that will call for a gradual pullback of the 15 American combat brigades now in Iraq but stop short of setting a firm timetable for their withdrawal, according to people familiar with the panel's deliberations.
A person who participated in the commission's debate said that unless the government of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki believed that Mr. Bush was under pressure to pull back troops in the near future, "there will be zero sense of urgency to reach the political settlement that needs to be reached."
The report recommends that Mr. Bush make it clear that he intends to start the withdrawal relatively soon, and people familiar with the debate over the final language said the implicit message was that the process should begin sometime next year.
The devil, of course, is in the details, i.e. what would govern the decision to draw back troops and what would be the safeguard to ensure that American forces are not left in Iraq indefinitely despite this proposal. On the surface it does not appear to be a bad proposal. And yet it does not seem to be a terribly groundshaking proposal, either. It certainly does not appear to contain the type of magic bullet it was assumed to have had by members of Congress from both parties, as well as the establishment media.
In short, the Iraq Study Group appears to be calling for what the majority of Democrats have been calling for over at least the course of the last year: a phased redeployment of troops. If the Democrats had been heeded months ago, there is little doubt that the number of American troops who would have lost their lives would be less than it is today, though there is little indication if there would have been more or less bloodshed among Iraqis. (I suspect that, at least since February, the American presence has done little to abate or enflame the civil war waging in the country -- a belief that is admittedly not informed by first-hand experience or expertise in either Iraqi history or military tactics.)
But my greatest qualm about this report is not so much in its substance but rather in its relevance. I am far from convinced that President Bush has had a change of heart when it comes to Iraq, that he will be willing to accept the recommendations even from James Baker, who has so often bailed out both he and his father. In and of itself the Iraq Study Group report will not cause the President to change course, just as the situation on the ground has failed to, just as the clear implications of November 7 have failed to.
If there is to be change in American policy towards Iraq it must come from decisive action from the Democratic Congress, both in the form of strenuous oversight and meaningful legislation. I do not believe that the time has come to begin to defund the war effort through acts of Congress (it's not at all clear to me that this could be done without the agreement of the White House, which would certainly not be expected). Nevertheless, just as America must make it clear to Iraq that it is resolute in its determination not to maintain troops in the country indefinitely in an effort to cajole the Iraqi government into action, so too must Democrats make it clear to President Bush that they have the same determination in order to cajole his administration into action.